And there we have the problem. It is simply assumed that because there was a White Paper for the 2014 referendum we must have one for the next referendum. No stopping to consider whether this is appropriate or advisable in the light of past experience and present circumstances. The Sturgeon doctrine decrees that both the referendum and the Yes campaign must replicate as closely as possible the process followed a decade ago. The Sturgeon doctrine must not be questioned.
Need I point out what a horribly unhealthy attitude this is? It totally excludes all fresh thinking and prohibits critical analysis. It renders the Sturgeon doctrine immune from scrutiny. What benefit is there in this for anyone other than Sturgeon? What benefit is there for Scotland’s cause rather than the partisan interests of the SNP?
What purpose does this White Paper serve – other than giving the British propaganda machine enough targets that it is impossible that even the clumsiest scattergun effort might fail to hit something? Maybe something critical. A situation made even worse by the fact that so contentious were many of the issues for which the White Paper hoped to provide an acceptable answer that a large part of the Yes movement ended up echoing and amplifying the British propaganda.
Scotland’s Future was an attempt to provide an answer for every conceivable question that might be at least acceptable to every single voter. How could it possibly succeed? All the White Paper could do was cause division within the Yes movement while providing fuel for the anti-independence campaign. A campaign whose primary weapon was uncertainty. It wasn’t Project Fear. It was Project Doubt!
Because there was no critical analysis of the 2014 referendum campaign by the SNP or the Yes movement, no lessons were learned. So we are about to repeat old mistakes and fail to utilise the tactics and methods that such analysis reveals.
One conclusion that even the most cursory examination leads us to is that the Yes campaign devoted far too much of its resources to an effort to answer a potentially infinite number of questions in all the ways that each might be answered. Every question proked doubt in the minds of some voters or aggravated existing doubt. Every attempt to answer the question did precisely the same. The very fact of attempting to answer the questions was to legitimise them. To imply that the question was valid. To allow that there was something questionable. To create or aggravate doubt.
The White Paper was a gift to Better Together. The anti-independence campaign probably couldn’t have succeeded without the divisions in the Yes campaign that were occasioned by Scotland’s Future along with the fact that it effectively recruited large parts of the Yes movement to the British propaganda effort.
The most tragic thing about all of this is that the White Paper was both unnecessary and irrelevant. Other than the matter of Scotland’s constitutional status absolutely nothing in that document would be decided by the referendum. All it did was bury the matter of Scotland’s constitutional status in a mountain of material that was only appropriate for an election and not a referendum.
A referendum is binary. It offers two options which are distinct, defined and deliverable. The White Paper – and therefore the Yes campaign – satisfied none of these criteria.
The issue was NOT what currency arrangements Scotland would have. It is IMPOSSIBLE to give a definitive answer to that question. Worse! it prompts a welter of non-definitive answers as every party, organisation, group and individual associated with the Yes campaign comes up with different and often contradictory and/or mutually exclusive answers. What could voters confronted with this welter be except confused and filled with doubt? Which, let me remind you, is exactly what the No campaign wanted. Exactly what it depended on.
The lesson of the first referendum campaign is that it’s not more answers the Yes campaign needs better questions. The Yes campaign was lured into the impossible and self-harming effort to answer the ‘what currency?’ question when it should have been asking ‘Are you persuaded that Scotland can manage its own monetary affairs and if not why not?’.
That is just one example. Every question the White Paper sought to answer should be turned around in the same way. It’s called reframing. It starts with the question on the ballot which determines everything about the campaign. The SNP not only failed to even consider reframing the constitutional issue, it actively sought to prevent any discussion of this or anything else that didn’t conform to the Sturgeon doctrine. This is unforgivable folly!
Ten years ago there was some excuse for not realising the inadvisability of the White Paper. There is no such excuse now. The lessons are there to be taken. Not taking them is a choice for which we are entitled to demand an explanation.
If you find these articles interesting please consider a small donation to help support this site and my other activities on behalf of Scotland’s independence movement.