How to win the Referendum
Sooner or later there will be a second Scottish independence referendum. Before the first referendum campaign began, support for independence was around 30%. Over the course of the two year campaign this figure moved slowly up until on the day it reached 45%.
Since last September, based on an average of 25 opinion polls, support for independence has risen to 48%. This suggests that if a second referendum was held today, the Yes vote could just creep over the winning line. But if it didn’t, if there was a second win for No, the possibility of holding a third independence referendum would be very, very slim.
To be certain of winning a second referendum then, support for independence needs to be built up towards 60% in opinion polls. To be really certain, support of 55 to 60 % will also have to be consistent over several polls.
What this means is that 10 to 15 % of people who either voted No or did not vote in 2014 will have to be persuaded to vote Yes next time. At the same time all of the 45% who voted Yes in 2014 will have to be kept on board.
In other words, to win a second referendum, people who are not 100% committed to independence will have to be won over. Some will have voted Yes in 2014, but with reservations. Others will have voted No, but with reservations.
During the long campaign which led up to last year’s vote, the official Yes campaign struggled to get its message across in the face of the No campaign’s Project Fear. Fortunately, operating under the radar of mainstream media attention a diverse and dynamic unofficial, grassroots, Yes campaign emerged. While SNP members and long term supporters of independence were part of these grassroots groups, many others were not.
What inspired this anarchic upsurge in popular support for independence was the belief, best expressed in the Radical Independence Campaign’s slogan, that ‘Another Scotland is Possible’. In the closing weeks of the referendum campaign, the enthusiasm of the grassroots campaigners seemed likely to push support for a Yes vote over 50%, forcing the No campaign to make their notorious ‘Vow’.
While the shock of the actual result on 18 September has receded, softened by the surge in SNP support in this year’s UK general election, some of the reactions to the No vote threaten to make it harder to achieve success in a second referendum.
The problem is a variation on the ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy, as in this example.
Person A: “No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”
Person B: “But my uncle Angus who is a Scotsman likes sugar with his porridge.”
Person A: “Ah yes, but no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”
For people who are 100% committed to independence, the failure of more than 50% of Scots (=people able to vote in the referendum) to vote Yes in 2014 is answered by an assertion/ belief that ‘No true Scot would vote against independence’.
Although rarely expressed in quite such a blunt way, the ‘No true Scot’ argument is becoming a feature of discussions about next year’s Scottish parliament elections. A typical version is that to use the second vote in the election for the Scottish Green party or RISE (the left alliance) rather than the SNP risks splitting or dividing the independence movement.
A related argument is that discussion about what other kind of Scotland might be possible must wait until after independence, since again such discussions risk dividing the independence movement. Questioning SNP policies is another no-go area since this gives comfort to the Unionist parties.
As a defensive reaction to defeat in 2014, it can be argued that preserving the unity of the independence movement is an essential foundation for the next referendum campaign. The danger is that unless a second referendum happens soon, the defensive strategy will have become so firmly embedded in the independence movement that the movement will lose the capacity to engage with voters who are not 100% committed to independence.
To conclude, the biggest obstacle to Scotland becoming independent may yet turn out to be the passionate intensity of those most committed to independence. The very certainty of their conviction that Scotland must become independent makes it difficult or even impossible for the ’true Scots’ to engage with the uncertain and the unsure, let alone former No voters. The strongly nationalist language of the committed also alienates people for whom independence is not an end in itself, but a stepping stone to a greener and/or more socialist Scotland.
On a final point: throughout the first referendum campaign, Project Fear did its best to label Yes campaigners as exclusive ethnic nationalists driven by anti-English resentments. This tactic failed because both the official and grass roots Yes campaigns were committed to inclusive civic nationalism, reflected in the unprecedented diversity of support for independence.
However difficult it may be for the ‘true Scots’ who are 100% committed to independence to accept, for their dream to become a reality, the movement for Scottish independence must remain committed to the path of inclusive, civic, nationalism. If it does not, if siren song of exclusive, ethnic, nationalism is heeded then the Union of 1707 will endure.