On the verge of a Scottish Spring? Social sentiment says Yes will walk the #IndyRef.

“The best way to see the future is to observe the present…”

Carmin Medina

B Kliban
B Kliban’s cartoon..

I’ve an English friend who spent the last week of August on their regular family holiday in the highlands. He doesn’t have a vote but if he did he’d be a certain NO. One of things he found disturbing was having to decode the YES signs. At first he felt drawn towards it, only to feel a shudder of recognition when he thought about what it meant.

There’s a feeling south of the border that this is one (of several) tactical mistakes that’s been made by David Cameron. In fact the message is so appealing to picture editors that the front pages of the Daily Telegraph are often festooned with pictures saying Yes, even when the accompanying stories have an anti Yes bias.

Over the weekend I saw several pieces of sentiment analysis of content online all of different levels of sophistication but all which put the Yes campaign in the driving seat. Right now, the polls are all over the place. Professor Patrick McGhee rhetorically quotes from Tolkien

“And it is also said,” answered Frodo: “Go not to the Elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes.”

“Is it indeed?” laughed Gildor. “Elves seldom give unguarded advice, for advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill.”

It’s not just online and in the papers that Yes is more attractive. On the streets Yes have it too. And by a long way. In his column for the Sunday Telegraph yesterday, Matthew d’Ancona closes with an interesting description..

Scotland dithers over its destiny, caught in a fugue state of anger, resentment and indecision. It is as though the sheer scale of the question – the enormity of what is at stake – has not sunk in. History has crept up on the Scots, demanding a one-word answer. All we can predict with certainty is that nothing will be the same again.

Well it isn’t just the Scots who’re in a fugue state. And it isn’t just the Labour party who’ve been withering the ties which now so very tenuously bind

…wherever I go I find people who instinctively understand the absurdity that Tony Blair is set to transfer power to Gordon Brown – with all the democratic accountability of the transition from Claudius to Nero – and that Gordon Brown, a Scottish MP, will be able to impose very controversial measures on English constituencies, when English MPs have no corresponding say over those questions in Scotland, and when (the crowning absurdity) he, Gordon, will have no say over those questions in so far as they affect his own constituents.

This was written eight years ago. In his finish, Boris Johnson delivered his coup de grace

Tony has pledged to fly the [England] flag. Will Gordon have the nerve to do the same? Will Gordon have the nerve to resist? Yes, my friends, such will be the hysteria over the next few days that I predict that we will eventually see the hilarious and pitiful spectacle of the England flag being raised over No 11 as well. Gordon will put his ambition before his national feeling, to the derision of his fellow Scotsmen.

The Labour classes will finally bow to the masses and in the matter of the flag the masses are right. The prevalence and success of this cross shows how wrong and how misguided the multiculturalists have been, in the past 30 years, to try to suppress national symbols, and how powerful a flag can be in uniting a country rather than [and] dividing it. [ironic edits added]

Not sure the boul’ BoJo saw this state of affairs coming so soon and under his own party’s Premiership.

Whatever the masses have to say, they will say it on Thursday clearly enough for the rest of us to hear. In the meantime, it’s the renewed sense of agency that many Scots have found appealing that’s made this poll so impossible to call.

As John Kellden puts it:

What is happening in the dimension of people rediscovering autonomy and their own voices when participating in movements, is at least as important as the relative achievement of external activism objectives.

Ah objectives. So far as I can see neither the Union or indy Scotland side have much in the way of concrete plans for the future. In truth it’s not easy for large, heavy and slow moving governments to respond convincingly to the mercurial wants of a demos buffeted by the forces of globalisation.

To borrow from Chrystia Freeland and the North American experience...

Part of the problem is that no one has yet come up with a fully convincing answer to the question of how you harness the power of the technology revolution and globalization without hollowing out middle-class jobs. Liberal nanny-state paternalism, as it has been brilliantly described and practiced by Cass R. Sunstein and like-minded thinkers, can help, as can shoring up the welfare state.

But neither is enough, and voters are smart enough to appreciate that. Even multiple nudges won’t make 21st-century capitalism work for everyone. Plutocrats, as well as the rest of us, need to rise to this larger challenge, to find solutions that work on the global scale at which business already operates.

The other task is to fully engage in retail, bottom-up politics — not just to sell those carefully thought-through, data-based technocratic solutions but to figure out what they should be in the first place.

Al Pacino bikeBottom up politics is hard to manage. And in Scotland we are seeing the network v hierarchy effect in full force, some of it bordering on the racist and ugly.  The Butterfly Rebellion as Robin McAlpine of Common Weal calls it, borrowing a phrase from Paul Mason of Channel Four News.

Those relying on the polls should take note of Anthony Nardelli’s warning in the Guardian that “historic data in this case is scarce”. The polling in Scotland is as untested as social media analysis for predicting outcomes.

On the other hand it remains to be seen what effect the Yes side’s darker uses of the mob will have on the final outcome. They are not stopping to ask for permission and certainly not playing by any pre-ordained rules of fairplay (see Pacino quote).

Yesterday there were thousands calling for the head of the BBC’s Nick Robinson for not only daring to ask Scotland’s First Minister a ‘stupid’ question about the unintended consequences of his exit plan, but for reporting (truthfully imho) afterwards that Salmond hadn’t answered it.

Gandhi’s famous phrase ‘be the change you want to see in the world‘ has become the watchword for digital change advocates. We’ll know a lot more about how that works by the wee small hours of Friday morning.

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

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