Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Campaigning for Scotland's future

The campaign for "Better Together" (keeping Scotland part of the UK) is a campaign. "Yes Scotland," the independence theme describes something more like a social movement. Will the differences determine the outcome?

Aye’ll be back
DAVID CAMERON reckons people should think jolly hard before they vote in Scotland’s upcoming referendum on independence. As he and other unionist leaders often argue, the result on September 18th will be irreversible and binding…. Such entreaties seem to be working: the “no” to independence campaign has a comfortable poll lead.

Scottish nationalist
A second warning lurks between the lines: if they vote “no”, Scots had better accept that outcome, too. There should be no “neverendum”; the term applied to Quebec’s decades-long deliberations over breaking from Canada. Whether or not this message will go heeded is less certain. The reason can be found in the comparison between the “yes” and “no” campaigns.

In Bathgate… Harry Cartmill, [is] counting out leaflets. Like many [in the Better Together campaign], he is also active in the unionist Labour Party. The drill here is as in election years: canvass swing voters by phone or in person, constantly refine the database and hit targets set by headquarters. They may not be terribly impassioned, but unionists are disciplined, dutiful and experienced.

If the “no” campaign is a machine, “yes” is a carnival… es Scotland, the official campaign, provides local groups with materials but otherwise lets them do what they want. Many canvass, but others prefer street stalls, film screenings and pop-up “independence cafes”… This is understandable: most Scots say they do not support independence; Yes Scotland has to win people over, not just induce them to vote.

Several larger nationalist initiatives have developed lives of their own. National Collective, a gathering of creative types, has toured Scotland putting on pro-independence arts and music festivals collectively known as “Yestival”. Other bodies, like Common Weal and Radical Independence, are marshalling idealistic ideas for an independent Scotland and connecting the “yes” campaign to other causes, like nuclear disarmament…

But raucousness can also alarm the undecided. Yes Scotland may have a larger online presence (including many more Facebook and Twitter followers), but this is polluted by “cyber-nationalists”: bloggers who harass unionists, peddle conspiracy theories and generally undermine the cause…

This spirited chaos may be making it harder to turn fizz into votes… Blair McDougall, director of Better Together, offers a related explanation: his side is more focused and better at using its canvassing to direct the campaign’s messages effectively. Nevertheless, his opponents are confident that energy and numbers will boost nationalist turnout on polling day. Canvassing consistently shows that “yes” voters are more passionate in their views than “no” ones, claims Blair Jenkins, who runs Yes Scotland.

The distinction between the campaigns has a second, bigger implication… Successful or not, that campaign will fold after September 18th. But the “yes” campaign is a movement… A group of them will meet in late August to discuss next steps after the referendum.

“If we lose, our anger will turn into determination,” predicts Robin McAlpine, director of Common Weal. He expects another referendum within five years if Scotland votes “no”. “Whether people move on is up to the nationalists,” adds Mr McDougall at Better Together. Thus looms the prospect of a “neverendum”. If unsuccessful, “yes” campaigners could import that decades-long limbo to Britain.

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