Eddie Barnes: Control, not emotion, is referendum battleground
Why nationalists and unionists are defying the heart-versus-head cliché to reach out to swing voters, writes Eddie Barnes
THE clichéd view of Scotland’s independence debate is that it puts emotional nationalists up against rational unionists – the classic battle of heart versus head.
SNP figures have long insisted the caricature is lazy and inaccurate. The first skirmishes of the referendum campaign suggest that the reverse is indeed proving to be the case ahead of the 2014 vote, as the two campaigns crank up a notch.
On the pro-independence side, the emotion is being played down. Strategists are deliberately attempting to remove all talk of identity from the picture; the very word “independence” itself is said to be raising negative connotations for many swing voters.
Instead, the battle is being fought on the narrower issue of political control. Independence is characterised as a completion of devolution. The referendum may be taking place in the wake of the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn, but the pro-independence side is not so much planning battlefield re-enactments as drawing up business plans and budgets as it seeks to prove to people that they can afford to take the plunge.
On the pro-Union side, by contrast, the pitch is far more emotional. The Better Together campaign refers regularly to the UK “family” of nations. The UK’s shared culture, not its politics, will be emphasised over coming months. People from England, Wales and Northern Ireland will play a prominent role, urging Scots to stick with them - the “Please Don’t Go” message.
Last summer’s Olympics offered a template of a United Kingdom that was comfortable in its own skin, and big enough to respect differences no matter where people live. That modern feel-good modern image will be highlighted for all it is worth.
Of course, both sides will try and appeal both to head and heart. The pro-independence side will hope to piggy-back on Scottish patriotism in the run up to the big day, potentially helped by the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup.
Likewise, the pro-UK side will focus heavily on the bottom line as well, with a paper from the UK Treasury expected very shortly on the economic benefits of the Union. And they will also ram home the economic risks and uncertainties around independence.
But the current moods within the two camps suggests they know they have to target their weak points. For the pro-independence side, there is the need to convince voters they are not jumping off a fiscal cliff by voting Yes. They need to reassure.
For the pro-UK side, there is the equally clear need to convince people that voting No can be a positive choice. They need to make people feel good about staying put.
Political choices are usually made through a combination of emotion and reason. For their different reasons, the two sides in the great debate are now having to emphasise one, rather than the other.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east