This past week or two I’ve been reminding myself why I stopped using Facebook. It’s not the idiots. You can’t avoid them without abandoning social media altogether. It’s not even the fact that Facebook allows the idiots to spout their idiocy at greater length than Twitter. Just as you develop an algorithm in your brain which edits out the advertising from your conscious attention, so a similar ‘brain-switch’ is triggered by the first few words of a comment that the algorithm predicts will be unworthy of your attention. What I’m saying is that, as with all mass media, there’s a knack to being an active consumer. Being an active consumer means being selective as well as being critical. Question everything. But learn to spot the stuff that’s going to have only gibberish for answers.
I dislike Facebook because it has become this huge, clunky, clumsy, creaking machine. It’s like somebody asked Terry Gilliam and Maurits Cornelis Escher to collaborate on designing a social media platform. My laptop hates it! It’s a brand new machine and definitely not low-spec. But after ten minutes or so on Facebook it starts wheezing like it’s using Capstan Full Strength to treat a bad case of emphysema. Facebook turns site navigation into a mystery tour. At any given time, a haphazard selection of buttons function like the ‘Random article’ link on Wikipedia. The difference being that on Wikipedia you’ve a fairly good chance of landing on something interesting. On Facebook it’s vastly more likely you’ll encounter material with what we might euphemistically refer to as ‘niche appeal’. A detailed account of somebody’s gran’s verruca treatment complete with pictures may be gripping stuff for the odd deviant imagination but it’s quite jarring when you think you’ve clicked a link to a post about the Dutch tulip industry.
Facebook torments me. But it has its compensations. One thing I like is the way some comment can trigger a train of thought or the memory of something I’ve been meaning to write about. That happened recently when I read a remark about the SNP trying to appeal to ‘new moderates’ in an effort to increase support for independence. This immediately brought to mind some thoughts i’d had on this very matter but had not, as far as I could recall, turned into to pixel-dust and committed to the care of the cloud fairies. I’ve copied and pasted my response, expanded it a bit and tidied up some stuff.
The trouble is, the SNP is not appealing to any new moderates. Because there are no new moderates. All the moderates are already included in the 50% Yes share polls are showing. The appeal needs to be to another category or categories of voters altogether. A more emotional appeal. A more aggressive appeal. Voters have hearts as well as heads. And there is no law or rule that says voters cannot be guided by their hearts as much as their heads.
We need a campaign that addresses people’s sense of injustice. We need a message that sparks anger. Not rage! Anger! Righteous anger.
We need the other bit of the campaign. The bit that was missing from the 2014 campaign because it was effectively prohibited. The negative to go with the positive. Simply campaigning for independence will not work. Or, to put it another way, campaigning for independence has done its work. It has won as many votes as it can. We need to unleash the other side of the campaign. The artillery barrage. The anti-Union campaign.
I can explain – have explained – why a campaign restricted to campaigning for independence can only do so much. Nobody listened. The SNP leadership still won’t listen. Independence cannot be the sole focus of an effective political campaign because it is a disputed concept. A binary political campaign – as in a referendum – must have a tangible, deliverable offering. The thing that everybody in the campaign agrees on as the end to be achieved. The thing that people actually vote for. Independence cannot serve that function because there is no possibility of general agreement among campaigners or voters about what independence means.
Independence always and for everybody means ending the Union. Dissolving it. Breaking it. However you want to put it. The Union is the target.
There’s an analogy which might help explain why a continuing campaign of “gentle persuasion” is a wasted effort. And it is, self-evidently, futile. The polls have barely moved in circumstances that should be ideal. Topping 50% is great for headlines in The National. But it’s less of a cause for celebration when you recognise that Yes should be at 60% and rising. In the context of Scotland’s independence campaign, 50% and barely twitching is evidence of failure.
It’s the law of diminishing returns. I used to do stock and production control in a big manufacturing plant producing perishable goods. There was a lot of what we called ‘variance’. That is to say, the stock we had was at variance to the stock we should have. Around 10% of production was being lost. All production all of the time. I introduced measures which brought that down to just over 1%. I continued to make improvements designed to prevent the variance rising. But I didn’t go chasing the 1%. Because it would have been too costly. Finding that 1% would have involved compromising production and labour relations. It just wasn’t worth it.
Some think that because their strategy of selling independence using “gentle persuasion” worked in the 2014 referendum – although not well enough – that all they need to do is persist with the same method. That assumes that votes over and above the ones already won are as easy to get as the ones already won. They are not! They are much more difficult to get. And they are not susceptible to “gentle persuasion”. We know that because that’s what the polls tell us. What little swing there has been to Yes can more than be accounted for by demographic changes and other factors. The “gentle persuasion” strategy has done nothing since 2014!
Let me put it another way. The “gentle persuasion” devotees imagine the campaign in a linear way. They think of it like a walk between to places marked on a map. If you’re at 10% you just have to keep walking in your sensible shoes and you’ll get to 20%. Walk a bit further and you’ll reach 30%. And so on. But a map is two-dimensional and deceptive. In reality, the journey begins as a stroll along a level, even path but at some point the path becomes broken and rocky and you find you should be wearing proper walking shoes. The path gets rougher and steeper until you can make no progress without full mountaineering kit and the skill to use it.
Now imagine you have a bungee cord tied round your waist and tied off way back at 0%. That is the reality of a political campaign. At every stage, you need the right tools and techniques. As you progress the difficulty of gaining ground increases on an exponential curve – until you can go no further.
What we will see – what we are seeing already – is a stubborn determination to hold to the “gentle persuasion” strategy which, as it struggles to have some impact, starts to make increasingly expensive compromises. If “gentle persuasion” isn’t selling this brand of independence and “gentle persuasion” is the only technique we’re allowed to use, then we are forced to adapt the ‘product’ we’re trying to sell until it appeals to a new market. Until it is saleable using our sole technique. And it’s not only the form of independence that will be ‘modified’ downward to find this new market. It will be everything associated with the project to restore Scotland’s independence. If it is thought that the process is what puts people off, then the least scary process must be selected.
But what happens when there is no process that is both reassuring to the apprehensive and viable? What happens if the only process that will work sounds a bit scary even if the fears are groundless?
That’s where we are at the moment. A strategy has been adopted which can’t make progress because those in charge refuse to use the tools and techniques which are required. They keep telling us the strategy is working fine. They keep telling us we’re getting closer. They keep telling us that bungee cord holding us back is about to break. And some believe it. Some have their eyes so firmly fixed on the destination that they can’t see the ground beneath them. They can’t tell that they’re not moving. Yet!
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