Johnny Rep and the Psychology of No

10325374_842844915744161_1747748988925750116_nBy Mike Small

Where are you in all this?

People seem to be working to weirdly different time sequences from ‘they think it’s all over’ to ‘we’ll finish the job in 2016’ and on wildly different optimism / pessimism frequencies.

Some have raced ahead to cleaning up after the victory party and are already planning assemblies and shoogley-but-innovative democratic structures (watch the papers this weekend). Others have rushed to be embraced in the comforting arms of failure, hurrying to expectant gloom. For many on the Unionist side, hubris pumping like adrenalin, maintain a state of perpetual and ill-concealed glee based on an ever-decreasing poll advantage.

Two very different outlooks seem to be sustaining people. The buoyancy of post-colonial hopefulness sustains much of the Yes movement whilst deep-seated fear of change grips the No campaign into a rictus of political rigor mortis.

If it seems like the fixed grin of the ventriloquist (‘UK:OK’ ‘UK:OK’) it might not be that the Better Together leadership have very little positive to say, it might be about how the two (or more) groups are actually experiencing the campaign.

Speaking to prospective No voters I’ve been overwhelmed by their feeling of real discomfort and unease, whilst Yesers are elated at having helped to create a fresh culture of democracy, for Unionists this is like constitutional precarity. For the indy movement it feels like something new, just starting for the No’s it seems like somebody’s broken into their home and started painting the walls purple.

And, whilst the breathtaking gall of the ‘More Powers Later’ charade is unlikely to succeed, getting together with Menzies 30 days after is about as exciting as it’s going to get if you’re a Better Together acolyte.

Looking Forward

If the No campaign fails, and ‘failure’ could be measured in several ways (losing the argument, very narrow poll victory, being forced into positions or alliances no-one of the Unionist coalition wants etc) then  next year will turn into one big exercise in political ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’.

But would a defeated SNP and a left-green alliance that has had it’s spirit broken survive? The messy creativity of 100,000 new alliances on the Yes side is a wonderful thing but would the (very young) Yes contingent survive or be scarred by defeat (says a man who was 10 in 1978 and remembers Johnny Rep).

The creative chaos may need some channels and structures to help it if we lose, but there’s a good argument that the Yes movement will survive defeat (should it come) better than the No. Why? Because we are engaging, learning and expanding, whilst the No hordes are retreating, defending and trying as hard as possible not to think. We’ll come out of this battle hardened and politically educated. No will come out with a sordid Tory alliance to shed and a campaign to be ashamed of.

The Psychology of No

After a recent public meeting I asked a No voter why they hadn’t asked a question or made their own point. The answer was revealing: “There weren’t any politicians on the panel, so therefore anything I asked none of you were qualified to answer. You have no authority.”

The deference that’s hard-wired into Britain and Britishness was revealed. While Yes revels in the gentle anarchy of the new movement, for this No, and I suspect many more, it’s childish and pointless. What they yearn for is certainty and back to the time when people told you what to do. Soon, they think, the real players, the politicians, will return, and this sideshow will be over.

Reports from friends in Comrie reveal the same. Whilst innovative participatory structures (like virtually excluding the politicians) energise the Undecided and the Yes people, the same structures lead to a stream of feedback asking ‘on what authority’ these non politicians were speaking?

It’s this energy and demand for a better politics that transcends the Yes-No binary that will take us beyond September.

This from Neill Walker add to the picture:

“I attended the Church of Scotland Scottish Independence discussion yesterday as part of the annual General Assembly on the Mound in Edinburgh.

I was struck by the fact that to a significant degree that those on the No side were largely talking about their own personal fears (some of which are not even specific to the Referendum), and the fears that they exhibited were little different to those in the wider public Referendum debate. Further, as in the wider debate, there was little evidence of a positive vision for Scotland on the No side of the discussion.

To a significant degree, when I hear such personal fears, then I consider that they are usually best addressed at a personal level, rather than at a national level. I certainly do not find it acceptable, sensible or practical that Scotland, as a country, should be held back democratically, socially, and in other ways because someone may be struggling to make sense, e.g., of their own personal identity.

And yet, that is precisely what some people on the No side seem to be saying – Scotland should not progress democratically, socially, and in other ways because they have some personal issues to resolve within themselves.

Why don’t they just take a bit more personal responsibility for addressing such personal issues within themselves, rather than insisting that everyone else in Scotland takes responsibility for them on their behalf at a national level?

As in the wider Referendum debate, almost all of the reasons offered by the No side yesterday seem to me to be intellectually very weak, and do not stand up to any serious intellectual scrutiny. In this respect, I do find that the intellectual basis for the No side is one of the very weakest that I have come across in any such discussion that I can recall. Indeed, much of what has been said on the No side has insulted the intelligence of the people of Scotland, with ridiculous scares often replacing substantive evidence-based arguments.

Part of the reason for this, I suspect, is that some people are trying to rationally explain their basis for aligning with No, when the true basis for their present relation to No is not actually rational, but is rooted in aspects of their educational, social and cultural formation and conditioning, much of which is presently poorly examined.”

It’s well said.

Bella is charting the no-shows of the Better Together campaign, as they resist and try and sabotage political discussion by avoidance. But there’s a less explicit way to ruin debate, and that is to engage at such a banal level as to make it meaningless.

I used to think that the idea put forward by some that it’s incumbent on the Yes movement to help the No side into the debate was a bridge too far, now I realise it’s absolutely essential.



Categories: Commentary

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23 replies

  1. I agree with much of what you say, especially that the No campaign appeals to the cowards in our society.
    Better the devil you know…
    Really?
    You mean Trident, Iraq, Afghanistan, support for the richest in the City at the expense of the poorest?
    That is the devil we know.

  2. Fiona responded to Neill’s posting of his analysis of the CoS independence discussion on his Facebook page by saying:

    “I think for some it is also to do with deeply held Labour links…from the days when they were actually a party of the left. This tribal hatred of all things SNP is behind much of the No vote on the left”

    My response was:
    “I think that attachment to the Labour of the past can also be an attachment to wanting to make progress across these islands and not just in Scotland (which is where a lot of personal identity issues come into play for people in leading them towards a No vote). Clearly the referendum is not a vote for parties or policies but a vote on whether Westminster has lost our trust, and whether we believe we’d do better with all decisions (including wars and weapons, social and economic policies) happening at Holyrood. I think what these folk need to realise is that this is a chance for Scotland to make an example of how all in these islands can take back control of Government from the very rich who have got so much richer these last few years while blaming and squeezing the poor. It isn’t about separation, it’s about leadership.”

  3. A fine thoughtful article. I too, on my journey to YES, have encountered many types of no voters. Some of these people are long standing friends and others range from work colleagues, family members, random pub discussions and online Twitter adversaries.
    There is no single reason why they have chosen to vote this way. The, as you said, “no authority” from the YES side is very dominant. The propaganda of “we are too wee” and uncertainty in the big world out there has hit home. The staunch no’s will not be changed. They have bought the better together blethers. It reminds me very much of when the SNP started to pick up votes, a fair amount of people stated ” ach whut di they ken aboot running things” . They will fall flat on their face as only the “proper big parties” could run a council / country. Well look at them now!! Little by little the SNP have proved that they ARE more than capable.
    Greens are in that place now and Patrick Harvey has played a blinder in this campaign.
    The YES are building up a head of steam with events lined up all the way to the DAY.
    The optimism and enthusiasm that you identified in the YES voters will gradually infect the doubters and
    I am confident that this momentum will see us over the line.

  4. No for some Scots is a rejection of change.
    No for some Scots is a relexive X on the ballot paper for Labour (No).
    No for some Scots is an identity of being primarily British.
    No for some Scots is the acceptance of cringe (we cannae dae it)
    No for some Scots is because of patronage from the British state.
    No for some Scots is because they hate Alex Salmond and the SNP (why?)
    No for some Scots is because their religious beliefs might be compromised.

    Yes is for an aspiration that WE can do better than this.

  5. Re Psychology.

    Better Together are doing something very clever indeed.

    They have changed the question from ‘should Scotland be an independent country’

    to their version –

    ‘should Scotland stay as part of the Union
    or separate from the rest of the UK’.

    In this change, the No Campaign are attempting to control the way the voters are thinking – and feeling.

    Their goal is to get people to think about separation, which is usually painful and regrettable,
    and to take their minds off the word independence which is a valuable attribute and something well worth aspiring to.

    These are the bare bones of what I’m driving at, but I think it is very important to keep the word independence to the forefront at all times,
    and to debunk the BT campaign to change what it is we are being asked to vote on.

    • Absolutely agree. Words, and the ideas they provoke are at the core of this process. Thats why they have acanchi, and probably numerous others, who understand this. We need to be in charge of the meaning we are making. We are not separating, we are becoming something greater.

  6. Over 300 years of subservience to a dominant neighbour is bound to have a destructive effect on an individual’s courage and a nation’s ambitions.

    The entire No campaign is based on fear, but is less the fear they have tried to inculcate in us, more the irrational fear they harbour of what tomorrow will bring for them.

  7. To many outsiders the image of Scotland is still one of “conservatism” and not in any good sense of the term. It is an image of a society that in order to get on required millions, voluntarily and involuntarily, to quit the place. There simply was nothing worth staying for, anything of account occurred elsewhere. Scotland was the dormitory suburb of the Union, of the Empire. It was just too conformist, provincial, stolid, buttoned up, dour and joyless. That largely Victorian restyling of Scotland away from the intellectually edgy place it had been in the 18th century is the bolus in the gut. It is the visceral no. The great constipation in the Scots body politic. Karl Jung might well recognise our problem. Societies occasionally need to have an existential evacuation, a good shit. We have reached that stage. Fetch the Indi-Lax.

  8. elephant,coward is a very strong word against someone voting NO,I’m YES,but my mother is a defo NO.

    1.she has many friends south of the border,and feels British,not in a political way but in common every day way thru interests.

    2.she is happy about the standard of living not rich but comfortable.

    For me ,I see it more politically,and can difference myself,but for many in the NO camp they can’t,and I understand why.

  9. I am a member of OIR Ayr’s News Review Group. We began discussing the Referendum in February, and, before we began, a poll was conducted.

    Twenty-two members “voted” and the split was: 5 – Yes; 15 – No, 2 – Don’t Know.

    We repeated the poll yesterday, prior to our summer break, with 26 members voting; the voting this time was: 8 – Yes, 12 – No; 6 – Don’t Know.

    The demographic of this group, all over 55, mostly retired, mostly professional, would, one would think, be likely to be mostly No voters. However, as the different result from February shows – the Yes side appears to be getting its message across better

  10. A lot of the “No” voters are just comfortable with the status quo. That is why No support is so high in Aberdeen. Well paid, nice house, nice cars, good schools. The status quo is just peachy – why vote for anything that might threaten that? That would be illogical on their part.

    Mouths stuffed with gold perhaps?

    I don’t know how you will change their minds.

  11. Lets reach enough people for whom the status quo is NOT that peachy, where the argument is truly compelling, because my guess is that there are more people in Scotland in that state than not.

    And then we can all just get the hell on with it.

  12. that’s what the America pollster said Alistair,just having a Tory UK gov,isn’t enough if Scots are reasonably well off.Its why I don’t trust the polls either side,could be a shock,but I don’t know which side.

  13. # Alistair

    Do you think there is a difference between voters in rural Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen city? Why else could the region be described as an SNP stronghold.

    On the CofS debate, I would personalise the ‘No’ people in the form of the (Very) Rev Cairns, previous Moderator, who showed all the hallmarks of someone who has problems with his national identity. I am guessing, but I would vouch that he is an ex-colonial type, married to the concept of the British empire. And that sense of loss leads on to all sorts of other negatives – not real independence, why bother, too wee, too poor, too thick. These people are fundamentally hierarchial. They need to depend on sureties. They feel naked without the ‘Mother of Parliaments’.

  14. I agree, there is a distinct difference between those who demand/need certainty and those who are happy to take a chance (or are more self -confident). Of course, a more philosophical approach to life would open their eyes to the reality that the only certainty in life is change – and having the power to adapt to that change as close to you as possible is the logical choice.

    The people I know that won’t even entertain the idea of a “yes” vote are all comfortable which of course makes them firmly middle class professionals (like myself). They are also very dismissive of the whole indepenence aspiration, never mind the referendum. They aren’t so dismissive that they won’t vote unfortunately. But I get the impression all of their opinions and ideas are simply reinforced by those around them, and the newspapers they read, without the slightest attempt to look deeper.

    Perhaps Aberdeen suffers more from this because of it’s demographics and because they were shielded from the economic incompetence of Westminster by the oil wealth.

  15. “And yet, that is precisely what some people on the No side seem to be saying – Scotland should not progress democratically, socially, and in other ways because they have some personal issues to resolve within themselves.”

    The extract summed it up for me. I note in the previous posts that the NO point is defended in having this personal opinion/fear. It is nonsense to use the friends and family arguement when most Scots have family all around the globe. Being comfortable is also to deny opportunity to others. They have a right to vote NO – it is just unfortunate that this is driven by such narrow self interest.

    One of the things that I consider important is to leave the self interest behind and create a nation which will benefit those to come. The current Westminster system thrives on self interest. We need to look behond this in an Independent Scotland.

    I will not be any better off in an independent Scotland. I will probably pay more tax. I will be happy to do so for a fairer/better society. I would object to paying less tax if it went towards illegal wars/HS2/Trident2 etc.

    The YES campaign has strong core values at it’s heart.

  16. How do you categorise those who are voting for a football team?

  17. Historically (going back to the act of union and the wars of independence) Scotland has always been undone by relatively small numbers acting out of self interest at the expense of many. Whenever we’ve acted together we’ve won.

  18. Right eh think it’s time to use some futba analogies to focus the mind. The big two in Scottish futba Celtic and Rangers are the better together teams. They are rarely spoken about singly. All the stories we got about how it was them and only them that kept Scottish football at the top table with their exploits in Europe and that it was them that kept the TV money flowing in because the Old Firm matches are what everyone wanted to see. Now whether that was true or not, is not the case. It is that’s what we were ALL told repeatedly by the MSM and it gained credence as fact.
    Then the big two separation came, and the doomsayers were saying that’s the end of Scottish football, we canna let this happen. The other clubs fans (eh’ll call them voters here) ensured their team’s chairman didn’t buckle under to the behind the scenes gerrymandering going on retain the status quo. Whaar’s a this going eh can here you say—eh wish eh kent!
    Anyway by all accounts from fans, the mainstream media and FIFA world rankings this year has been a belter. There has been excitement up to the last kick of the ball, The trophies have been SHARED OUT and the National team has won back its place to some degree in the wider world. Rangers have spread their wealth to the provincial clubs ensuring their survival on their way back
    So whut ehm trying to put across in a no very articulate way is that the Armageddon never happened and that the whole of Scottish football (in my opinion) is the better for it.
    So who are the winners and who are the losers. There are always winners and losers.
    The way eh see it is the winners are the great bulk of the Scottish clubs and their fans (the people o Scotland).
    The losers are the established “jackets” who fed off the big two and the BBC reporters who “bigged” up them and are still at it. Hoping for a return to their normality.
    Eh for one am looking forward to the new season (Dundee promoted), local derbies and a BIG YES vote in September.

  19. Thank you, a timely thoughtful article the no psychology is spot on.

  20. great article that sums up the “average NO voter”

    Blind and uninterested on anything but their view. The football analogy was spot on. I remember only too well the talk of the death of Scottish football and the loss of the old firm but what we saw was the opposite.

    Bringiton that was a great wee bit oh writing i’ve pasted that onto my desktop.. Magic

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