A couple of people have contacted me pointing out that they are unable to access the below-the-line (BTL) comments on The National site as they don’t have a subscription. Therefore, the links I post on Twitter are no use to them should they wish to see the full comment in context. So I’m trying a wee experiment here. The nature of the experiment should be clear enough to require no explanation.
I’ll take a 50% – 50% starting point for the forthcoming IndyRef2 campaign.BTL comment The National
We were at 29% – 71% for the start of IndyRef1 and for a short period we got it to 51% -49% for Indy.
I see this nonsense about starting from a higher base than ten years ago. It doesn’t mean what many suppose it means. Comparisons with the first referendum should be handled with great care.
When the 2014 referendum campaign started there was a substantial pool of easy Yes votes. People who only needed to be asked. Or who just needed the nudge of an actual campaign for an actual referendum. That pool has been emptied. There are no easy Yes votes left. That is the big difference between then and now. It means that starting from a higher base is not as much of an advantage as some imagine.
It is very unlikely we could repeat the level of success achieved by the first Yes campaign. The Yes movement is in an appalling state of tribal factionalism and may be more hindrance than help. Just this morning I saw Alba members sharing an article pushing the idea that Nicola Sturgeon has ‘sold out’ to the British state. That she is conspiring with the British government to ensure our independence isn’t restored. If that sort of thing is going on during the campaign it could be very damaging.
So, we have a pool of voters who are much more difficult to persuade and a campaign machine that’s lying in pieces. As if that wasn’t bad enough, we also have people directing the campaign who have learned not one lesson from the first referendum and associated campaign. Insofar as we can tell what Nicola Sturgeon intends, it seems she means to adopt the precise same ‘strategy’ as last time. That is the strategy which harvested all those easy Yes votes. And then it stopped!
To the very limited extent that there has been any campaigning since 2014, it has continued with the same approach. And it has achieved precisely nothing! The polls have flatlined. I’ve done the math. I’ve taken the average Yes percentage of more than a dozen polls immediately subsequent to Nicola Sturgeon taking over the leadership from Alex Salmond. I’ve compared that with the same number of polls following the 2021 election. I’ve also compared it with the most recent set of polls. It is always the same – around 45%. Support for Yes remains at the same level as it was in the 2014 vote despite eight years of a British government that supposedly was driving voters into the Yes camp. That is a massive and potentially fatal failure on the part of the SNP leadership.
To go into a new referendum campaign with any great confidence we need three things that we just don’t have. We need a higher base to start from. The polls need to be at least five points higher. Had the SNP exploited the opportunities of the past eight years we could have been starting from a base ten points higher. Instead, we start from 45%. It helps to think of 50/50 as zero – the starting point. Because in a very real sense that’s what it is. So, where in the first campaign we started from 30 points, this time we start from MINUS 5 points. That is the enormousness of the task that confronts us.
As well as a higher base we need a united movement. It can no longer be a movement. It has to become a campaign machine. And a campaign is massively different from a movement. The key words for an effective political campaign are solidarity, focus and discipline. Terms few would associate with the Yes movement as it was in 2013/14. We got away with it then because we were fishing in that well-stocked pool. The ‘fishes’ were fairly jumping into our boat. Again, that pool has been fished-out. We are aiming for very different fishes this time. This means the campaign machine has to be very much more efficient and effective.
Finally, we need a totally different campaign. The approach adopted last time simply won’t work on the fishes we need to land. We’re looking for an additional ten points, minimum. We need five points just to get off the starting line. We need another five points on top of that to make the outcome decisive. This is a mammoth task. And it is a very different task from that which faced us a decade ago. The campaign has to be reframed to suit the task before us. Not the one that’s behind us.
The good news is that the 45% Yes has seems firm. If it hasn’t increased then neither has it decreased. This indicates that the base is solid. It’s a good foundation. But that’s the only good news. The rest looks pretty grim. But only if you’re being realistic. We can turn this around. But only if we are realistic about where we are starting from.
You will not get an argument from me on your numerous points Peter but I still think that being on an equal starting point with those who want to vote No to Independence is a better starting point for the Referendum Campaign than in 2014.BTL comment The National
It would be if the votes we have to capture were as easily captured as they were then. But they aren’t. As I have explained. There are no ‘soft No’ votes left. They’ve all been harvested. That is why the polls have flatlined. The SNP/Yes movement has been trying to capture votes that don’t exist. They have adopted – or should I say maintained – the approach to the constitutional issue that was appropriate to the 2014 referendum and the task of capturing ‘soft Yes’ votes and the softest of the ‘soft No’ votes. Having captured them, they’ve failed to move on to the next phase – which is to go after the ‘soft Unionist’ vote.
We already have all the people who can be attracted by a ‘positive case’ and a happy-clappy campaign. The 10 points we still require will have to come from that section of the Unionist vote which is prepared to question the Union. Forget the British Nationalists and the hard-line Unionists. They are a lost cause. But there are people who are now beginning to wonder about the ‘benefits’ of the Union. That is where we find the votes we need in order to win.
But capturing those votes requires a very different kind of campaign. A push campaign rather than a pull campaign. The base vote Yes has now is largely made up of people who were ready to come to Yes as soon as it became an actual destination. The people the new campaign must address are those who need a reason for leaving No as well as a reason for coming to Yes. They’ve heard the ‘positive case’ for independence over and over in the course of the last ten years and have not been tempted by it. They won’t be until they get the push they need to part with the Union.
That is why the entire constitutional issue should have been reframed in the year following the first referendum as an anti-Union campaign rather than a pro-independence campaign. The ‘positive case’ remains. It is always there in the background. But the main thrust of the campaign should be against the Union.
The independence movement should have learned the lessons of the first campaign. That includes the lessons to be learned from Better Together’s campaign. The main lesson being that they didn’t even try to win support for the Union. Their whole campaign was based on generating doubt about independence. The same methods – absent the dishonesty – can be turned against the Union.
It is beyond belief that we sit here almost eight years after the first referendum and not only has the SNP failed to learn any of the things that the campaign has to teach us, they haven’t even looked for those lessons. There was no serious analysis of the campaign. The SNP leadership proceeded on the basis that they already knew all they needed to know. In this, they have been supported and encouraged by the loyalist claque and the ‘woke’ clique. The latter because it aids their political agenda rather than Scotland’s cause. The former because they are just plain stupid.
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