Independence Convention data hints at bigger problem than a flawed plan
The Scottish Independence Convention has commisioned Herriot Watt University to run some focus groups.
The aim of these groups is to try to work out what we need to do in order to persuade people to vote for Scottish independence.
Those behind the research have publicised 4 key findings.
- No voters are overwhelmed by all the political choices they have had to make recently.
- No voters think Brexit is a shambles but that it hasn’t yet altered their independence voting intentions.
- The Scottish Government has done little to change their minds about independence.
- No voters want proper facts from the Yes movement that they didn’t get from us previously.
I have to say while these findings do point to how we could do things better, they also all hint at an underlying and uncomfortable truth that independence supporters will always have stacked against us.
The mainstream media will always support the establishment.
Looking at the focus group findings, in turn, we can learn lessons but we have to acknowledge that the main problem isn’t the message, it’s getting the message across.
For instance, it is true that people are suffering from voter fatigue.
As someone who has always been interested in politics and who has devoted a lot of time writing about it, I have been feeling the same way recently. Most normal people just want to get on with their jobs and family lives and not have to make major political choices every few months. We can’t do much about a scunnered electorate.
We can only wait or enthuse them. The politicians who voted to hold a second referendum did neither and we can definitely learn from that.
Yet the truth is the media and opposition parties helped to shape the current malaise. In the light of Brexit, never has Scotland’s lack of Sovereignty been more obvious and the dangers of it been more apparent. The establishment ensures that the democratic outrage is played down, the gravity of the effects of Brexit is hidden and the political agenda is too often shifted to other less important areas.
The fact that people admit that they think Brexit is going to be bad but don’t want the chance to vote on Scottish independence again points partially to failures on the pro-indy side.
When Parliament voted for indyref2 our leaders didn’t back their convictions with enough vigour and courage. Still, it is difficult to get the message across to a wide enough audience when that audience is jaded and confused and the main means of communication is controlled by those who oppose our goals. When the establishment’s main policy is subverting the will of the Scottish Parliament and the media don’t consistently highlight how undemocratic that is, then what chance do you have?
That people think that the Scottish Government have done little to change their minds isn’t a surprise to me.
The primary way this could have been done was for the SNP to excel at Holyrood. We said this in 2014. We suggested that the SNP should lead the way by setting the Scottish Parliament apart by harnessing the momentum of the indy movement and being really radical in their policy choices. They failed to do this as well as they could have done which gave the opposition easy ammunition. Only in the last few months have they really upped their game in this respect with an admirable raft of policies.
Still, you’d have to be blind to not see that the system at Holyrood has delivered far more egalitarian policies over the last 20 years than those created at Westminster. You have to have your head in the sand to not see that the voting system at Holyrood delivers more representative government. You’d have to be delirious to not see that public services are much better value when under the control of Holyrood. Yet, it is difficult to sell this message when the media is so unrelentingly negative.
The report points out that people feel the case for independence didn’t contain enough facts and again we can learn from this.
The Yes campaign made a lot of mistakes in 2014. We had key policies like a shared currency that relied on the kindness of our opposition. We can’t make silly errors like this again next time around. Especially as one of the big issues will be surrounding rUK/Scotland trade. Yet in the focus groups, those same people who wanted more facts could not tell the difference between reserved and devolved policy.
To some extent how can you blame them. Just look at the snap General Election campaign this year. It was about Westminster but it was mostly fought on issues devolved to Holyrood. Labour and the Tories set this agenda and the media let them away with it. The increase in seats won by these parties relied on the population being ill-informed. With unionist parties benefiting from political illiteracy and with the public starting from a low knowledge level, it won’t be easy to provide relevant facts.
It is good that these focus groups are happening and they do point to where we could improve.
That said, the case we presented in 2014 was much better than the case that was presented for Brexit. It was much more factual, much more convincing and much more positive. Rest assured it will be better next time.
Yet Brexit won and we lost. The Brexiteers spun a powerful emotional narrative that was devoid of facts.
The difference was that powerful people were split on the issue and gave the Brexit case, however hollow, a more balanced airing. This tells me that facts are not as important as you would think. What is important is the message and the reach.
We won’t get a balanced press but we can create a cogent and emotive narrative that connects with people. The thing we need to work on most though is getting the message to those we missed last time.
To do this we need to get smarter on influencing the mainstream media to work in our favour. Failing that we need to get better at spreading an organised message via targetted social media, old-fashioned canvasing and face to face interaction.
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