When it comes to campaign strategy, the Ayes have it

Strategic Communications

September 17, 2014

Scottish residents go to the polls on Thursday 18 September to decide on their future, with implications for the rest of the UK’s international standing and economy. You could be forgiven for thinking that this has only been realised in the last two weeks. With the natural progression of the campaign, those living outside Scotland will have noticed a spike in debate as polling day gets closer. This UK-wide spike hides the relentless conversation that’s been going on in pubs, workplaces and households across Scotland. Scots aren’t taking this decision lightly and we should expect one of the highest electoral turnouts in modern times. According to a YouGov survey conducted between 9-11 September, 90% of those polled said they’re ‘absolutely certain’ to be voting.

The wake up of the political and media establishment to the realisation that the Yes campaign has a good chance of winning is, frankly, surprising when you look at the voting habits in the past two Scottish parliament elections – the SNP has a habit of making strong and late surges in the months before polling day. The SNP attracted voters with a social democratic message that preyed upon a lacklustre Labour Party, which meant that a bulk of those who voted for the SNP in the 2007 and 2011 Scottish elections did not support independence – the party’s raison d’être. The Yes campaign of course includes political parties in addition to the SNP but it’s the SNP that is the strategic driver.

Message and strategy

Fast forward to today’s constitutional predicament and the Yes campaign’s message for voters isn’t much different to their previous elections – a ‘new school’ way for Scotland in a modern world. Despite the SNP’s socialist background, its current mantra is a school of politics that has bridged the far-left, centre-left and centre-right of the political divide to appeal to the mainstream.

Whether you agree with their intentions or not, there’s no denying that the Yes team have run a remarkable campaign – some polls had them 30 points behind in 2013. Despite the blip of the first TV debate, the ground level campaign work has cut through to the population and the aspirational message has appealed to many Labour and Lib Dem voters. The Yes campaign realise that with a population of five million, media opinion, while influential, is not the only way to win elections. They have cleverly tapped into micro campaigning and bottom up movements by harnessing groups such as Lawyers for Yes, NHS for Yes, English Scots for Yes, and Veterans for Yes.

Developing an economic case against independence is undoubtedly the primary focus of the No campaign but it’s one that has been messaged in negative terms – rather than as a positive aspiration of Scotland as part of the Union. However, the momentum of the Yes campaign undoubtedly slowed last week due to big businesses finally raising fears of independence. No doubt there were some high-level phone calls between UK politicians and UK businesses to get big business off the ‘official’ fence.

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