Michael Fry correctly points out that “there is a crucial margin of sceptical voters, 5 or 10% of the whole electorate, needing to be converted to the cause of independence”. While he doesn’t say as much, the clear implication is that this “crucial margin” is “sceptical” about independence. That may be true of some. But at least as many are, for the very reasons so eloquently set out in the article, likely to be sceptical about the Union. After all, it is the Union which is allowing a disastrous Brexit to be imposed on an unwilling Scotland.
It is, therefore, the Union which is threatening the “personal interest” which Mr Fry seems to suppose is the overriding – if not the only – consideration for voters. So it stands to reason that many who voted No in 2014 because they calculated this would make them richer – or, at least, safeguard their personal wealth – are now busy at their abacuses rerunning those calculations in the light of Brexit.
Of course, in the real world, not everybody is primarily motivated by greed. And vanishingly few are motivated solely by greed. For most people, “personal interest” will be one consideration among many. Michael Fry might be startled to discover that there are even those who will gladly sacrifice some part of their personal interest for what they regard as a more vital cause and/or a more worthy principle.
Not everybody sees politics as merely a matter of economic management. Not everybody is concerned only with having the economy managed for their personal benefit. Those who are not sociopaths are, by definition, burdened with a social conscience. How heavily this weighs is a matter of individual character. As is willingness to bear the discomfort of what can often be an awkward load. But, in general, people will assess public policy and government action on criteria other than the impact on their own bank account.
Such people will see Brexit as more than just the act of economic self-harm it undoubtedly is. They will see it also as an act of social and cultural vandalism. They will see it as an insult to rationality. They will see it as an affront to democracy. And they will tend to address it as such, even at some personal cost.
In terms of the conduct of the independence campaign, however, all of those beginning to be sceptical of the Union can be counted pretty much the same. Whether they are concerned for the welfare of their own bank balance or for the welfare of society as a whole, they are starting to wonder if it is the Union, rather than independence, which represents the greatest threat.
The part of that “5 or 10% of the whole electorate” which is ripe for plucking by the independence campaign is the part which is increasingly dubious about or disgruntled with the Union. It is people who won’t be “converted to the cause of independence” by promises of personal gain, national prosperity and social progress. They won’t be converted by even the most perfectly formed independence ‘message’ for the simple reason that they are not listening to that message. They won’t start to listen until there is a loosening of the Union’s grip on them, and their grip on the Union.
The reason Michael Fry sees “no surge in public opinion likely to carry us past 50% in indyref2” can be summed up in one word – inertia. The “crucial margin” needs a jolt of political action to break that inertia. It needs to be induced to review it’s assumptions about and attachment to the Union. Only when that crucial margin starts to question the efficacy and basis of the Union will it become open to the independence message.
It’s a double, or even a treble win for the independence campaign. Because the jolt of political action may also stir the apathetic, and it will certainly energise the already enthusiastic.
Scotland desperately, urgently requires bold, decisive, assertive action from the First Minister. Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t just need to think outside the box, she needs to step outside it and give it a hefty kick.
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