200,000 people signing a petition does not, of course, signify increased support for independence. Impressive as the figure may be, it’s only about 10% of the existing support for independence. To put it in context, the Yes movement can put that number of feet on the streets.
Maintaining an appeal to the base is unquestionably essential. A political campaign which wins converts while losing its core vote is almost certainly doomed to fail. But, equally, if the entire effort is devoted to holding on to existing support then where is the winning surge going to come from?
In principle, it is possible that the same campaign strategy might serve both to retain and increase support. The evidence suggests, however, that this is not so in the case of Scotland’s independence campaign. The basic strategy of pounding out a positive case for independence focused on social and economic benefits hasn’t changed since the 2014 campaign. It has developed. The arguments have improved. But they are still the same arguments. And they are still arguments about policy. The kind of arguments used in an election campaign.
That these arguments are effective in retaining support is clear. Despite there being no let-up in British Nationalist propaganda over the period since the first vote, there has been no measurable reduction in support for independence. Significantly, however, neither has there been any marked increase. The evidence is all but conclusive. The old strategy was very successful in taking support to the 50% level, and has been remarkably effective in holding it there against a relentless onslaught of propaganda and all the disadvantages the Yes campaign has in terms of communicating its message. But it has not won any new support.
There is no great mystery to this. The people who have already been won over to Yes are those who have gained access to information beyond that which is provided by the mainstream media. They are educated. They are easy to retain because education is not easily lost. You can’t ‘unknow’ something. And once someone has been made aware of the lies and distortions peddled by the British media, the propaganda ceases to have any effect.
Many have made the journey from No to Yes. Whatever the claims of social media trolls, nobody goes from Yes to No.
It follows, therefore, that the people who have not yet made the journey from No to Yes are those who have not yet gained access to the same information as those who have made that journey. The question is why. Without understanding why they have not accessed the information, there is no possibility of devising ways to ensure that they do.
What we know for certain is that the strategy of broadcasting a ‘positive case for independence’ won’t do it. We know it won’t do it because it hasn’t done it. That has been the strategy for at least seven years now. And the polls remain stubbornly stuck at 50%. It’s not working because the message simply isn’t reaching into that other 50%. Which is just another way of saying the people who make up that 50% don’t have access to the information.
It doesn’t matter whether this lack of access to information is due to the obstacles created by the British media or the inadequacy of the signal or simply a refusal to listen on the part of No voters. The result is the same. People are not making the journey from No to Yes because they are not even aware that such a journey is possible.
What must the Yes campaign do to address the issue of information starvation? How might the Yes campaign ensure that its signal penetrates deeper into that 50% on the No side of the constitutional divide?
The task is made simpler by first eliminating the things that can’t be done, or can’t be done in time – as well as the things that have been tried without success. There is not much that can be done about the obstacles created by the British media. The lies must be rebutted and the disinformation corrected. But, if the Yes signal isn’t getting through then neither are the rebuttals and corrections. A careful calculation must be made as to what resources should be committed to setting the record straight – bearing in mind that this comes at some cost to the strength of what we are calling the Yes signal.
People can’t be obliged to receive that signal. They can’t be required to tune in to it. They can’t be forced to open their minds. The further the Yes signal travels into No territory, the less chance there is that it will be received. Obviously, there comes a point at which the effort just isn’t worth it. Ultimately, there is a point at which it doesn’t matter how strong the Yes signal is, there is nothing there that is capable of picking it up.
But that still leaves a lot of No territory which can be reached if the Yes signal is strong enough and if people can be induced to tune in. There is more than enough potential support within range to ensure a decisive Yes vote. It is this reachable No territory that the Yes campaign strategy must target. The aim of the strategy must be to strengthen the Yes signal and prompt people to receive it.
There are two ways to strengthen the Yes signal. It can be strengthened by adding to it. And it can be made more powerful by being more focused. The thing that is added must be new. It must be something which is not already part of the ‘positive case for independence’. It must also be dramatic. It is the combination of novelty and drama which will seize attention and induce people in No territory to tune in.
Focus is achieved by making the message contained in the Yes signal comprehensible, coherent and consistent. Short, sharp and simple. Never drifting from the core message. Always ensuring that the signal is directed at, and the message framed for, the reachable population in No territory.
This population is not inclined to listen to that ‘positive case for independence’. Many become less inclined to tune in the more this ‘positive case’ impinges on their consciousness. Encouraged by the British media, they have grown resistant to it. What else is the ‘vile cybernats’ propaganda about if not to discourage and dissuade people from accessing information carried by the only channels that are readily available to the Yes campaign?
A significant number of those disinclined to tune in to the ‘positive case for independence’ are, however, increasingly ready to question the status quo. They are daily more disenchanted with the British political elite and the British political system. They are beginning to wonder about the Union.
These are the people who must be targeted by a revised Yes campaign strategy. Alongside the ‘positive case for independence’, and at least matching it in all respects, there must be a ‘negative case against the Union’.
This has the added advantage of uniting the entire Yes movement, including the SNP. It facilitates the solidarity which the Yes campaign requires by distilling the message down to the one fundamental on which all can agree. While they all might hope for – or demand! – different things out of independence, all know that without ending the Union nobody gets anything.
If 200,000 people will sign a petition for independence, how many more might sign a petition against the Union? The cause of restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status will take a mighty leap forward the day the SNP decides to ask the one question that really matters. Should we #DissolveTheUnion?
The day they, and the rest of the Yes movement launch a campaign strategy designed to ensure that the answer is a resounding YES!
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