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.

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