MORE than 100 grassroots groups backing Scottish independence have been set up across the country since the start of the referendum campaign last year, organisers have revealed.
In a move away from the traditional “top-down” style of political communication, the new tactic aims to mobilise “peer-to-peer” campaigning, with individuals helping to convince friends and family to vote for independence.
Groups have been established from Annan in Dumfries-shire to Orkney in the wake of the launch of the “Yes Scotland” campaign, with the aim of convincing local communities of the merits of independence.
Yesterday, the SNP sought to claim it had the momentum in the campaign as the new year begins, publishing figures showing that its own membership had risen by nearly a quarter over the last year, to just under 25,000.
Yes Scotland is understood to have signed up more than 3,000 volunteers across the country to campaign, with that number expected to grow.
But the pro-UK side last night said it too was gaining significant grassroots backing, as it begins its drive to recruit 30,000 volunteers by the autumn of 2014.
The build-up comes as the pro-independence movement faces the task of turning around polling figures which have barely moved over the last 12 months – about a third of voters in Scotland say they will back independence in the referendum.
Both sides say that crucial to the outcome of the referendum will be the effectiveness of the grassroots campaigns both are trying to build.
Yes Scotland organisers say a major plank of their efforts will be “peer-to-peer campaigning”, where key messages are passed on from neighbours and in the community, rather than in politician-led campaigns.
It follows evidence that voters are swayed most by friends and people they know, rather than blanket political campaigning.
The local groups set up by the Yes Scotland campaign include a large number in the crucial west-central Scotland area, the country’s most populous region.
There are six groups in Edinburgh and others are up and running in Dundee, Perth, St Andrews, Stirling, Kilmarnock and Dumbarton. Yes Scotland has also set up “themed” campaigns, including “Trade Unions for Independence” and “Labour for Independence”.
A spokeswoman for Yes Scotland said: “We’ve always said Yes Scotland would be the biggest grassroots community campaign Scotland has ever seen. In the few short months we’ve been in existence, over 100 local groups have formed, which shows the levels of enthusiasm and excitement out there.”
Both camps are eyeing Barack Obama’s 2012 US presidential campaign, which used local people to target their friends and neighbours either on the doorstep or online.
Yes Scotland also has a target of getting one million people to sign up to its “Independence Declaration”. At present, it has 143,000 signatures.
The campaign notes that if those one million people were then to persuade one person each to back independence, gaining two million supporters, they would be close to getting enough votes to win in 2014, when as many as four million people may be voting.
However, the Better Together campaign has set out to win three million votes in the referendum, in the belief it can settle Scotland’s constitutional question for a generation.
A Better Together spokesman said yesterday that it too would be basing its campaign on a grassroots movement across Scotland, pointing out that, on one day of campaigning in November, a total of 180 events had been held across the country.
However, the pro-UK camp is using the infrastructure of local political parties, with Labour constituency parties taking on the lion’s share of organisation.
The spokesman also claimed that the vast majority of Yes Scotland campaign groups were simply SNP supporters under a different name.
Blair MacDougall, chief executive of Better Together, said: “We want to get 20,000-30,000 activists.
“They seem to be getting rooms full of 200 to 300 people, talking about what they want to hear and then go home. We are focusing on voters.”
The SNP yesterday sought to highlight its own continuing strength by publishing new figures on its membership, which has gone up from 20,139 at the start of 2012 to 24,732, an increase of just under 23 per cent. It also pointed to a recent study in the House of Commons library which showed that membership of Labour, the LibDems and the Tories all declined between 2003 and 2011, while SNP membership doubled.