There is no measurable recruiting sergeant effect. We have gone through a period since the 2014 referendum when those supposed recruiting sergeants for Scotland’s cause have been working very hard indeed. Quite remarkably hard, in fact. And what has been the product of this diligence? Nothing! Polling evidence tells us that not a single soul has been recruited to the Yes cause.
What purpose is served by continuing to promulgate this patently false notion? The independence campaign has often been compared to a journey. In order to plan a journey, it is necessary to know both the destination and the starting point with a high degree of accuracy. Peddling myths such as the notion that support for Yes is ‘soaring’ (one of The National’s favourite terms) due to people being driven to the Yes side by factors such as Boris Johnson and Brexit deceives people into thinking we are closer to that destination than we really are.
The ‘recruiting sergeant’ myth is far from being the only deception being practised. Another is that the Union is crumbling. It isn’t! That independence is ‘inevitable’. It isn’t! Yet another is that starting from 50% makes the onward journey less difficult. It doesn’t! And, of course, there is perhaps the biggest myth of them all – that Nicola Sturgeon is doing a brilliant job for Scotland’s cause and that all we need do is have faith in her brilliance and all will be well. She isn’t and it won’t!
To demonstrate how poorly Sturgeon has served as de facto leader of Scotland’s independence movement we need only look at that mythical ‘recruiting sergeant’ effect. We need only realise that it needn’t have been merely a myth. Factors such as Brexit and Boris Johnson had the potential to increase support for independence. Or rather, to weaken support for the Union. They could have been exploited for the benefit of Scotland’s cause. They haven’t been exploited for Scotland’s cause. That potential has been squandered. We know this because the polls have barely twitched in favour of Yes for eight years and because every twitch towards Yes has been a fleeting improvement explained by factors at best tangentially or tenuously related to the constitutional issue.
The awfulness of this British government as exemplified by Brexit has not been fleeting. It has been a constant presence. It has been an unbroken succession of scandal and corruption and incompetence. So why has there not been a steady increase in support for Yes? Why has there been no ‘recruiting sergeant’ effect? Because Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP failed to properly exploit the situation.
Not for the first time, they got the thing the wrong way round. They were thinking in terms of people being driven towards Yes instead of them being driven away from the Union. The essence of the opportunity which was presented to them was the chance to work on nascent doubts in the minds of Unionists. To prod and poke those doubts until the grip of the Union was loosened enough for those former No voters to at least open their minds to alternatives. It is another demonstration of the failure to learn the lessons of the first referendum and the failure to reframe the constitutional issue. A deplorable failure of strategic thinking.
What makes it worse is that these failures aren’t even acknowledged. So they can’t be rectified. The failures aren’t recognised largely because people like Richard Walker and Lesley Riddoch and many, many more persist in peddling all manner of myths rather than presenting the true picture.
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