Scottish independence: campaign too important to be left to politicians

Scottish independence: campaign too important to be left to politicians

Power to the people – the referendum is too important to be left to 

Scottish independence: campaign too important to be left to politicians

Scotland’s independence referendum campaign will not be characterised as a mature and respectful contest.

Some commentators say our campaign is already “poisonous” and “toxic”. However, if we can spare a second to look outwards – some recent election and referendum contests around the world in nations such as the US, Venezuela, Russia, Egypt, Greece and others – these adjectives seem out of place in relation to Scotland 2014.

What we can be assured of is a right royal rammy and much of the electorate will be turned off by the ‘bollotix’.

How engaged are Scots in their historic referendum campaign? A fascinating Ipsos MORI poll earlier this year showed many feel distanced from it. The survey commissioned by the Future of Scotland campaign found that:

  • 71% of people don’t think politicians have encouraged them to engage in the debate about Scotland’s future
  • 69% of people still have not had any involvement in the debate
  • 68% of people want to have a wider debate about Scotland future considering all possible alternatives for the future – support is equally strong among those who support independence (66%) and those who oppose it (66%)

If it was not a matter of such major historic importance for Scots you might get away by saying ‘it’s still early days in the campaign’. That’s not an excuse.

Who’s to blame? Well, surprise surprise, they blame each other.

The campaign thus far, unless you’re a political anorak, has been a yawnathon. All the spats around the rules of the vote itself were disappointing however not nearly as scunnering as the drip-drip, spirit-sapping political exchanges over the building of the Holyrood parliament or Edinburgh’s trams. That’s no excuse though.

Nationalists have seemed stubborn and inflexible on certain policies such as EU membership and currency. Much of this is born out of focus group paralysis induced by generations of hostile media. The SNP has also become institutionalised in Holyrood, being caught cold by the referendum which is on a scale and magnitude well beyond that of a Holyrood election.

For their part Unionist parties have a lot more control over the mainstream media headlines and so they are very much in the business of spinning stories aimed at frightening voters about what an independent Scotland would look like. This negativity and spin is unquestionably the principle source of rancour in our national discourse.

As one incredibly talented Scot, the late, great Gerry Rafferty, once sang: “here I am, stuck in the middle with you.”

So, what does the Scottish electorate actually think about the key issues of the referendum: social services, foreign policy, economy, military, civil liberties? Do we really know?

One trait among some veteran politicians is the use of the soundbite “Scots don’t want ‘x’ because they are far too sensible”. You can rest assured, that when you hear this line being spun, it is far from clear whether Scots want said ‘x’ or not. Politicians instinctively sense the voters’ lack of confidence to disagree when they are unsure about an issue.

Undermining that confidence is therefore the most fundamental objective of every elite. This is how they cultivate dependency, build patronage and establish privileges – systems which undermine the citizen’s sense of entitlement and own best interests. Whether we are talking about Holyrood, Westminster or the White House – we are trained to defer to their values and rituals.

‘If you don’t think for yourself, someone else with think for you’ is an engrossing maxim.

Knowing what others really think and believe in Scotland in relation to key political issues is difficult as the raw data is infrequent and fragmented. We are vulnerable when we let politicians accept the burden of filling information vacuums for us.

How then can the ordinary punter win some control of Scotland’s independence referendum campaign agenda?

There is plenty evidence that Scots are keen to have a national debate on the 2014 vote but do they have the tools to lever some control?

One solution is to survey what Scots think on the big issues and make the survey findings available in real-time. This would allow opinions to be regularly expressed and recognised as the campaign progresses. At the same time voters could find out at any time what other voters in Scotland really think across a range of issues.

This would redraw the power balances in favour of the voter as the voter can use the information to assertively hold politicians to account rather than passively defer to political spin. The good news is that thanks to the internet, this goal can be realised.

At Scottish Times we plan to introduce a real-time referendum trends service. This will be part of a package of features aimed at giving voters more control over the referendum campaign agenda.

Most Scots, whether they vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ will agree on one thing: Scotland’s independence referendum is too important to be left to politicians.

You can help us develop our trends service by taking our short survey here:

You can also support ST’s progress – click here.

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