How the Yes campaign’s bottom up approach has challenged Scotland’s ‘presumed consensus’

Mike Small runs one of the best known and most respected of the Yes campaign sites online, Bella Caledonia. His piece for the Guardian gives an useful overview of where the momentum for the Yes campaign has come from…

1. It is a movement, not a campaign: 

On a purely practical level yes is just better organised. As the New Statesman points out: “The yes campaign is winning on almost every front. It has delivered more leaflets, put up more posters, set up more stalls and knocked on more doors.”

2. It reaches disaffected voters:

Yes knows that it has to reach beyond traditional engaged voters to win. This isn’t a campaign strategy though, it’s a political aspiration. This work has been going on for months.

3. The no campaign presumes victory:

…the ingrained sense of entitlement that the no campaign’s key staff and supporters exhibit is a crucial weakness. They live in such well-established network of self-reinforcing mythology that the idea of independence hadn’t quite struck them as being feasible until a few days ago.

4. It has passion

There’s a feeling that the yes movement is defending the fabric of society against the austerity union, while the no campaign is defending a right to live in the 1950s. It makes a difference.

5. It has multiple points of leadership

The yes movement has hubs which in turn have their own network. This breeds trust and unity but also allows spontaneity and diversity. While the no campaign has a few outliers it would prefer not to mention, yes has outliers that bring strength and fresh clout, not a sense of shame.

To this last it might be added that the Yes campaign has greatly benefitted from a considerable top down focus (not to mention application of resource) on the part of the Scottish Government, with virtually no other new business being focused on.

Westminster by contrast has been mugged (just like Irish governments regularly are) by an important supra executive issue they’d given too little thought to before the campaign began, leaving them with little more to fight with than Caveat Emptor.

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  • marcuszen

    It seems the the Scottish Independence debate is asking questions not only about UK and Ulster but also in Europe and Canada of the nation state. When the political class in the eyes of the public becomes a burden rather than a servant of the people of the state no matter what they say otherwise will not be disagreed with it will be ignored. With the rise of UKIP in england but other anti-consensus parties across europe are we looking at a new realignment of politics the redrawing of borders within europe. There are mysterious times.

  • An excellent piece wit Mike Small precisely summing up and putting his finger on the reasons ‘Yes’ can, should and must win this referendum. The Yes campaign is an inspirational movement of ordinary people coming together as one to procure an extraordinary outcome – the birth of a new sovereign nation after 307 years of unequal union to a more powerful belligerent master, and without a single shot being fired. A remarkable and unique historical achievement, if as many people now believe is very possible / likely, that Yes secure a majority in the independence referendum. If it had only been so straightforward for Ireland…. what a difference that would have made!

  • dougthedug

    The Yes campaign’s current bottom up approach is driven in part by a hostile media.

    In Scotland the only media outlet which is pro-independence is the Sunday Herald which doesn’t have a huge circulation and only came out for independence four months ago in a campaign which has been running since 2011. There are no pro-independence daily papers, no pro-independence radio stations and certainly no pro-independence TV stations in Scotland.

    From the start the media has been hostile to independence so the only route the Yes campaign had to get the message out was to do it on foot, with door-knocking, leaflet deliveries and public meetings. This wasn’t a shock because this has been the only route the SNP has had to get the message out for decades. Operating in a very hostile media environment is water off a duck’s back for those in the Yes campaign who previously campaigned for the SNP.

    Paradoxically the independence hating Daily Record, Daily Mail, the BBC, the Scotsman et al have spurred on the Yes campaign’s successful tactic of grassroots campaigning which has closed the polling gap because they left the Yes campaign no other route to get their message across.

    The No campaign didn’t go down the grassroots campaign route because they thought the air cover of a very supportive media would carry them across the line. The referendum’s not over so they may yet be right but it’s starting to look a bit shaky for them.

  • mickfealty

    The Herald is pretty fully bought into the Indy line with some of Scotland’s best journalists taking no prisoners on the matter. And I’d say STV has played a pretty square bat on the matter, though I thought this was an interesting ‘Fraudian slip’… .

    On the STV preroll the night of the #IndyRef debate: "In Hollywood Movies all the villains are played by Brits…"— Mick Fealty (mickfealty ) September 5, 2014

    I cannot speak to the BBC’s output since I don’t pick it up much to give a fair analysis.

    But this is where the direct democracy route is so useful for mainstreaming doubts about the political class of whichever country it is used in. The first Lisbon Treaty is a good example of that in Ireland…


    The top down element is also needed to get the larger picture. My friend and sometime colleague John Pollock noted just how well bottom up networked approaches work in his study of Libya. The network flagged the issues, even sometimes the precise location of enemy troops, but it would not have been successful without the allied bombers.

  • dougthedug

    As I said Mick, The Sunday Herald only came on-side four months ago long after the campaign had started. Its circulation is small and it’s not a daily. I don’t buy it because its sister paper the Herald is actively hostile to Yes. Buying the Sunday Herald funds the company which puts out the daily Yes hating Herald. You’re giving to one hand and getting slapped with the other.

    If STV is unbiased then that’s great. I don’t think it is.

    However even if you regard STV as unbiased my point still stands. There are lots of media outlets in Scotland which are actively hostile to Yes. Apart from the Sunday Herald, which is a very recent convert in a years long campaign, there are no media outlets hostile to No.

  • Doug, I concur with everything you just wrote, except I do think it is okay to buy the Sunday Herald as I think this single source of light among all the darkness of the No media has given hope to the Yes campaign. The other papers are now coming round to the fact that they may be on the wrong side of the argument and have begun to provide some Yes supporting pieces to slightly balance the heavier weight they give to No. As an example, today’s Daily Record is amazing – it has given the editorial rights to Alex Salmond to promote a Yes vote and the front page is absolutely brilliant. Of course, they only want to sell newspapers and those that have only supported No in the event of a Yes outcome, may well expect to see their circulation drop. I am reminded when in 1997, the Sun came out for Blair and New Labour after 20 years of supporting the Tories and that didn’t do New Labour any harm. Here’s the link to today’s front pages:

  • I’m Trending on Twitter

    …the ingrained sense of entitlement that the no campaign’s key staff and supporters exhibit is a crucial weakness. They live in such well-established network of self-reinforcing mythology that the idea of independence hadn’t quite struck them as being feasible until a few days ago.

    Reminds me of the Alliance party approach to Irish unification like no change could possibly happen to NI’s position “oh it’s all settled now thanks to the GFA” keep on bluffing yourselves that NI is all settled and that the constitutional position is safe and sound and supposedly doesn’t matter!

  • What’s wrong with some people in Northern Ireland? Why do they think everything needs to revert back somehow to Northern Bl***y Ireland, It doesn’t! This thread and this topic is about the Scottish referendum, try sticking with that!

  • I’m Trending on Twitter

    And likewise just because Scotland is having its referendum doesn’t necessarily mean everything should just all be about Scotland given the implications for the UK generally, also this is a Northern Ireland blog in particular, if it were a Scottish website / blog you might have a point.

  • mickfealty

    We don’t have a vote Scotty, but we will be affected.

  • dougthedug

    Alex Salmond did have an editorial input into the Daily Record today but for those who don’t see the paper, Alistair Darling had his shot yesterday so they cancel out and it hasn’t changed the paper’s normal anti-independence stance.

    I don’t see any paper changing their stance on independence now unless the Sun does as it’s got a history of switching sides but even then I’d be surprised.

  • I’m Trending on Twitter

    Are there any areas or regions within Scotland that would be strongly in favour of staying within the UK like I imagine north and east Antrim would be even if a majority voted for N Ireland to leave the UK for instance. In Scotland, in the event of a narrow Yes vote, would the Westminster government consider enacting another referendum for these regions or areas so that a vote could be had to see they would like to secede from a newly independent Scotland? A Cameron version of Putin politics in Scotland.

  • IToT, fair enough if you had a point worth making, but the point you made about the Alliance Party had zero do do with this thread on how the Yes campaign was beginning to win the debate. Putting in something about Northern Ireland for the sake of it which has nothing to do with the thread, just appears to be nothing more than a naval gazing self-obsessed preoccupation. Not a good way to get sympathy for your views, if that’s what you’re looking for. Besides, Mick has put a new thread up especially for people like you, go and have a gander at that.

  • Simples, no, don’t be silly.

  • I’m Trending on Twitter

    Why not if bottom up grass roots is cool and small is beautiful why should areas, if there are some, not be allowed to remain part of the UK if there is a close Yes vote with certain other parts of Scotland coming in with a very large pro UK sentiment. I would encourage Westminster to do all it can to help out these British people trapped in a new Scotland which they want no part of. Westminster can legally do what it wants in terms of enacting legislation for another referendum in these areas and I hope this is explored, as Westminster needs to go over the heads of people like you to ensure the rights of these British Scots are maintained and they get to stay in the union. Just like the Scot Nats get their bits of independence, if it comes to pass, that’s a fair way to cut the cake.

  • I’m Trending on Twitter

    I dont want sympathy for my views I am stating the perhaps redundancy of the Alliance position in a union in flux, are the Alliance party a protected species on here, I am beginning to doubt whether you are a real Scot and not some northern republican living out his dream of independence through the Scottish people and theirs.

  • You’re talking nonsense as usual. Edinburgh agreement, ever heard of it? No, didn’t think so, well go and educate yourself a little more about the legalities of the Scottish referendum before you start spouting you know what. Clearly you are feeling a little anxious about the result, but never mind, everything will work out fine in the end I’m sure. You could always invite any anti independence Scots to come and live in our Wee Country if it’s a Yes vote, I’m sure they’d all love it here and would feel right at home, what with so many Orange marches to keep them all entertained.

  • IToT, I’m glad you don’t want sympathy for your views, as I don’t see you getting much. I don’t care about the Alliance Party or any other party in Northern Ireland for that matter, you can say what you like about any of them, I am an SNP supporter and we are not republicans. We want Scottish independence because we don’t trust Westminster to deliver for Scotland and we believe that the Scottish people are best placed to make the right decisions for Scotland by using all of the tax revenues generated in Scotland for the benefit of all of the Scottish people. By the way, we also support retaining the British monarchy as the head of state in an independent Scotland, just in case you didn’t know that.

  • I’m Trending on Twitter

    Yes that is for the upcoming Scottish Referendum, once that has happened and if there is a tight Yes vote by a few percent or so then Westminster should do what is outlined above. Scotland may get its independence but it should be an independence of sorts and not the independence it had in mind. Westminster needs to get real here, get David Cameron out of office immediately and get UKIP in as a matter of urgency to genuinely fight for the rights of all the British people throughout the UK.

  • I’m Trending on Twitter

    To make the right decisions – will that be using Sterling or the Euro, I would have more respect if Scotland had its own currency and went properly independent than saying to Westminster oh here we don’t trust you but hell give us a soft landing till we get things up and running and then we will spin off out and join the euro giving up an independence we thought we really had? Talk about a one way series of demands.

  • IToT, Sterling – as per the reasons I gave earlier to Ian Parsley and Mick on the other thread. As for your respect for independence, well, Scotland can probably live without the respect of an Ulster Loyalist who wants to partition Scotland in the event of a Yes vote. It’s getting respect for your own views you should be more concerned about.

  • Cinaedmor

    If the Yes campaign succeeds the UK PM will have no moral authority to interfere in what will then be internal constitutional matters in Scotland.

    There are of course different regional priorities within Scotland that Salmond may need to be encouraged to address. An Edinburghcentric future would be a disappointment and I hope that the SNP are quickly disabused of any aspirations for business as usual simply because Westminster may have left the stage.

    On a personal level my wife, a Shetlander, is ambivalent about even thinking of herself as a Scot and regards all “down South” in much the same way, be they in Edinburgh or London. My in laws would be inclined to gather their boats together and tow their home islands a little closer towards their ancient cousins in Norway if it were possible.

    In the aftermath of the vote the priority will be bringing the people of Scotland back together (and if it is Yes someone will need to rein back Salmond from being even more insufferable than he is normally). It will be all to play for then. The national conversation will continue.

  • IToT, dream on there for all the good it will do you. Do you have any idea how ridiculous you sound? Why do you care about Scotland so much anyway, Ulster is safe within the Union for as long as as majority wish it to be – exactly the same for Scotland. Only difference now is that we are about to find out what the majority in Scotland want and it could go either way. I have no idea and don’t really give a monkies when a similar situation might arise in Ulster. The people will decide as that’s democracy and I assume you are a democrat. You are a democrat, aren’t you?

  • Cinaedmor, so I take then that you are Yes and your wife is No? There must be plenty of interesting (heated) conversations in your house then?

  • Cinaedmor

    Simply because my wife calls the SNP right on its centrist approach does not preclude her from recognising the benefit of independence – as a first step.

    She intends to vote Yes despite the SNP rather than because of it. Too much of the dour Wee Free righteousness about them for her taste.

  • That’s great news Cinaedmor that there will be 2 Yes votes in your house. It just goes to prove that this referendum is not about the nationalism or the SNP or Alex Salmond – it is about Scotland and what’s best for its future. While I make no apology for supporting Salmond or the SNP, I fully admire and respect all shades of political opinion which can see the wonderful potential of an independent Scotland.

  • Am Ghobsmacht


    We do it with almost everything. It’s apparently the centre of the universe….

  • Mister_Joe

    It will certainly be interesting if Scotland votes “Yes”. I wish the folks there the best whatever way it goes. What was that Chinese wish? May you live in interesting times?