5 things the Better Together campaign has got wrong

As we approach the apogee of the independence debate, I've looked at five mistakes I think the Better Together campaign has made.

As we approach the apogee of the independence debate, James Bloodworth looks at five mistakes the Better Together campaign has made

As we enter the final 10 days leading up to the Scottish independence referendum, the polls genuinely seem to indicate that the Yes and No campaigns are neck and neck.

In other words, the Sunday Times poll which appeared to show a lead for the Yes camp wasn’t simply an outlier – a new poll out today has both Yes and No camps absolutely neck and neck, demonstrating that the momentum in the lead up to the vote is clearly with the Yes camp, who as recently as a month ago were lagging almost 10 points behind.

Suddenly, Westminster finds itself on the verge of Scotland decisively breaking away from the rest of the UK.

Some will blame the second television debate in which Scottish first minister Alex Salmond appeared to get the better of leader of the Better Together campaign, Alistair Darling.

But while it does all have a whiff of ‘Cleggmania’ – the Liberal Democrats led in the polls for a short time on the back of a 2010 television debates – the No camp’s problems are more deep-rooted. As we approach the apogee of the independence debate, I’ve looked at five mistakes I think the Better Together campaign has made.

1) The Yes campaign looks radical while the No camp comes across as boring and status quo

And you might say that that’s because the No camp is boring and status quo. But why is nationalism suddenly considered bien pensant and radical? In almost every other instance nationalism is looked upon as backward-looking, angry and hostile to outsiders (and look at the treatment meted out to Jim Murphy); yet Scottish nationalism has been allowed to paint itself as progressive in opposition to a right-wing Westminster establishment.

That’s the same Scottish nationalism with a de facto leader in Alex Salmond who has previously said that Scotland “didn’t mind the economic side” of Thatcherism and who in power has slashed away at corporation tax rates. Oh, and gushes over Vladimir Putin for “restoring a substantial part of Russian pride”. Nationalism isn’t progressive; it’s nationalism.

2) The No campaign has left it far too late to set out plans for ‘devolution max’

The SNP are quite right when they say that the sudden unveiling of plans for ‘devolution max’ look as if they are panic-driven – they almost certainly are. Releasing details of ‘enhanced devolution’ after 200,000 people have already sent in their postal votes is also foolish – plenty of those people will now be votes lost which may not otherwise have been.

The fact that the plans unveiled by Gordon Brown are only seeing the light of day now indicates a fairly shocking level of complacency in the No camp – if they aren’t panic measures, why were they not revealed when they might actually have had an impact?

3) Where’s the British national story?

What happened to the brilliant showcasing of the British national story that was done so well at the 2012 London Olympics? Talking about the currency, about pensions and about NATO is important, but also important is a national story. The Yes camp has a story: in going it alone Scotland will fulfil its destiny as a Northern European social democracy in contrast to rule by a gilded Westminster elite. In voting Yes, Scots, who have their own unique national culture, will simply be taking the latest step in an inevitable historical march towards independence.

In contrast the Yes campaign, led predominantly by Labour politicians, has reverted to the lamentable left-wing instinct of shying away from talk about national identity, allowing the Yes camp to take ownership of the issue. Yet Britain has a culture as real and as unique as that of any other country. Talking about it doesn’t make you an ‘imperialist’ or a home counties Tory. Patriotism also needn’t be nationalism. As already mentioned, the national story was showcased brilliantly at the 2012 Games – why didn’t Better Together learn something from this?

4) Why wasn’t ‘devo-max’ allowed on the ballot paper?

If it had been included, it would almost certainly be the most popular proposal on offer – so why did David Cameron refuse to allow it? More devolution for Scotland has previously been promised in Westminster and has subsequently taken years to materialise.

You can, then, forgive Scottish voters for being sceptical about promises on devolution this time around. If the pledge had been included on the ballot paper in the first place there would be far less suspicion that it would be wriggled out of at a later date.

5) Emotions matter as well as logic

No one is completely rational, nor do they make every decision based on a cool cost-benefit analysis. The right understands this, which is why it so often appeals to the base instincts of the electorate. But the left can do it too – remember Barack Obama’s stirring yet euphemistic calls for ‘hope and change’? To paraphrase the historian Robert Conquest, a reliance on reason alone is itself irrational, for it ignores the instinctual elements and deep-set elements of real human beings. Waxing lyrical about currency unions and whether pensioners will be 5 pence in the pound poorer is fine, but as we should have learned from the immigration debate, if a person feels that something is true then firing bullets of logic at them will very often prove ineffective.

Yes that is unfortunate, but it also happens to be true, so surely it’s far better to confront the reality head on. People want to get on, but they also want politicians that inspire them. As George Orwell put it in a quite different context, “human beings don’t only want comfort, safety, short working hours, hygiene, birth control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice, not to mention drums, flags and loyalty parades”. Put simply, people want politicians who inspire them emotionally as well as offering them lashings of policy pledges.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

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28 Responses to “5 things the Better Together campaign has got wrong”

  1. DexterGrant

    So it’s okay to promote nationalism in a British sense, just not a Scottish one?! Confused.

  2. Kryten2k35

    Nationalism is horrible no matter the context.

  3. Kryten2k35

    Ok, now 5 negative things about the SNP campaign.

  4. Nihilarity

    The inclusion of Devomax as an option was not vetoed by Cameron or the UK government. If the SNP had wanted it they would have kicked up a hell of a stink and fought for it if it had been refused. The fact is they didn’t want it, precisely because the Scottish people would have overwhelmingly preferred it to independence! Salmond and his cult didn’t want them to have the choice, they are not on the side of Scots.

  5. Alun Cox

    1) the Yes campaign is radical and the No campaign is staus quo – It doesn’t just look that way

  6. TN

    Suddenly the pro-union left comes out to reflect on how complacent Better Together has been after months of sniping at the Yes camp with ad hominem rubbish.

  7. James Bloodworth

    I’m referring to patriotism – quite different to nationalism.

  8. Jon

    When it’s British it’s “patriotism”. Only filthy Jocks have “nationalism”.

  9. An Fhìrinn

    The SNP’s policies in government include free prescriptions, no tuition fees, free personal care for the elderly, protecting NHS spending, and paying to offset the bedroom tax. Compare that with the coalition government’s time in office. With independence we will remove Trident from Scotland, transform childcare, abolish the bedroom tax, keep the NHS in public hands and always have the government we vote for instead of right-wing governments that we didn’t vote for. The SNP and the independence movement don’t paint themselves as more progressive that the three UK parties. They are.

  10. Cole

    The Yes campaign seem to be doing rather well, hence the belated Establishment panic.

  11. dave daison

    How the hell did the Better together campaign make the ‘devo max’ mistake? surely that was Cameron’s?

    But then, you can’t attack ‘The Left’ with that can you. someone needs to edit this site properly.

  12. Jack

    Unless, of course, it’s in the Daily Mail or the Telegraph. Or a speech by David Cameron. Or Nigel Farage. Then it’s mindless nationalism, xenophobia, Little England mentality, separatism, colonialism, racism.

  13. mf7

    Just to point out …. you won’t always have the government you vote for. I presume you will have more than one party? – though it’s possible they may be similar.
    As a Northern English person (with much Scots blood actually), I have frequently not had a government I voted for either. Westminster is far removed from us too.

  14. An Fhìrinn

    I won’t always get the government I vote for but Scotland as a whole will always get the government that it chooses. Right now Scotland votes Labour and gets Tory. We’ve had Tory governments for 38 years out of the last 68 even though we didn’t vote for them. If Scotland were independent, that couldn’t happen.

  15. John Milne

    Since I oppose independence I have been “accused” of being a British nationalist (note the small ‘n’). In so far as I am interested in having any nationality I am Scottish with a UK citizenship. Suits me fine.

  16. Leon Wolfeson

    “Suddenly, Westminster finds itself on the verge of Scotland decisively breaking away from the rest of the UK.”

    The hysteria over one poll looks silly, from my viewpoint.

  17. Guest

    So you’ll pay to decommission trident, abolish democracy (since you don’t believe you have it and you do, and you’d change that), etc.

    And the Coalition defines itself as progressive. I agree the SNP is also progressive.

  18. Guest

    He slipped up – good anti-democrats…

  19. Chrisso

    “In contrast the Yes campaign, led predominantly by Labour politicians,
    has reverted to the lamentable left-wing instinct of shying away from
    talk about national identity, allowing the Yes camp to take ownership of
    the issue.”
    I think that must be a typo – you meant the No campaign surely?

  20. Chrisso

    Distinguish between self-determinism, imperialsm and nationalism. You have 30 minutes to supply your answer.

  21. Spammo Twatbury

    You’re an idiot. The Scottish Government said it would be put on the ballot paper if the Unionists wanted it there and set out a definition. The Unionists angrily demanded that it MUST be a single two-choice question. If you want I can give you a HUNDRED links by way of evidence. Or you can just sit here lying to yourself and trying to rewrite history. I don’t mind which.

  22. A jock.

    This is why you are in the gutter.

  23. Samuel Honywill

    Devo-max on the poll had the danger, in the eyes of some anyway, of splitting the Union vote – imagine a scenario where, say, 60% was split between No and Devo-Max while Yes garnered 40%. More people have voted to stay in the UK but Yes has ‘won’ the vote. And if you try to to introduce measures and stipulations regarding what %age of the vote Yes has to get, then it looks and feels as if you’re rigging the game against it from the start. The ballot paper is right, in my eyes – it’s the Better Together campaign that’s arsed it up horribly.

  24. Gary Scott

    Better Together have been told this for two years. Alistair Darling was the wrong man to lead it in so many ways. The campaign should have celebrated Britain rather than concentrate, as they have on negative comments on Scotland itself, this raised the hackles of undecided voters and has pushed many away from a NO vote. Having been asked repeatedly they failed to give a positive case for the union or indeed ANY kind of vision for a united Britain’s future. Relentlessly negative and one of the longest, dirtiest campaigns its been my displeasure to watch. The full force of Government, the three main parties, UKIP, BNP, EDL, Brittanic Party, Orange Order, friends of ministers and PM, party donors, outside parties seeking to curry favour, members of the press including The Telegraph, The Daily Mail and Nick Robinson of course have ALL been brought to bear on this campaign using fair means and foul to push one message at the people – vote NO. It has been an eye opener into the machinations of government and the depths to which they will sink. If this results in a NO vote then a majority of voters will forever remember HOW the government comported itself and forever distrust them. The government will ensure such a situation will never arise again. They plan to devolve more power from Holyrood to local authorities and give partial PAYE Tax raising powers. Holyrood will have the ability to have higher uncompetitive tax rates and borrow money to offset Tory cuts which are being held back until after the referendum, of up to £5bn. This is no small beer in a small country. The status quo is not on offer, the ‘new powers’ are, effectively, the rope with which Scotland can hang itself with its Parliament emasculated. Its too late for Better Together to change direction and the final week is proving to be a rehashing, in the BBC, of every single scare story of the past two and a half years.

  25. outsideratdisqus

    Perhaps I can distinguish between patriotism and nationalism. Patriotism is supporting your country, being proud of its virtues, wanting it to do better and defending its people, culture and territory. Nationalism shares some of this but involves promoting your country’s interests at the expense of others ( making it a zero-sum game). Imperialism is seeking control of foreign territory regardless of who, if anybody, lives there. Self-determinism is a free vote of the Sudeten German in 1937-38, regardless of the wider interests of Czechoslovakia.

  26. Chrisso

    Sorry. I meant to say ‘self-determination’. Self-determination, to quote wiki, is actually cardinal principle in modern international law, binding, as such, on the UN. It states that nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and equality of opportunity have the right to freely choose their sovereignty and international political status with no external compulsion or interference. This can be traced back to the Atlantic Charter, signed in 1941, by the president of the USA and the British prime minister. It also binds Nato. That’s what this referendum represents to Scotland – an opportunity for self-determination.

  27. outsideratdisqus

    Thanks for replying Chrisso. I wasn’t trying to distinguish between self-determinism and self-determination, which I think are identical. Nor would I question the Scottish peoples’ right to secede from the nation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and (Northern) Ireland if the terms can be agreed.
    But Scotland is not legally a nation, merely a region of the EU, hence the absence of the word Scotland from the long title. Of course it has history on its side, but so did the Sudeten Germans, which had always been part of a (if not the) German nation.
    When the Czechs and Slovaks so amicably split, providing an example that has sadly not been followed, I was reminded of Hitler’s chilling “My patience is at an end” speech, where he (quite correctly as it turned out) claimed that Czechoslovakia was not really a nation because the Czechs and Slovaks did not want to be together.
    In the Middle East, I should say that the Kurds were a nation split between 3 (or is it 4) countries because they are united by a distinctive language, unlike the Scots/Picts, Welsh or Irish. But there has never been a Palestinian nation over the past 3,000 years.
    And when that old imperialist Mr Churchill signed the Atlantic Charter, he certainly did not think it promised self-determination to any part of the British Empire, even if Roosevelt did.
    The question of nationhood is rather important here. For instance, did the Six Counties have a right to choose their sovereignty? That is pertinent because the Scottish vote promises to be close, making it y likely that large chunks of Scotland will disagree with the verdict. Suppose, say, that it goes Yes but there is a resounding No vote in Orkney & Shetland (which is not a part of historic Scotland), because they have no desire to be governed by a new Nationalistic Scotland. Do we have a moral duty to respect the will of these Northern Islanders just as we respected the will of the Falkland Islanders in the South?
    I think so. Same with the Borders, but not realistically any of the 32 counties that are surrounded by the rest of Scotland. And if, in this hypothetical case, Edinburgh insisted on retaining control of Orkney and Shetland, would that be Imperialism? All as clear as mud.

  28. Chrisso

    The Shetland Isles lie some 50 miles to the northeast of Orkney and have 23,000 population. Mainland, its main island, is the fifth-largest in the British Isles. The Shetland islands did not become part of Scotland until the 15th century and there is a joint Norse-Scottish heritage. The islands’ motto is an Icelandic phrase taken from Njáls saga which appears on the Council’s coat of arms, Með lögum skal land byggja or “By law shall the land be built up.”

    The Orkney Isles lie some 10 miles north of the Caithness mainland and have 21,000 population. Mainland is also the name of its main island and is the tenth-largest in the British Isles. Orkney was invaded, settled and annexed by Norway in 875 and like the Shetlands did not become part of Scotland until the 15th century. Again there is a joint Norse-Scottish heritage.

    The Isle of Man has a population of 84,000. The island, which is equidistant from England, Ireland and Scotland never became part of the Kingdom of Great Britain or its successor the UK, retaining its status as an ‘internally self-governing Crown dependency’. Jersey’s population is 98,000 but again it is not part of the United Kingdom and is closer to France. The Scilly Isles are 28 miles off Cornwall and its population is 2,200.

    In the event of a Yes could the Shetlands and Orkneys be self-governing like other British islands? Or have power devolved from Scotland?

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