I enjoyed listening to a sleep-deprived Loki on Radio Scotland on Saturday talking about how he’d do this referendum differently. As someone who’s campaigned, let’s be generous, aggressively for independence; I tried to take Loki’s message on board. I set out to listen to what No voters had to say.
So, I had semi-structured conversations with people I knew had been No voters with the idea of not lecturing them that they were all idiots. I talked with:
Janet and John: Lived in Scotland for 10 years after being born in England and working internationally. Run their own small business grossing c. £70 pa.
Three young kids. Vote Tory. Sheena: born and lived in Scotland all her life, part time support worker in a university and single parent earning c. £17k. Votes Green/LibDem/Labour. Interested in the environment. Gavin and Stacey: Born in and lived in Scotland all their lives. A part-time marketer and senior manager in the NHS. Earning £100k+ jointly. Voted LibDem, Tory and Labour. Three teenage kids. Fiona: middle aged single parent of grown-up kids. Runs her own business, c. £60k pa. Votes LibDem/Tory. Interested in disability issues.
How did they feel about the new referendum? Uniformly, they were negative about the idea of a referendum.
“We’ve been all through this” – “It caused so much division” – “I just want a life without all this stuff”.
But isn’t this stressing just a result in living in a democracy? Weren’t the SNP clear in their manifesto about the current situation and their planned response to it?
“Well Nicola might have her audit trail in place but I don’t want independence” – “I’m fond of the EU but more fond of the bond with my relatives” – “We have the benefit of free prescriptions, free personal care and free tuition fees while we can rely on the UK to support us” – “My English relatives would have a fit”.
When the Tories reneged on their manifesto commitments re self-employed National Insurance payments and their additional tax on company dividends, how do you feel about that?
“I’ve never trusted any politicians” – “I’m sure Alex Salmond lies too” – “I don’t trust any party” – “I don’t read manifestos because they don’t matter” – “They all lie”.
Wouldn’t you like to stay in the EU?
“Yes but not enough to vote for independence” – “The hard Brexit stuff is just a negotiating front” – “Who really cares, we’re all buggered anyway”.
What about the kind of country you want to see – care for disabled people, the environment, social justice?
“Britain isn’t that bad” – “We’re not about to turn into Trump’s America” – “Scotland wouldn’t be that different, just in degrees”- “Scotland is an economic basket case”.
If Scotland’s economy is a basket case, how has 300 years of the union made that happen? Why is Norway the happiest place in the world to live?
“Doesn’t matter what Norway have done, we’re starting from where we are and at the moment, that’s f*cked” – “The Norwegian sovereign wealth fund is a great idea but for us, it’s not an option” – “How do we fill a £15 billion hole?”
I listened carefully, tried to do no more than ask open questions and offer wider information to confront any of the usual Daily Mail type headlines. It showed me that there’s very, very little chance of changing a No voter’s mind. The mind-set is tired, it’s cynical, it’s tuned out – just not receptive.
“When this stuff comes on the telly, I just switch off”.
The No voters I spoke with will simply spend the next two years rhythmically chanting “I’m not listening, I’m not listening, I’m not listening”. All except one. Helen is a part time teacher and mother of three teenagers who votes Labour.
“I detest the SNP and the Greens aren’t much better but the EU was the last straw. I don’t want to be part of the sort of country that the UK is any more. I would vote for independence now.”
And the happy result of that is that Helen is all we need. If we swing around 1 in 10 No voters whilst retaining our own vote, we can win. So, I have to train myself: don’t abuse them, talk, listen and just work your way through them until you can find that 1 in ten that you can work with. And make sure that she votes.
Christ though, it’s hard!