The claim “the 2014 No campaign ran a strategy that could only ever work once” is dubious at best. Better Together’s main weapon was not fear, but doubt. And doubt will always work if the means of generating and aggravating it is available. Having the mainstream media as staunch allies gave the anti-independence campaign a massively powerful tool by which to shroud the term ‘independence’ in confusion and uncertainty. Should there be a referendum in 2023 (the timescale may make this impossible), the No campaign will still have unrestricted access to the British state’s formidable propaganda machine. So there is no reason to suppose the same strategy of sowing doubt won’t work just as well as it did in the 2014 referendum.
Bear in mind that while the Yes campaign is starting from a higher base of support than in the first referendum, it might also be said that the No campaign is starting from a higher base of doubt. But while the Yes campaign has the most difficult part of the mountain to climb having conquered the lower slopes last time, the No campaign is running on the flat – and may even have a slope and following wind in its favour. Doubt is easier to both generate and maintain than confidence. And who can argue that the world doesn’t present a more favourable environment for uncertainty and trepidation to thrive?
Another advantage that the No campaign has is that doubt can be generated regarding anything at all and then that doubt is quite readily associated with the term ‘independence’ – because that is the change. Doubt about currency is created simply by asking what currency will be used. Doubt about pensions is created simply by taking advantage of a semantic slipperiness regarding who pays – the term ‘pay’ having two possible interpretations. Doubt about defence is created simply by referring to one or more of the world’s current armed conflicts. With a bit of imagination and a willingness to lie freely, even some little-reported minor tribal altercation in Africa can be made to imply dire implications for independent Scotland.
What this tells us – what this SHOULD tell us is that the more things we’re talking about the more opportunities the No campaign has for deploying its main weapon – doubt. What it also tells us – or SHOULD – is that responding to the doubt-generating questions as if they referred to a serious concern can only amplify the doubt. Especially if you respond with not one answer but several. Worse still when you let the opposition set the agenda so that they can run the doubt-generating topics on a rota, allowing them to work repeatedly.
Of course, this is EXACTLY what the Yes campaign did last time. There is every reason to suppose the ‘new’ Yes campaign will do the same again. So why would the No campaign exploit the same weakness? Why wouldn’t the No campaign adopt exactly the same strategy again?
The form of the campaign is almost entirely dictated by the question that lies at the heart of the referendum. The question on the ballot paper is what both campaigns must address – directly or indirectly. Again, the proposal is that the same question will be asked in the new referendum-like event. (We know it isn’t a real constitutional referendum because Nicola Sturgeon has felt it necessary to assure our opponents that it isn’t. A bit like saying a vote for the SNP isn’t a vote for independence.) What is the subject of the question? Independence! The subject of the question is always the thing that is cast in doubt by the question. The question wouldn’t be asked if the subject wasn’t a matter of uncertainty. That is the perception. So, when the question is ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ it is the term ‘independent’ that is made contentious. Given that the No campaign’s principal weapon is doubt, this question gives them a significant advantage from the outset.
Since the question is to be the same, surely it’s obvious that the No campaign will use the advantage just as it did last time.
The claim “the 2014 No campaign ran a strategy that could only ever work once” isn’t looking quite such a statement of the obvious now, is it?
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