Robin McAlpine: The future of our nation is certain to be decided by angry people, not the fearful

In DESIGNING a campaign, it is best to start from a brutally honest assessment of where you are. The Yes campaign is losing.

In DESIGNING a campaign, it is best to start from a brutally honest assessment of where you are. The Yes campaign is losing.

But that is to be expected. A campaign is a co-ordinated set of messages and actions that seek to control the terms of a debate to deliver a defined outcome.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

In these terms, the No campaign was launched in 1999 with Labour’s “Divorce is a Costly Business” strategy.

It has worked well; we are all discussing independence in fearful, technocratic terms related to how Scotland will be “done over” by powerful forces, such as banks, the Ministry of Defence, the BBC and anyone else who might “punish” Scotland for voting Yes.

Best not to take the chance. Am I being sniffy? Not in the slightest. While I think its delivery has been a bit clumsy and too one-note, it is the right strategy.

If you want someone to choose a “No” option you need to limit the sense of positivity and “permissiveness”. That’s just how it works.

The Yes campaign must change the conversation into a positive one – a negative, scared population won’t vote for independence.

But it must avoid the giant trap of mistaking “nice” for “positive”. Anger is not a negative emotion, but a positive emotion that stimulates change and reform.

And the outcome is going to be decided by angry people.

The third of voters not yet firmly committed are dominated by women, Labour voters and public-sector workers.

They are groups particularly sensitive to the “fear” strategy, but they are also the group that is most angry with the abuse of power in Britain.

It is the demographic where the referendum is won or lost.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It wants the opposite of austerity; Yes must both offer that vision and channel its anger in positive ways.

But to do that it needs to capture the debate. Decent childcare, secure jobs, good public services, fair wages.

No has made no attempt to capture these values and couldn’t if it wanted.

This is where Yes must move the debate. But there is limited time, and it won’t just happen.

Ideas are just ideas until you can say them out loud; a campaign is about turning ideas into conversations. It’s about finding ways to catch the imagination, lodging questions in people’s heads. That requires sharp, focused messages.

Purely because of the state of campaign development, the No campaign should be at its high-water mark.

It probably is. Some independence supporters believe that a rapid decline in support is therefore inevitable. It is not.

Patience is a virtue, but it isn’t one that wins referendums…