Although not able to vote on account of my exile to the SE of England, in an attempt to fully equip myself with the facts about the referendum I have been actively seeking out views from the Yes and No camps, as well as from people who are firmly Don’t Know.
This hasn’t been easy.
While there is a huge and growing body of pro-independence material out there produced by ordinary Scots and which is generally well-considered, positive and progressive in its outlook, there appears to be a notable lack of anything similar from No supporters.
The No campaign has thus far been built upon negative campaigning (don’t think I’m being too contentious here, it’s almost a cliché at this point) and is, to these eyes, struggling under the uneasy truce between factions of Labour struggling to contain their contempt for the Tories who are the obvious ringleaders of the Better Together campaign. It has comprehensively failed to put across any single benefit of Scotland staying in the union, other than “It’s worked for 300 years”, which I would argue is debatable at best when looking at the last quarter of that period, and in that sense their tactics only really be viewed as a failure up until now.
They do, however, have almost all of the mainstream media in their pocket so why bother exerting themselves?
The reluctance of David Cameron or senior Govt. officials to enter the debate except to lob comments in from afar speaks volumes. They know the risks of entering the ring and have decided, on balance, that it’s best to be viewed as detached and cowardly rather than stir up any latent anti-Westminster, anti-coalition, anti-austerity, anti-Bullingdon feelings in the populace.
I think this will prove to be a grave mistake but who knows, they might yet emerge as inspiring leaders? Hmm…
That’s the No camp then, seemingly content from day one just to have the tame media convey all their messages to Scots voters, confident this is all that would be required to retain a considerable lead in the polls and secure a continuation of the union.
Arrogant and conceited, lacking any dignity or passion. Surely not?
What of the Yes campaign then?
Apart from typography (Yes Scotland’s use of a strong, tightly-kerned Helvetica which works in multiple colours trumps the staid and inflexible Better Together use of the frumpy Stag, and its dilution with the alternative UKOK brand), what does the Yes campaign have over its unionist rival?
Well, positivity in spades for a start, almost too much at times. Is that because of spellbound optimism or just a genuine conviction in the chance to shape Scotland’s destiny and a possibility of a future state where things are just a little better than today?
I watched with interest as Stuart Campbell, who I have been aware of for more than 20 years for his work in the games industry, announced his intention to set up a dedicated political blog at Wings Over Scotland and have dipped in from time to time to see how things were going. Recently however Wings has become a vital source of information as Campbell (and his occasional helpers – ‘we’ is very much ‘I’ in this case, but that has always been his style) has dismantled lie after fabrication after deceit emanating from the No camp and its media tendrils. In particular, its reach is advancing rapidly; as I write it seems poised to break into the top 90,000 websites globally according to Alexa, having been outside the top 100,000 only a few weeks previously.
WoS is not alone however, there are a large number of other worthy and well-written pro-independence blogs from the likes of Bella Caledonia, Business for Scotland and Newsnet Scotland, and the amazing thing is they are almost wholly focussed on providing readers with description, explanation, facts and figures to back up the case for a successful and just independent Scotland.
This is the kind of information that most undecideds say they need to make their mind up and, approached with an open mind, there is a lot of compelling evidence that should at least help balance the relentless tide of scare stories and downright misinformation coming from established outlets.
There’s a bit of pro-Yes bias of course (they are pro-independence sites, after all) and the odd shaky predication, but most of the content is remarkably well considered and generally avoids the kind of ad hominem attacks and haughty “nanny knows best” dismissal that characterises the majority of the No camp’s output.
I recently looked around for similar grassroots, bottom-up No blogs and found…nothing. A few frothing unionist scribbles (in the worst, West of Scotland fitba-related sense; all Union Jacks and barely-concealed sectarianism) and a fair bit of official Better Together stuff, but nothing of the quality, breadth or depth that is readily available from the Yes side.
Why is this? Surely those passionate about keeping the union together can be expected to make a convincing and reasoned case for its continuation? It didn’t appear so, so I asked my 500-odd followers on Twitter (bear in mind this probably includes 400+dormant/bot accounts!) for pro-union sites that were worthy of consideration.
And I waited.
Eventually I received two replies. One was from a follower who I is, I think, English but lives in Scotland and who I knew to be very much pro-union and which basically stated that there were basically none because it was very hard to argue for the status quo and a lot easier for Yes supporters to be passionate about change. An odd position, but there’s a grain of truth in there somewhere, but nothing to my mind which could explain the dearth of No sites.
The other was from someone I don’t follow and who I don’t think follows me, but pointed me to two blogs. One was a little light on content and heavily on the polemic, the other seemed to have a bit more ‘weight’ behind it in thought. Neither was very positive, being restricted to the usual FUD, and neither had the scale or engagement that the Yes blogs seemed to have in terms of comments (often 200+ on a WoS article) and free sharing and dissection of ideas. Where then is the positive case for the union?
I began to feel that perhaps the winds were changing. OK, any genuine undecideds only aware of the mainstream media may understandably drift towards the safe harbour of a No position, but I became sure that anyone genuinely seeking to learn more about the debate online (such as it is) could not fail to come across a wealth of broad-based, well-researched and above all positive messages about independence that must surely inch them towards a Yes vote, or at least cast doubt on all the guff being fed to them by the mainstream media*.
The intelligence of the electorate cannot be dismissed, and many who may only be exposed to BBC/STV and the press must surely smell a rat when being presented with the relentless and increasingly desperate stories which fall apart under even light scrutiny (using the pound, oil reserves and revenue, pensions, nuclear cataclysm, alien invasion etc.).
With months of this to go and a likely ramp-up of the rhetoric to come, many will hopefully be prompted to look beyond the headlines and will realise that they are perhaps being sold a dummy.
The polls still show a (narrowing) lead for No, but they are only going one way and it is not looking great for Better Together. I am also sure that the polling methodology used is, at the very least, open to question as this is an unprecedented event in UK politics so no-one really knows how to ask the right questions (if they even try) or how to engage with the unique constituency (16-17 year olds, plummeting landline use in some sectors of the electorate etc.) without introducing untested and unverified weightings, and the wide spread of results yet aligning trends seem to bear this out.
The fact that the pollsters failed to detect the scale of the SNP victory in the 2011 Scottish parliamentary elections also cannot be forgotten. What if similar forces are at work here and the largely London-based polling organisations are wide of the mark again?
I asked in my first post about independence if Salmond had been hasty and vainglorious in attempting to get a referendum though so quickly, but could Eck have pulled a blinder here?
*Since I wrote this a few weeks ago, the Sunday Herald has come out in support of Yes.