What do undecided voters need to see, hear and feel to vote yes on September 18th?

Alex+Salmond+Makes+Keynote+Speech+SNP+Autumn+J3QZCJTQtVDlBy Jonathan Rowson (@Jonathan_Rowson)

Scotland’s constitutional future now depends upon a few hundred thousand voters. They are a varied bunch, and some are more persuadable than others, but they share certain characteristics. Many feel daunted by the responsibility to make the right decision, sensing the abundant opportunity but also fearing uncertainty and change. People in this pivotal group have glimpses of hope and fear, and they continue searching both for a reason to vote no, and the confidence to vote yes.

The threefold categorisation of no, undecided, and yes doesn’t do these ‘persuadables’ justice, because it conflates leanings with convictions, and makes the movement from No to Yes feel like a long jump, when it is often just a good conversation away. For this reason the 10 point scale outlined at the start of the Yes campaign by Stephen Noon – with 1 as vehemently against independence, 10 as staunchly in favour, and a large group of ‘switherers’ in the middle – helps to focus the mind.

Beyond the trappings of tribal morale, the 8,9,10s who are out campaigning for Yes should not waste precious time arguing with the 1,2,3s who won’t be budged from No. With about 700 hours remaining the most important players in this game now are the 4,5,6,7s who are still persuadable.

There is no magic solution that will win them over. As I argued here, the key policy issues matter less than the images, feelings and associations created by the ambient mood of the debate, because evaluations at the level of moral foundations determine how people vote.

So when people say: “I’m just not sure we can go it alone” or “I quite like being part of the UK” or “I feel British and Scottish and don’t feel I should have to choose” or “I don’t like the way Nationalists say you can’t be patriotic and vote no” What are they really talking about?

Independence is a family affair.

You don’t need to be particularly psychologically minded or even fond of families to accept that the family is the best metaphor for the nation. Indeed this is a central idea in the field of political psychology, best known through the work of cognitive linguist Professor George Lakoff.

It’s no accident that family is such a big theme in campaign videos, but it can be done well or badly. #PatronisingBTlady became infamous despite being explicitly about concern for family because the video felt pathetically narcissistic. In contrast, the Yes campaign’s “Our choice between two futures” was described as ‘flawless’ by Political psychologist Drew Westen. Like the more recent beautiful video ‘Yes means’  the implicit message is not merely that we’re a country where families thrive, but that by growing into our newfound power and freedom, we can enjoy a deeper sense of Scottish togetherness.

But wait, because there is a darker side to this development – didn’t we leave something behind? Most of us have at least indirect experience of family breakdown, with the dislocation and anguish that can follow for the partners, their friends and the children.

If you’re working for a Yes victory, you probably don’t think of yourself as ‘a separatist’ at all, and you may not think of the proposed change in terms of ‘divorce’, but in that case I’m guessing you’re likely to be an 8,9 or 10 rather than the 4,5,6,7s you now urgently need to reach.

Some of these persuadables don’t even like the fact they have to take this decision at all, and even to pose the question is divisive. So what do you say when you sense that beneath the chatter about the merits of policies and possible futures, what they are really wrestling with is filial in nature? How do you address the fact that the process and outcome of ‘breaking up the UK’ feels to some to be too much like dividing a nation, breaking up a family, damaging social cohesion, and wrecking the nest? 

Scottish Togetherness

The Kelvingrove debate featured lots of great moments, not least the ravishing question: “If we’re better together, why aren’t we better together already?”

The highlight for me though was Alex Salmond’s response to a question on the divisive nature of the campaign and what follows for cooperation afterwards. He took to the stage (c1.20.45) and spoke of his obligation as First Minister to bring Scotland together no matter what happened. He said he wanted his negotiating team to include the best of Scottish talent, including Alastair Darling, and he ended with conviction: “Once the referendum is over, it’s a matter of Team Scotland. That’s what we need.”

The next day when I was relaying the key aspects of the debate to my wife (who hadn’t seen it) I found myself welling up with emotion when describing this scene. Alex Salmond is more avuncular than patriarchal; his default disposition is less commander-in-chief and more uncle-in-chief, but that was a ‘father of the nation’ moment.

I’m sure the emotion had nothing do with Eck as such, but more about that spirit of cohesiveness and togetherness at a time of rancour and division. It felt magnanimous, literally big-souled, and we need that now. We will win this referendum one conversation at a time, and the spirit must remain positive, but when you sense this deep distaste for division within Scotland and separation between Scotland and the UK, don’t be afraid to address it directly.

Here are a few suggestions about how to go about that:

1. Be confident not zealous. Zeal reinforces the discomfort of enforced division and puts some people off. People feeling uncertain are more likely to respond to people who can empathise with the uncertainty from the perspective of a broader confidence, rather than those who feel the uncertainty is completely misplaced. As Gerry Hassan has argued, acknowledging doubt is about strength, not weakness. Many who feel some lingering attachment to the UK are ready to vote yes, but are less likely to do so if they are alienated from their feelings by the suggestion that sadness is misplaced.  

2. An “Aye, but” strategy can be persuasive. Minor doubts strengthen major convictions. When Margo McDonald said (c20mins) that some women were put off by the sense of confrontation, valued contemplation and wanted to hear a bit more of “Aye, but”, her message chimed with some research in climate change communication. 

For instance, “Weather patterns have always fluctuated, but what we have seen in recent years is not normal” works much better than simply “what we have seen in recent years is not normal” Similarly, “There is financial uncertainty after any major political change, but an Independent Scotland would be one of the richest countries in the world” works better than simply: “Scotland is one of the richest countries in the world.”

3. It’s more about growing up than splitting up. Yes campaigners should acknowledge that independence can look like a divorce, but also explain that it is more like a mature young adult making a timely move in to their own place, next door, or across the street. The relationship goes on, still close, but healthier than before. While the political union ends, most of the social, economic and cultural ties will remain.

4. A nation is not being broken, but rather, restored. The Act of Union in 1707 happened in particular circumstances that are no longer relevant. As Historian Tom Devine put it, we did a lot of good things together since then, but the relationship has run its course and the reasons for the Union have passed. In this respect, paradoxically Scottish independence is about putting the country back together.

So with this root metaphor of nation as family in mind, what do undecided voters need to see, hear and feel to vote yes on September 18th?

I believe they need to see positive images of Scottish togetherness, signalling trust in a large and strong Scottish nuclear ‘family’ on good terms with its immediate extended ‘family’ in the rest of the UK.

They need to hear positive stories about the vitality of an independent Scotland, while also being affirmed in whatever doubts, fears or sadness remain over the loss of British kinship.

And they need to feel hopeful and excited about the idea of living in a united post-British Scotland, and above all confident in themselves, so that when they get to the polling station after months of swithering, they finally decide to mark Yes on the ballot paper. 



Categories: Commentary

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23 replies

  1. Excellent, thanks.

    Tom Devine’s point is also very relevant to this: “It is the Scots who have succeeded most in preserving the British idea of fairness and compassion in terms of state support and intervention. Ironically, it is England, since the 1980s, which has embarked on a separate journey.”

    In other words it is Westminster which has been heading off for illegal wars, Westminster and the City of London who have been enriching themselves rather than taking care of the whole family.

    For the folk you are talking about, shifting from this being about Scotland and England to this being about who is acting in a grown up way and really taking care of the family (society) and who is destroying what everyone in this family – everyone across Britain – holds dear does, in my experience, get to the heart of how these people feel: their doubts are absolutely valid – no one wants to cause unnecessary disruption, and their hopes are absolutely valid – we can do so much better than this.

    • Yes, and there is a linkage between courage and compassion. The BBC programme the other night presented by Ken Macdonald showed that those most repelled by a pus-filled burst verucca and a tarantula crawling on a woman’s face were most likely to vote No, whereas those less fazed by these images and less risk averse were more likely to vote Yes. Foolhardiness is not a virtue of course – bravery needs to be calculated – but neither is excessive caution or reluctance to move outside your comfort zone. It is courage that enables you to get over your disgust at a burst verucca and help the human being suffering from it. It is courage that moves you to brush away the tarantula crawling on another human being. The kind of courage that motivates you to care for the sick and the elderly is also compassion. Because compassion requires courage. As I said below, The Feart are not a credit to any nation, and no amount of reassurance is likely to convince some people to move outside their comfort zone. But many (probably most) No voters are not The Feart. They are principled people, but the truth about the duplicity of the British state has simply not been revealed to them. Others are Noes for the equally principled reason that their primary loyalty is with the British state, and for all its faults they opt to remain with it.

  2. I have come to the conclusion that the Undecideds are The Feart. I think concentrating on them may be a waste of time. They will vote No or not vote at all in the end. The Feart are not a credit to any nation. A lot of people have shifted from No to Yes. The battle will be won on the left.

  3. I like the one conversation at a time approach, today ( I’m a chimney sweep ) while in a house I was chatting to the painter and decorator, he was a def NO, nice cockney guy with three grown up kids. Chatted to him as we both worked then left him reading the Wee blue Book and looking very interested,
    Next house was a young mum who said she didn’t have enough info, chatted to her , gave her a copy of WBB sugested that it might be a good idea to get some chums round for a referendum coffee morning, fire up google and work their way through the WBB. I make that 5 votes from no to YES from the painter ( if he reads the book and looks stuff up ) and perhaps 10 from the young mum ( if I include husbands )
    Listen to peoples concerns and do your best to answer them, if you can’t then point them in the right direction.

  4. One thing for campaigners and others to avoid is an over forceful or even aggressive approach. It is highlighted in a message I received from a friend yesterday. I can do no better than cite part of it, exactly as he wrote it.

    ‘Independence is naturally a hot topic at work there being people from all over the UK working in the oil industry. Most people seem to be undecided even now, but there are say 10-15 % of indies very vocal about it, in the kind of way that people are on the page of “what ever you do don’t get them started”, secretly I think a lot of the undecided have made their minds up they just don’t want to be backed into a corner by the confirmed yes voters, who are getting more and more agressive as the day approaches.’

    I think the approach he highlights is going to be counterproductive – more likely to lose votes than gain them. If you know of anyone taking this over zealous kind of approach get them to back off or moderate their approach and make use of the pointers in this article.

  5. I think I should perhaps have added in my earlier post that over zealous individuals should not only back off, they should apologise for their approach, indicate they are just so keen to see an Independent Scotland it has got them too ‘geed up’ to pay attention to the feelings of others.

    Think of it like the argument in the pub with the guy whose seat you nicked. After you apologise, you have a round of drinks, everyone is pally, and you then end up convincing them without too much effort simply because they see you as a nice guy. It’s the halo effect: you’re nice, therefore your case is worth considering.

  6. I agree (having just had an impassioned debate over the phone to a no-voting relative) avoid over zealousness! Think Cesar Milan aka the Dawg Wispiirir’s ‘calm, assertive energy’).

    I’ve had chats with quite a few who are opposed to independence, mostly friends and family in England where it seems to be a more diffuse sense of ‘don’t leave us’ and ‘you’re abandoning us to our fate with tories’, but with less awareness of the real issues, which is partly to be expected I suppose if you don’t live here

    The reasons I’ve heard so far from Scottish people against independence are mostly these –

    1. Fear of weakness and instability if we separate. ‘The world is becoming more dangerous – splitting into smaller and smaller parts makes us weak’
    2. Lack of trust in promises made – such as getting rid of trident ‘Will it really happen?’
    3. Belief that we share the same struggles financially and we share similar values with many people in the rest of the UK, so it seems we’re abandoning solidarity

    The first is emotional. It’s my least favourite reason because this kind of fear disables us from thinking and acting positively and creatively. Yes there are horrific events happening around the world, but we know the UK govt has been a catalyst or cause for many of them. The second can be answered with the simple fact that getting rid of trident is part of the proposed constitution. There’s no way Scottish people would allow this one to slip, having been promised this repeatedly in the event of independence. I’d cite protection of the Scottish NHS from PFIs etc, thanks to devolved power, as an example of how a Scottish govt will care more about the welfare and opinions of Scottish people

    But the third reason is one that made me unsure about voting yes, up until a few months ago. I wanted to vote yes, and saw independence as a vote for fair representation in Scotland, but what about the rest of the UK? I was brought up with socialist values of shared struggle and solidarity, and even now when I hear the words ‘Scotland is one of the richest nations in the world, better off than the rest of the UK’ it makes me a bit uncomfortable, though of course I know that, despite our resources, due to UK govt control Scottish people don’t benefit from that as yet.

    But then, counteracting this discomfort is the deeper discomfort I feel at being controlled by a UK govt which doesn’t care about ordinary people (i.e. those on a low or average income). Logic, experience and the history of the union in recent decades tells me that being part of a union doesn’t help any ordinary struggling people in the UK. (we’re only a small percentage of the overall vote). Whereas, an independent Scotland is just the start of something new. Already many people in England are feeling a sense of positivity at the possibility of change, there’s a sense of hope. Also there’s concrete discussion and planning for more devolved powers to regions, especially in the Midlands and North of England. I think we can unite in shared causes far more effectively as an independent Scotland alongside increasingly devolved regions in the UK.

    • It’s actually untrue that England needs Scottish votes to deliver a Labour government. I think there has only been once since 1945 that Scottish Labour seats secured a Labour majority. I think that must have been the Callaghan government that preceded Thatcher in 1979. It had a tiny majority.

      • In 1997, Blair won so many seats in England that New Labour had a majority in the Commons before they counted any votes in Scotland or Wales. If Labour won England then, they can win England again.

  7. Just a thought some Bella Caledonia correspondent might take up.

    I viewed a short clip of Craig Murray, one time UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, a few minutes ago. It was embedded in the comments on Derek Bateman’s blog. It really churned me up/disgusted me listening to his disclosure of the lies the public had been told about Iraq and the UK’s involvement in torture. It was much worse than simply reading about these horrific events. Such behaviour cannot be allowed to continue. The UK has to change with Scots leading the way (though it would not bother me if it were anyone else). If someone has the time and the knowledge to make up a list of short video clips giving insights into the atrocities carried out in our name, together with other relevant social and cultural issues, easy access to them could help sway some undecided voters.

    I know there is a ton of material out there on YouTube but it’s the easy access bit that might help as most Undecided votes would not expend the effort to search for material. Offering a simple link could make the difference. I don’t have the knowledge to do so and, as I’m getting married tomorrow at the age of 70 (hence the Optimist Till I Die nom de plume) would never have the time to do find the material before the referendum.

  8. My thoughts and concerns for the future:

    The UK Government ‘allocates’ the cash to the Scottish Government to spend. For better or worse, we, as a nation have been constrained in our spending. (Live within your national means).

    The Scottish Government has frozen Local Authorities ability to increase local taxes and, for better or worse, we have not been ‘clobbered’ with additional local taxes. (Live within your local means).

    My concern is that both Local Authority and Scottish National governments are pushing to be given power and control to spend more and more. (Remember, this is our money they want).

    I would prefer that we focused on spending what we have wisely. You can see the state of the UK finances as a result of living out with our means.

    If we achieve independence, will the independent Scottish nation have the necessary rigour and discipline to live within our means? Yes we may have the resources, but will we use them wisely?

    That’s my biggest concern for the future.

    Donald

    • “Yes we may have the resource, but will we use them wisely”

      Who is the ‘we’ here?

      If we have a Yes then we can decide whether or not the Government is using our resources wisely, and if they aren’t we can vote them out.

      If we have a No then we are relying on the ‘wisdom’ of Westminster without having the power to vote them out if they don’t use our resources wisely.

    • I’d say the biggest winners from independence will be the centre right – even more so if you include the dominant strand in the SNP (who I don’t see splitting up – though individuals may leave to join an RIC/Common Weal party, assuming one was started).

      It’s amazing that the Conservatives still score 15-20% in Scottish elections, given southern UK-centric policies and personalities. With Scottish policies, and with a Scottish base, they could expect to grow further.

      And I’d guess Greens to remain the same, socialists to take a long time to work through their factional differences, and New Labour…? Anyone’s guess.

  9. No one from No Better Together Thanks has been able to explain to my satisfaction why we are better together with unelected English Tory governments.

  10. The Yes campaign have to put more focus on the threat to the NHS under privatisation and the shrinking of that dearly beloved institution from London cuts

  11. To those who see the future as uncertain I say ‘Well wouldn’t we be like any small/medium sized country many of whom have claimed independence from the mother state in the last 30 years and done very well with growth rates in excess of the UK? Good examples are the Scandinavian and Baltic states – with fewer natural resources than Scotland. They have manageable debts and neutral deficits, generally. Why could Scotland not at least equal these or better them.’
    To those who fear the loss of our social union with the rest of the UK, I would say that all we want to lose is the mediaeval incompetent, wasteful and undemocratic Westminster system of government. We don’t wish to part with our friends in the south, only their government. Many people in the north of England feel the same as the YES adherents here. The difference is – we can do something about it. Thatcher was responsible for wrecking the camaraderie we had with many areas in England when she closed their common industries like coalmining, shipbuilding and steelmaking. I also add that I live in North Ayrshire and have 2 daughters living in Leeds and I have no intention of giving up my monthly visits there.

  12. The British, including those who see themselves as Scottish and British, have been responsible for destroying the lives of thousands of innocent people at home and abroad. Anyone in Scotland who intends to vote no does so in the awareness that they are specifically choosing ‘British values’. They view being predatory as being normal, poverty as being inevitable and inconsequential. The yes campaign has gone to great lengths to try to inform people and give them the opportunity to turn towards a better way of life. But they are adults and have to take responsibility for their own actions. If Scotland is still part of the British state after 18 September it will be tough, it will be their choice and it will be their responsibility. That is what needs to be communicated to them.

  13. As Professor MacKay from Edinburgh University’s School of Business explained his research suggested that business attitudes towards independence tended to be dictated by where their customers were primarily located.”

    So it’s buses, hotels and betting shops versus international banks and mining companies. Consumer goods industries v producer goods industries. Big capitalists v smaller capitalists.

    Marx’s Dept I v Dept II. Some choice!

    Best for workers to abstain and leave the capitalists to settle the matter amongst themselves.

    http://www.socialismoryourmoneyback.blogspot.com/2014/08/scotlands-referendum-some-choice.html

  14. Will Scotland be the 14th or the 18th richest country in the world?
    Oh no, how can we POSSIBLY cope with the uncertainty!!!!
    Rich is rich..the choice is not about HOW rich but how the wealth is distributed – for the people and people’s needs, or for the rich and the already powerful?
    THAT’s the choice. “Facts” can be found to support either side. All futures are uncertain – it’s about being part of change or a victim of change

  15. I would like to know how accurate this poll stuff is. I have communicated with a lot of people North of the central belt ie about a line drawn from Dundee right across to the west coast and the islands and north to Shetland, NOT ONE HAVE BEEN asked to participate in any Scottish independence poll. so how the hell can pollsters be able to judge how the vote will turn out, never mind the missing millions what about the people of Scotland who have never been asked, and I can assure there is many many people in this equation..

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