Kirsty Strickland is undoubtedly correct when she says: “It’s time for a new conversation.” Unfortunately, that is not what Nicola Sturgeon is proposing. Granted, we don’t know much about what she is proposing. But we know enough to be certain that she has no intention of reframing the constitutional issue. We can deduce from her guarded words and timid actions to date that she intends no more than a rehash of the 2014 campaign. She aims to have us all singing “the favourite songs of the 45% on repeat”. Her ‘big idea’ is to have the voters once again assailed by a bewildering barrage of “competing visions for Scotland’s future” none of which will be on the actual ballot paper when the referendum comes. Or all of them will be. Which amounts to the same thing.
The ‘thinking’ is that we need only make those ‘visions’ a bit shinier and more detailed and that’s all it will take to effect the breakthrough required. The conviction is that there are thousands of voters who are so scunnered with Boris and The Brits’ brand of raucous, cacophonous punk politics that they need only have a glossy brochure ‘vision’ of a different Scotland thrust in their faces vigorously and often enough and they will succumb to the lure. The future’s bright! The future’s any of the perplexing array of vivid colours blasting out of those glossy brochures to dazzle and befuddle. Or all of those colours. In which case, it’s all just muddy grey.
Kirsty is also correct to say that “the Scottish Tories will have to emerge from their bunker” at some point. By which she presumably means the British Nationalist/Unionist effort to counter the rerun of the 2014 Yes campaign being ‘planned’ by Sturgeon and the SNP. Call me radical if you will. But might it not be a good idea to consider what the ‘enemy forces’ might be carrying when they emerge from that bunker?
There is a body of opinion which holds that Better Together v2.0 cannot possibly resort to the same tactics and methods it used in the first referendum campaign. The argument goes that all the assertions and assurances offered by the No campaign having been proved false and worthless, they cannot possibly trot out the same stuff again. But why not? If the Yes campaign is to be basically the same as it was then, why wouldn’t we expect the same No campaign methods and tactics to be just as effective now as then?
Those who suppose the No campaign must devise a whole new armoury of dishonest and deceptive gambits because the old ones are dud, fail to understand the nature of the anti-independence campaign. The first thing to understand is that there was no anti-independence campaign. The No campaign in the 2014 referendum was not about making solid arguments against independence. Better Together had two objectives. First, generate doubt and aggravate existing doubt about change. Then provide the doubtful with plausible rationalisations for a choice based on irrational doubt.
Those who say they voted No – or who maintain that others voted No – because the Yes campaign failed to make the economic case; or didn’t answer the important questions about currency, pensions etc., are all labouring under the delusion that people vote according to what they know. They don’t! They vote according to what they feel! What they know – or think they know – is useful only to allow them to pretend to themselves and others that their choice was intellectual rather than instinctual.
It doesn’t matter that what they thought they knew turned out to be a confection of fabrications. They still get to claim it was the rational basis for their gut decision at the time. They can still fool themselves that their vote was an informed decision. They were not wrong even if the information was. Cognitive dissonance duly avoided!
The British political elite understands all of this. They know how it works. They’ve been working it for generations. They know that they don’t have to make a solid honest case either against independence or for the Union. Voters aren’t being asked about the Union, so there is no need to justify it. People are being asked only about independence. All that’s needed is to sow some doubt and nurture the ‘natural’ aversion to change while making it easy for folk to deny that they voted out of gut-felt trepidation and it’s job done. The British ruling elites have been using the same ploy against anything that threatened established power for centuries. It almost always works. It will almost certainly work again.
The doubt and post hoc rationalisation method will definitely work if the Yes campaign contributes to the confusion and insistence on a ‘positive case’ as it did in the 2014 campaign. It will be as easy now for the No campaign to generate and aggravate doubt as it was then. They need do no more than ask endless questions knowing that both the questions and the mess of mixed ‘answers’ emanating from the Yes campaign will contribute to the uncertainty. Throw in the testimony of a few ‘experts’ such as Neil F Oliver, which can be used to cover the embarrassment of fearfulness, and you’ve almost certainly done enough to have those hovering pencils in voting booths across Scotland incline towards the box marked No.
Bottom line! An appeal to the emotions will always beat an appeal to the intellect so long as it is easy to pretend that the appeal to emotion is an appeal to the intellect. All those facts and figures and graphs and charts and tables and studies and statistics and projections pouring out of the Yes movement’s various think-tanks serve no purpose whatever until after people have been made to feel that they must vote Yes. Only then will they come into play. If the Yes campaign fails to ignite the emotions then all that factual information is just kindling without a flame.
If we are to burn down the Union then we need the controlled fire of righteous anger We need the searing heat of justified wrath more than the warm glow of hope. It is not enough that people be inspired by what might be. To break through the barriers of doubt they need the urging of outrage regarding what is. We need a campaign that makes people as mad as hell and refusing to take it any more.