#IndyRef, #Out and the blind faith of Referendum campaigns…

Ian Parsley as part of the Stratagem series of guest blogs, lays out why the No campaign arrived at currency as its king card in the #IndyRef debate…

Why is the focus on the currency? Throughout the campaign, polls have shown around 45-50% of people certain to vote No, and 35-40% certain to vote Yes. The “undecideds” are therefore crucial to the outcome and, if they are telling the truth to pollsters, they will decide which way to vote based on economic issues.

It was expected, early on, that this would mean the focus would fall on oil revenues. However, it has become rapidly apparent that oil can be argued either way – Yes supporters argue it would make Scotland one of the wealthiest nations in the world; No supporters argue the oil will run out within a generation (implicitly leaving Scotland worse off than its neighbours). So the economic issue turned to currency.

It turned to currency mainly because the No campaign realised it could attack on the subject. Rightly or wrongly, it had long ago decided to “play for a draw” and go for an essentially cautious (perhaps negative) campaign, not least because its job has been to defend a fairly firm opinion poll lead since the outset.

And, he notes, this has given rise to a degree of unreal certainty on both sides of the debate which we can only see replicated in a future referendum over the UK’s (or rUK’s) withdrawal from the EU…

This can turn referendums, supposedly the ultimate exercise in representative democracy, into events of great frustration and disenchantment.

As we look forward regardless of the result this year, the same warning applies to a potential ‘in/out’ referendum on the European Union. Already, we hear dire warnings from ‘In’ campaigners about the millions of UK jobs which “depend” on EU membership; and equally dire claims from ‘Out’ campaigners about the “£17 billion” that constitutes the alleged “cost” of that membership.

Most alarming of all, perhaps, is the way that each side will show absolute faith in their own side’s case, and give no credence at all to any of the other side’s. The people who determine the outcome, therefore, are people in the middle who merely become increasingly confused and disenchanted by the claim and counter-claim being thrown about by either side – that would apply to any EU referendum across the UK just as it does in Scotland currently.

We in Northern Ireland are familiar with the notion, currently being experienced in Scotland, that our side is completely right and the other side is completely wrong! It is small wonder that many people of more moderate view in Scotland regard themselves as insufficiently informed. They are!

Unfortunately, we needn’t expect anything different in a prospective EU referendum across the UK later in the decade.

It’s a view somewhat underlined by Jane Suiter and Theresa Reidy…

Referendums are often classified as low information elections. Research demonstrates that it can be difficult to engage voters on the specific information and arguments involved (Lupia 1994, McDermott 1997) and consequently they can be decided on issues other than the matter at hand. Referendums also vary from traditional political contests, in that they are usually focused on a single issue; the dynamics of political party interaction can diverge from national and local elections; non-political actors may often have a prominent role in the campaign; and voters may or may not have strong, clear views on the issue being decided.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty