Yes and No campaigns reveal September battle plans

WITH only weeks to go until Scotland goes to the polls to decide on its future, key strategists for the Nationalist and Unionist movements unveil their battle plans for the campaign’s last 40 days
Scottish voters go to the polls next month to decide on independence. Picture: Jane BarlowScottish voters go to the polls next month to decide on independence. Picture: Jane Barlow
Scottish voters go to the polls next month to decide on independence. Picture: Jane Barlow

‘The people of Scotland are the best people to take decisions about our country’s future’

Stephen Noon, chief strategist for Yes Scotland

As we approach the final weeks of ­campaigning, the whole Yes movement is working flat out with levels of activity across the country higher than I’ve seen in my 20 years of election campaigning. That’s because we know that the referendum is Scotland’s big opportunity to secure a better future.

Stephen Noon of the Yes Campaign. Picture: Robert PerryStephen Noon of the Yes Campaign. Picture: Robert Perry
Stephen Noon of the Yes Campaign. Picture: Robert Perry
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We are moving into this ­final period with opportunities to take and advantages to build on, in both our campaign message and our overall campaign activity. We are the underdogs, but the gap is now very narrow, which provides the best possible motivation. Victory is within reach.

This past week, for example, has seen confirmation that even our opponents now agree that Scotland can be a successful independent country. That’s an excellent springboard for persuading people that we should in fact be ­independent. After all, if you believe Scotland could be a successful independent country, why on Earth wouldn’t you say Yes?

Added to this, the area of our greatest campaigning strength and advantage – our grassroots volunteers and myriad range of Yes supporting campaign groups – is delivering at an amazing rate. As we hoped when this journey first began for Yes Scotland in May 2012, we have helped create the biggest grassroots campaign in Scotland’s history – something that was an essential condition for success.

Those of us in the central office of Yes Scotland cannot lay claim to this movement, because it has become way bigger than any one campaign group or any one party. From the very beginning, so much of the grassroots activity has been self-starting, creative, ­diverse and effective, just as it should be: reaching people and parts of the country that our opponents simply cannot or have not reached.

Labour's Douglas Alexander. Picture: Phil WilkinsonLabour's Douglas Alexander. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Labour's Douglas Alexander. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

That includes the Radical Independence Convention knocking at doors in some of our most disadvantaged ­estates and engaging with people who have been outside the political process for years. It sees Business for Scotland supporters taking their battle bus to high streets across the country to speak to business owners like themselves. It has some of Scotland’s most energetic and talented young creatives in National Collective touring Scotland to encourage people, through art and music, to imagine the sort of country Scotland can be. And there is a myriad of other Yes campaigning groups, such as NHS for Yes, Academics for Yes, Trade Unionists for Yes, Mums For Change, Farming and Fishing for Yes, and many more.

These things are all ­happening with passion and enthusiasm on the Yes side, with no parallel in the No campaign. And, as we approach referendum day, this outpouring of Yes activity will continue and grow.

It has been impossible for the centre to keep pace with the enthusiasm and commitment of the tens of thousands of individuals who are the true heroes of Yes. As someone who is more used to the “command and control” campaigning of political parties, this new era of engagement has taken a little getting used to. But I know that it is the key to our success. As much as anything else, their activity is why the gap in the polls has narrowed and it is why I ­believe Yes can and will win.

Success has always been about creating a groundswell of support, with Yes supporters and volunteers engaging with people in their social circles to move them closer and closer to a Yes vote. That ­effect – the power of the ­social network – has been part of a slow-burn as we nudge people up the support scale. It is working and the pace is gathering.

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Across the movement, our focus is on Scotland’s wealth of talent and resources and the firm belief that there is so much more that our nation can achieve. We know there are challenges ahead and that independence, while not a magic wand, gives us the powers we need to meet those challenges head on, and overcome them.

We also know that there are dangers from a No vote, in particular the threat to our NHS from the growing privatisation crisis facing the health service down south. Westminster decides Scotland’s budget based on spending levels in England and that creates too big a risk. We need a cast-iron guarantee that our vital public services will not be damaged by the knock-on effects of English privatisation and that only comes from a Yes. In important areas like this, we will not shy away from making clear the risks and consequences of a No.

Instead of working simply to mitigate the impact of damaging Westminster policies, whether on our NHS or our welfare state, we should be able to use our wealth to deliver world-class public services, because, quite ­simply that is what wealthy countries like Scotland can and should do.

Of course, the idea of wealth is not just money or economic output, it is also things like the vast resources and deep well of human ­talent we are blessed with as a nation. The end result is also about more than money – it is the idea of turning what is a rich country into a rich society too.

In these final weeks, we want everyone in Scotland to hear the essential truths about our country, which transcend the many contested economic and financial facts.

The first undeniable truth is that Scotland is one of the wealthiest countries in the world and therefore can be a successful independent nation. We are in the top 20 according to the Financial Times. We are richer, per head, than Japan, France and the UK. That not only means we can choose independence with confidence but it also tells us that we should be aiming higher, because great things are possible when you have the strengths and wealth that Scotland does.

The second reality is that despite all this undoubted wealth, for far too many of us it doesn’t feel as though we live in one of the very wealthiest countries in the world. That simple truth is why a Yes vote is so important – indeed, why a Yes vote is crucial. With a Yes, we can take control and make sure our wealth delivers much more for people living in Scotland. Instead of a ­Westminster system that benefits the few, a Yes can benefit the many.

After all – and the final, fundamental truth of this campaign – the people of Scotland are the best people to take decisions about our country’s future. No-one else will do a better job. We believe in Scotland and in the ability of the people here to prosper with independence.

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A Yes offers us the biggest opportunity we will ever have to use Scotland’s wealth and extraordinary resources to build a more prosperous and fairer country. We are better off with Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands and, as the whole movement will make clear in these final weeks, that is an opportunity that is too good to miss.

‘We are offering the best of both worlds: more power for Scots backed by the strength of the UK’

Douglas Alexander MP, Shadow Foreign Secretary

In just 40 days we will know the result of the referendum which has put everything but the constitution on hold for the past three years in Scottish politics.

The choice we face on 18 September is not new. We are all experiencing surely the longest political campaign in British history. So what do the remaining 40 days hold?

The so-called game-changers for the Yes campaign: the White Paper; the European elections; the Bannockburn anniversary; the Commonwealth Games; this past week’s debate have come and gone, and yet the game remains largely unchanged.

Increasingly the nationalist narrative seems reduced to claims that their “grassroots movement” will be the key to success despite all objective evidence suggesting this largely consists of a hardy band of activists posing for differing “twitpics” wherever the location, whatever the special interest: Academics for Indy on a Tuesday; Farmers for Yes on a Wednesday; the Radical Independence Campaign on a Thursday. Most recently Sir George Mathewson: perhaps Former RBS Chairmen for Yes. Their “Labour for Independence” group still seems, on inspection, to consist primarily of “SNP Councillors pretending to be Labour for Independence”.

And all the time the clock ticks down on a nationalist campaign which can’t be a happy place.

Yet the SNP should not be underestimated. This campaign is for them what politics is about. In the face of unshifting polls they won’t give up. Instead, in the weeks ahead, I expect we’ll hear increasingly shrill claims from increasingly desperate spokespeople.

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For me the Yes campaign message has so far been a curious mixture of insecurity and assertiveness. Despite their White Paper, voters have had few convincing answers from the SNP on issues as basic as the pound or our pensions. Little suggests they have any intention of – or indeed space to – change their stance now.

So I predict they will, instead, judge that in the remaining weeks their only option is attack rather than defence; to give up on the evidence entirely and simply go for it on emotion.

They know full well that Ukip’s success, and the rise of other nationalist parties around Europe, owes more to emotion than economics. As Fareed Zakaria has written about the rise of nationalism: “The question that fills people with emotion is ‘Who are we?’ And, more ominously, ‘Who are we not?’”

So expect lots more lectures about “Westminster Rule” and “London Labour”.

With families still grappling with the traumas of a post-crash economy, there will be a none-too-subtle appeal to suggest proximity is identity, and that people furth of Scotland do not and cannot share our values.

Secondly, they’ll try to claim that somehow a Yes vote will bring more powers to Scotland but not break up the UK.

Between now and 18 September they will say whatever they think it takes. We’ve already had the tactical adoption of the monarchy, and the threadbare assertion we’ll keep the British pound.

Let no-one be fooled – this isn’t a positive vision. This is simply tactics from a party portraying its plans as “independence lite”, in the full knowledge that a Yes result delivers an irrevocable mandate for irreversible separation. It is weakness, not strength, that leads to such a politics of stealth.

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Thirdly, they’ll claim a No vote means no change. They’ll talk a lot about Alec Douglas-Home. And they’ll talk very little about the powers they have but don’t use, the powers coming with the Scotland Act 2012, or the commitments by all three main UK parties to deliver further powers, whoever wins the general election.

So what should be the response of the millions of us who believe Scotland can be a better nation without becoming a separate nation?

First, we must be positive about the most successful political union in the world. And, as last week’s debate confirmed, we must keep asking questions.

As a member of parliament for an area that includes some of the worst deprivation in Scotland, I witness the pain of poverty. But it is simply dishonest to suggest those struggling today have “nothing to lose”.

Every analysis shows those with least to lose would be those most badly hurt. It was, after all, John Swinney himself who conceded in a leaked private paper that the nationalists do not even know if they could afford the basic state pension.

It is our patriotic duty to understand the implications of the choice and examine the consequences for all of Scotland’s people. The loss of the pound. The risks to pensions. The sheer folly of turning our nearest neighbours into our closest competitors.

Second, just as we have mastered our opponents on the evidence, we must match them on emotion. No side in this debate has a monopoly on Scottish patriotism.

We are deeply invested emotionally in the endurance of our historic nation within a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-national state on these small islands of ours. As ancient hatreds rise once again in so many parts of the world, across this small island we have much to be proud of in showing how solidarity need not compromise identity.

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And third, as Labour politicians and campaigners, we must be the voice for the change that most Scots want.

At our best we have been the party of constitutional, economic and social renewal – the party of Scottish home rule. We established the Scottish Parliament. But for us that parliament, with whatever powers it now has and will have in the future, is a means to an end. And that end is to improve the lot of working people and ensuring no-one is left behind.

That task is still best achieved working alongside our comrades in the rest of the UK. As the old trade union slogan has it, “In Unity is Strength”.

In the closing weeks of this campaign we are offering Labour voters what most Scots see as the best of both worlds: more decisions taken by Scots here in Scotland, backed up by the strength, stability and security of the UK.

And when this campaign is over?

All of us know the referendum has both energised and further divided politics in Scotland. More importantly it has also caused divisions within families, between neighbours and supporters of different sides of the argument. Secession has too often stifled broader debate – we need to start talking together afresh.

We, on the side of the Scotland staying within the UK, have always said we will accept any result. Optimistically the nationalists will, on 19 September, finally make a similar concession. Then we can, I hope jointly, begin the task of bringing our nation back together.

But first as Scots we need to bring home the vote.

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