No matter what the outcome of the Scottish referendum on Thursday September 18th may be, the result is likely to be extremely close. A study of poll findings at whatscotlandthinks.org shows major fluctuations of opinion, but nevertheless just a year ago (13th September 2013) there was a fairly healthy lead of “No” voters (49% as compared with 32% who said they would vote “Yes”).
If the reason for the decline in the fortunes of those that wish to maintain the Union can be summed up in one sentence it would be this:
- The leading supporters of Better Together have been selling the UK product like a distress purchase.
In other words, remaining in the UK has been marketed to Scots like a medicine they need to keep taking rather than an exciting experience they can hope to enjoy. Even the name of the Campaign group for the Union is apologetic. Instead of “Better Together” why not “We’re Best Together” as a more engaging superlative?
But it goes much deeper than that.
It’s not surprising that Better Together is frequently referred to as the “No Campaign” because it has been exceptionally negative. It has highlighted the problems that an independent Scotland might have rather than the benefits of retaining the Union, both for the Scots and the rest of the UK. Fostering a fear of the unknown does not work when people are hungry for change and the Campaign has failed to grasp the public mood.
Every business knows how important it is to understand the aspirations of its customers and meet them wherever possible. In this debate however politicians have been perceived as patronising voters rather than nurturing them. Big mistake!
The political leaders that support maintaining the Union have had ample time to work out a devolution-plus solution for the UK’s future, ever since the referendum was first mooted and even before. If the Better Together Campaign had been able to put forward exciting proposals for the future shape of the UK and been able to engage the public with a bold and positive vision, then their current position would have been more comfortable.
Politicians that favour the continued UK structure have seemed complacent and lacking in strategic competence. As a result, they have been backed into a corner and made to look as if they are now handing out unwilling concessions.
Put in marketing terms, they have failed to define the product, they have failed to offer the best value option and they have allowed competitors to capture the market.
Both the Yes and No Campaigns have lacked the breadth of argument that a debate of this importance deserves and the bickering on TV has done neither side many favours. As well as providing positive proposals for the future, in this kind of political development, history also has a part to play. For instance, the progress towards the current structure of the United Kingdom was started when a Scottish King ascended the English throne (James I in 1603) and not the other way round.
Most businesses have an “About Us” section on their websites that helps to define them and the provenance of what they offer. Better Together has not been effective in describing the historic relevance of the institutions they are seeking to maintain.
Whatever the outcome of the Scottish referendum, we must hope that it will provide the best results for the Scots and the rest of the UK.
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By Ronnie Gunn
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