Unionists be warned. Negative campaigning against Scottish independence is not enough

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A warning shot against unionist complacency in Scotland…

Backing for independence among voters aged 18 to 24 stood at 58 per cent, according to the latest Ipsos MORI survey on voting intentions for the 2014 referendum…There were 34 per cent who supported Scotland leaving the UK, the poll of more than 1,000 people interviewed between

4 and 9 February showed. Support for Scotland staying in the Union fell slightly, going from 58 per cent to 55 per cent over the same period

This is hardly a sea change. But an even bigger, far more fundamental warning  about negative campaigning comes from  Iain McWhirter, against over- stressing all those difficulties about joining the EU or sticking with sterling that came out last week.

Why do the Unionists persevere with these attacks? Perhaps because they get a ready response in the press in Scotland. Prof Crawford’s warnings about the legal difficulties of becoming independent, contained in a UK Government position paper, received front page treatment on Monday, but his admission on Tuesday that he agreed with Alex Salmond did not. Measured on column inches, therefore, Better Together is streets ahead. But the real debate is only just beginning. Not only do a lot of Scots not believe these scares, the under-25s don’t even read about them, because they are turning away from the conventional media.

There are far better reasons for opposing independence than the timetable for EU membership anyway. I could think of a dozen positive arguments for remaining in the UK. As neighbours on this small island, Scotland and England are always going to have to collaborate on a whole range of issues, from the national grid and the roads network to defence and foreign aid. If Scots are affected by decisions taken in Westminster, in the new improved UK, why should Scotland not want to be represented there, just as it is represented in the European Parliament?

To be fair, the cabinet paper that made the UK government’s case contained lots of positive reasons, But in political hands,  the negative often drowns out the positive. Given too that Alex Salmond still seems the unassailable Leader, what will the unionist camp come up with next?

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  • Dec

    It’s probably better if pro-Union commentators stop referencing things like road networks and power grids in their arguments for Scotland remaining in the union. Aside form reeking of desperation, no-one really gives a toss.

  • David Crookes

    A most salutary posting, Brian. Thanks!

    Have to agree with Dec. Infrastructure is infra dig. Many advocates of the present union, here and in Britain, are unable to talk about important things that they believe in their souls, or in their guts. Why so? BECAUSE THEY DON’T BELIEVE ANYTHING IMPORTANT IN THEIR SOULS, OR IN THEIR GUTS.

    Unionists in NI need to be warned. A patriotism which is morally, spiritually, and culturally illiterate, like John Major’s warm-beer-and-cricket-matches, doesn’t deserve to survive.

    Of course it cuts both ways. The advocate of a unified Ireland needs to create a manifesto which will seize the imagination of three groups: NI’s unionists, NI’s nationalists, and the RoI’s citizens.

    No politician in NI is up to that job.

    But if over the next year the SNP can attract a couple of imagination-catching spokesmen, the union may be in danger. So-called social scientists hate having to talk about public imagination, which can’t be quantified or made to behave.

  • Teri

    Unfortunately those for the union have not learned any lessons from the defeat of Scottish Labour in 2011 Holyrood Election nor the start of the effects of that negativity in the 2007 Holyrood election which started they rise of the SNP and enabled them to form a minority government. Negativity turns people off in Scotland as does all the scaremongering.
    It is hard to take seriously the messages coming out from the Better Together campaign when the media tell us ‘Michael Moore warns’ or ‘Alistair Darling warns’. The Scots are a thrawn race with whom this does not wash.

  • Ruarai

    “Negative campaigning against Scottish independence is not enough”

    This is not the Unionists’ problem. Negative campaigning is highly effective and, in this case, should, theoretically, work effectively.

    Their problem is that this is just negativity, not a coherent (negative) campaign.

    Both the Unionists’ lack of a clear, coherent and compelling campaign and, given the lack of one, their daily rummaging around like a hungry hobo searching trash cans for every scrap of a scare-story, negative statistic, anecdote or slander that might be close-to-hand, only serves to create a negative perception of themselves.

    Put another way, I don’t think the SNP can win the debate for Scottish independence. But I’m sure the unionists can lose it badly enough to lose the union. (And the Daily Mail crowd hasn’t even started pissing the Scots off yet. But they will.)

  • Alanbrooke

    I fail to see how a positive approach will work in the land of Victor Meldrew

  • Barnshee

    “Put another way, I don’t think the SNP can win the debate for Scottish independence. But I’m sure the unionists can lose it badly enough to lose the union. (And the Daily Mail crowd hasn’t even started pissing the Scots off yet. But they will.)”

    The reasons for the union are no more . The paymasters -the ENGLISH would love see the back of the whole festering whining burden that is the UK.
    In general they don`t give the proverbial for “the union”. I would love to see Scotland go wholly independent if only to see Salmond and co`s head on pikes after “Scotland” drowned in debt trying to maintain existing standards.
    Sadly it won`t happen