Category Archives: Yes campaign

The uniqueness of the referendum will ensure a Yes victory

OUI by Hélène Villeneuve, on Flickr.
Once in a while somebody enters the independence debate to tell us it’s all futile because the Yes side can only win in a referendum if they were enjoying a huge lead in the opinion polls before the campaign started (the idea behind it is that in most referendums the No side gains ground during the campaign).

My standard reply to such people is that the Scottish independence referendum is quite a special case because it has been going on for two years. Normally referendums are discussed for a month or so, just like general elections, and it means there’s very little time to convince people and especially to refute scare stories (which are always inevitable because it’s an easy way to obtain a No vote).

When you’ve got two years and have managed to get the No side to release all their Project Fear stuff very early, you’ve had a chance to refute the stories, and the electorate has had a chance to realise the stories are just there to frighten them.

The latest person to say that Yes is doomed was Alan Renwick in The Telegraph yesterday. Interestingly, he added three more reasons why the Yes side might win in a referendum:

There are three basic reasons why support for reform may pick up steam. The first and most banal is that voters sometimes already know what they think well ahead of the vote. If opinion is already settled, scope for a drop in the Yes vote is limited. […] Things get more interesting with the second reason. This is what is called “reversion point reversal”. The “reversion point” of a referendum is the situation that ensues following a No vote. Generally, the reversion point is the status quo: if voters opt against change, then the pre-existing situation continues. But sometimes the pre‑existing situation can successfully be painted as unsustainable. […] The third and final mechanism is the anti-establishment bandwagon. If the establishment as a whole opposes reform and voters are in the mood to give it a kicking, a bandwagon for change can sometimes gather speed.

The first reason is not very relevant to us — it just explains why a No landslide victory is impossible. (The people who were already planning to vote Yes to independence two years ago were convinced then and thus very unlikely to be persuaded to vote No.)

The second reason is much more relevant. More and more voters are discovering that we can only protect important parts of the status quo by voting Yes (such as the NHS, free university tuition and a decent welfare state), and this is having a marked effect.

The third reason should also help Yes — the establishment is split in Scotland, but the entire Westminster establishment are united in their opposition to Scottish independence.

When all these factors are seen together, it becomes clear why Yes campaigners in general are so optimistic. This referendum is eminently winnable.

Let’s campaign and let campaign!

BBC bias demonstration
BBC bias demonstration by Thomas Widmann, on Flickr.
It must be easy to run an astroturf campaign. Because all your activists are actually your employees, they’ll do exactly what you want them to do. There’s no dissent, no mixed messages.

However, astroturf campaigns often fail because people can tell something’s not right. They can see that those campaigners don’t actually believe what they’re saying, and the whole thing looks too much like a pretty façade with nothing behind it. Also, unless you’ve got endless supplies of money, it’s difficult to hire enough staff to create enough activity on the ground.

A real grassroots campaign is very different. It’s full of different people with their own ideas, hopes and goals. You can make suggestions to them, but if they don’t see the point, they’re unlikely to follow your lead.

The Yes campaign has over the past couple of years developed into one of the most impressive grassroots movements of recent years. Lots of real people — often with no previous political engagement — are now spending many hours every week campaigning for a Yes vote. For a long time, formal guidance from Yes Scotland was minimal, so people found their own ways of doing things — they created their own events and their own campaign materials.

Recently, however, there have been signs that some people at Yes Scotland HQ have started to worry about their lack of control. For instance, they’ve been distancing themselves from Wings over Scotland and yesterday’s BBC bias demonstration, and too many people seem to spend half their time telling other people off on Twitter for tweeting the wrongs links or attending the wrong events.

It’s almost as if some people have got a bit fed up with their real grassroots campaigners. Perhaps they had hoped they’d suddenly start behaving like astroturf employees during the regulated campaign. Perhaps cautious campaigners just want everybody to be cautious — Wee Ginger Dug pointed out that “the more cautious in any campaign for civil rights often criticise those who are fearless.”

Such cautious advice is likely to backfire, however. Activists have spent the past two years building their own networks and campaigns, and they’re not likely to take kindly to orders from above (at let’s not forget that when Hope Street was the focus of negative media stories in the past, activists didn’t take to Twitter to criticise their actions).

Also, to many activists, blogs such as Wings provide a very important service. As Robin McAlpine put it:

[Wings over Scotland] has lifted our spirits throughout the campaign. When we wake up in the morning and Yes Scotland isn’t in the papers (why?) and the SNP is being timid and talking like an accountant, it is often Wings that is the primary source of commentary that doesn’t seem always to accept the premise set by the mainstream media as the only possible frame for discussing independence. It makes it OK to be both angry and excited while becoming informed at the same time.

I completely understand why Yes Scotland HQ might feel at times that they need to lead things a bit more. However, I don’t think they’re going about it the right way.

I’m a father, and here’s some parental advice: If your kids are having fun baking a cake while making a complete mess, but you’d rather they were out cutting the lawn, don’t just storm into the kitchen and shout at them. If you do, they’re likely to storm up to their room and slam the door, and you’ll be left with a messy kitchen and an uncut lawn. It’s much better to join them in the kitchen, give them hints about how to tidy up as you go along, and try to talk them into cutting the lawn while the cake is in the oven. In this way, you’re likely to end up with a slightly messy kitchen, a nice cake and a beautiful lawn.

In the same way, if some campaigners spend their time criticising other campaigners for their campaigning style, the inevitable result is that everybody ends up doing less campaigning. It’s much better to make positive suggestions and just be open about the fact that it’s a grassroots campaign where the HQ isn’t always in charge of everything. Diversity is our strength, so we shouldn’t suddenly start saying it’s a problem.

Of course you sometimes cringe at other people’s actions. That’s life. Nobody’s perfect, but we all have something to contribute. Altering the well-known adage live and let live ever so slightly, may I suggest that we all simply campaign and let campaign?

The great Unionist conspiracy theory

Mut & solidarität statt blut & boden
Mut & solidarität statt blut & boden by Fabio Panico, on Flickr.
A large number of Unionist politicians, activists and voters seem to strongly believe that Alex Salmond is a liar (“lying bastard” is the way it’s normally expressed), that the SNP is at heart a fascist party and that Scotland will be turned into a totalitarian one-party state after independence.

This is rather odd, because this flies in the face of all evidence. In my experience Salmond might try to avoid answering a question — like all experienced politicians — but I’d say he’s less mendacious than most. The SNP is a left-of-centre party that is welcoming to foreigners, and the first elections in an independent Scotland have already been planned for 2016.

The disconnect between reality and Unionist beliefs is so great that it’s starting to look like a conspiracy theory (defined by Wikipedia as an “explanatory proposition that accuses two or more persons, a group, or an organization of having caused or covered up, through secret planning and deliberate action, an illegal or harmful event or situation”).

In my experience conspiracies appear when people for some reason don’t feel that the obvious explanation makes any sense. For instance, lots of theories have appeared about the fate of MH370 because it sounds so unlikely that a Boeing 777 can go missing in the 21st century.

However, to me the facts about the SNP and the wider Yes movement are easy to find and make perfect sense. So what is it that make some people invent ludicrous theories about us?

Perhaps it all begins with the Too Wee, Too Poor, Too Stupid attitude. Lots of Unionists seem to take this proposition for granted (even if they don’t like to admit it out loud).

If Scotland is too wee, too poor and too stupid to be independent, then logically the Yes campaign must be either be misguided or lying when they claim Scotland will be a rich and successful country after independence.

Whereas many Yes campaigners can be excused as being misguided (or useful idiots, if you will), this cannot be said about Alex Salmond, who is intelligent and well-informed, as well as having hundreds of civil servants at his disposal. He must therefore be lying.

But why would he be lying? What’s his interest in claiming that Scotland can be a successful independent country? He must either be doing it out of personal ambition, or he must believe in an evil ideology (such as fascism) that blinds him to the human cost of this endeavour.

As soon as you start seeing Salmond as a budding fascist dictator, it suddenly makes sense that the entire SNP party must be full of blood and soil (Blut und Boden) Nazis. Also, fascists are known to be very regimented, so it cannot possibly be the case that the cybernats are acting independently — they must be controlled centrally, preferably by Alex Salmond himself.

And there you go — it all makes perfect sense. Except that it is completely and utterly wrong! It flies in the face of all available evidence, as anybody who has attended an SNP or Yes Scotland meeting will tell you.

It is a conspiracy theory and should be treated as such.

Will Scotland be a lucky country?

Four-leaf Clover
Four-leaf Clover by Hyoung Won Park, on Flickr.
A while ago the psychologist Richard Wiseman did some research into luck, in particular why some people seem to be luckier than others:

My research revealed that lucky people generate good fortune via four basic principles. They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition, create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.

Can these principles be applied to a country as well as individuals? And if they can, would they combine to make Scotland a lucky place after independence? Let’s have a look at each of them in turn.

On the first principle — chance opportunities — it’s well known that small independent countries can react more quickly to them. As Stephen Noon puts it: “Government and institutions can be structured more effectively, making our size an advantage, with shorter lines of communication and the ability to bring together key decision makers, allowing a quicker response to changing economic conditions.” While we’re a part of the UK, it’s much harder to react swiftly, because we don’t have all the powers here and might need to bring Westminster on board before we can act. (One might argue that entering into a political union with England in 1707 was a case of a small country pursuing a chance opportunity, and Scotland did indeed do amazingly well out of it for the first 100-200 years. After that, Scotland stopped acting like a small country and more like a region of a large one.)

The second principle — intuition — is harder to apply to a country. One might argue that in a country with a high degree of trust in political institutions, there’s a tendency to accept other people’s actions without seeing the rationale for them. The problem with this argument is that not all small countries are very trusting. According to this article, the Nordic countries score very highly, but many ex-communist countries are at the bottom. So a lot might here depend on Scotland managing to learn the right lessons from the Scandinavia.

The third principle — self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations — applies easily: The story of Scotland is a positive one, especially after a Yes vote, and it’s one that will appeal to people both here and abroad. It’s not like the UK that immediately conjures up images on colonialism, racism, privilege and corruption. So people in an independent Scotland will expect to do well, and therefore they will.

The fourth principle — a resilient attitude — comes naturally in a small country. I grew up in Denmark, and you had a feeling that you were all in it together. If the government for instance said that salaries were rising too fast, it was easy to reach a consensus to do something about it — you didn’t feel that your benefits were being cut and your taxes increased just so that the bankers in could keep their bonuses.

Richard Wiseman adds:

Unlucky people often fail to follow their intuition when making a choice, whereas lucky people tend to respect hunches. Lucky people are interested in how they both think and feel about the various options, rather than simply looking at the rational side of the situation. I think this helps them because gut feelings act as an alarm bell – a reason to consider a decision carefully. Unlucky people tend to be creatures of routine. They tend to take the same route to and from work and talk to the same types of people at parties. In contrast, many lucky people try to introduce variety into their lives.

This is a very accurate description of the Yes and No campaigns: Most Yes campaigners both think and feel that independence is the right way forward, whereas the No campaigners tend to fight for a No in spite of their feelings (the “I’m a proud Scot but …” sentiment). Also, many No campaigners cling to the UK because that’s their routine, whereas Yes campaigners love to think about the endless possibilities that an independent Scotland will offer us.

Of course Scotland will still belong to both groups after the referendum, but I don’t think there’s any doubt that the winning campaign will make Scotland more like themselves. If Yes wins, the visionaries and optimists will be running the country, whereas it will be the unlucky pessimists who will be running the show after a No vote.

If Scotland votes Yes on 18 September, the country will be brimming with energy and positivism — exactly the circumstances that means we’ll create and notice chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to our intuition, create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good. In other words, Scotland will become a lucky country.

Tactics vs strategy

chess, a photo by irodman on Flickr.
Most modern politicians are great tacticians but lousy strategists. They spend huge efforts on planning the run-up to the next election, but they don’t often think about the longer-term consequences of their actions (presumably because they don’t expect to be in power for that long anyway).

However, the SNP and the wider independence movement are a great exception to the rule. Until very recently, nobody joined the SNP because it was a smart career move, but because they wanted to make Scottish independence happen.

I think this explains why most Unionist politicians have been so bewildered by the independence referendum. They assumed from the outset that the SNP wanted a referendum because they thought it’d be a smart tactical move, not because they actually thought it was the right thing to do.

As this excellent (but long) article argues, David Cameron agreed to the referendum because he thought it would tactically be a good way to shut up the SNP. (However, this tactic failed because he agreed to holding it in 2014, giving the Yes campaign plenty of time to convince the voters.)

The focus on tactics also explains why Unionist politicians so often talk about the short-term costs associated with independence. Of course independence is likely to be a very bad tactical move — within the first couple of years, the costs are very likely to outweigh the benefits.

However, as soon as we start looking further ahead, the transitional costs will be dwarfed by the huge financial and social benefits associated with independence.

The Unionists keep staring at the immediate costs and don’t understand why people aren’t scared. Meanwhile, the independence movement is full of people with strategic sense who can see why independence makes perfect sense as soon as you take the slightly longer view.

Or to victory!

I haven’t discussed the independence referendum opinion polls for a long time, mainly because they haven’t shown a clear picture.

Indyref opinion polls.
Indyref opinion polls.
However, the polls are starting to converge. To see why, let’s first look at the raw Yes/No results reported since the beginning of 2012 (see the graph on the right — click on it for a larger version; all data from Wikipedia).

At a first glance, the picture isn’t very clear. Some pollsters are showing a strong movement — for instance, TNS BMRB is showing an enormous fall in the number of No voters since early 2013 — but it’s hard to spot a uniform pattern.

Indyref opinion polls, DKs excluded.
Indyref opinion polls, DKs excluded.
To make the results more comparable, many experienced psephologists recommend excluding the undecided voters (see for instance this blog post by John Curtice from last September). If we do that, Ipsos MORI, TNS BMRB and YouGov move closer together, but there are still huge differences (see the graph on the right).

Very broadly speaking, it does look like Ipsos MORI, TNS BMRB and YouGov are in agreement, just as Angus Reid and ICM seem to concur, and Panelbase appears to be on its own. There’s no way to conclude at this stage who’s right and who’s wrong (we won’t know until the day after the referendum), but the gap between the first group and the second one is about six percentage points, and the gap between the second one and the third one is about three points.

Indyref opinion polls, DKs excluded, adjusted.
Indyref opinion polls, DKs excluded, adjusted.
If we adjust the opinion polls by this amount, it becomes much easier to spot common trends. Of course, nobody knows for sure which pollster to use as the target, so I’ve done this exercise three times, once for each pollster group. However, to save space I’ve only included the graph where Angus Reid and ICM were to chosen to be the target that the other pollsters were brought into line with (see the graph on the right).

When displayed like this, it becomes very clear that the support for the No side seems to have peaked around the summer of 2013, and that Yes has been rising ever since.

If we were to draw a trend line through the results since August 2013, these adjusted figures would lead us to expect a very respectable Yes victory (55% to 45%), and Yes should overtake No in polls adjusted this way around mid May (the trend line isn’t shown on the graph).

On the other hand, if we adjust Panelbase, Angus Reid and ICM to force them into line with Ipsos MORI, TNS BMRB and YouGov, the trend line leads to the conclusion that Yes will lose by a bawhair (49% to 51%).

And finally, if we adjust all the other polls to bring them into line with Panelbase, it looks like Yes will win by a landslide (58% to 42%) and that Yes will overtake No as early as late February.

To summarise, if Ipsos MORI, TNS BMRB and YouGov are right about the proportion of Yes voters, we should expect a very close referendum result if the current trends continue; if ICM and Angus Reid are right, we’ll see a solid Yes victory; and if Panelbase are right, we’ll get a Yes landslide.

There’s a lot of work still to be done for the Yes side, but it’s very clear why the No campaign is starting to panic.

Taking the long view

How will Scottish independence be seen by future generations?
How will Scottish independence be seen by future generations?
I get really annoyed at the way the No side constantly try to make people think that voting Yes is the equivalent of making Alex Salmond dictator for life. They also moan that it’ll cost a lot of money to buy a navy and duplicate certain shared institutions.

I just wish they would take the long view more often. How many people today are able to remember the names of England’s and Scotland’s leading politicians at the time the Act of Union was signed, more than three hundred years ago? And more to the point, do they actually care? Should people in 1707 have decided on the merits of creating the Union on the basis of whether they liked the political leaders of the day or not?

I’m not saying the Yes side never uses short-term arguments, but I do think the No side are the worst sinners in this regard. Focusing so much on Salmond is ridiculous — for all we know, he might decide to step down shortly after the independence referendum, and even if he doesn’t, it’s quite likely a revitalised Scottish Labour will win the 2020 Scottish General Election (or even the one in 2016).

It’s also silly to talk so much about the one-off costs associated with setting up an independent country. After a few years nobody will evaluate the decision to become independent based on these transitional costs; instead, they’ll look at how Scottish GDP developed over time after the referendum.

Whereas short-termism permeates the No campaign (probably because they know they have a very weak case when it comes to the longer view), it’s relatively sporadic on the Yes side. Of course we do get a lot of stories about how an independent Scotland will abolish the Bedroom Tax and such things, but that’s because they provide both a tangible benefit of independence and an example of how Scotland will do things differently, not because the short-term case is more compelling.

Next time I’m talking to a youngish undecided voter who says they’ll probably vote No because they don’t like Alex Salmond, I think I’ll ask them what they think their grandchildren will think of that in fifty years’ time.