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Sunday, 24 August 2014

So Better Together aren't pointlessly negative? Sure...


A common feature of what has passed for debate on Scotland's future has been the relentless and cynical negativity from Better Together.

It's also been a common feature to see "no" supporters refute this claim; they will consistently argue that it is not "negative" to question the claims of the SNP, to dismiss some of the claims made within the White Paper or to continue pressing Alex Salmond on the currency question. They may also state that to some degree the "no" campaign - like any campaign opposed to change - will inevitably be painted as negative by its opponents.

That latter point does have some credibility, but the fact that a campaign is ridiculed for its negativity by its opponents does not necessarily confirm that it isn't. I'm still waiting to hear the "positive case for the Union" - it may, of course, be the case that it is being made but is drowned out by the cynical, personal and overly critical nature of Better Together's general campaigning strategy.  A rebuttal of the SNP's and Yes Scotland's vision for an independent Scotland, however communicated, does not amount to a case for anything.

It's been frustrating at times, as someone who at times has been more interested in the debate than the outcome, to have seen how the political conversation has descended into petty-mindedness. Supporters of both sides have successfully showcased the worst of Scottish politics, but at least the "cybernats" largely work on their own initiatives and act independently of YesScotland. Not so the likes of Ian Davidson or Margaret Curran - or the "insider" quoted in the Daily Record today.

Better Together's Alistair Darling - who, it should be stated, has proved to be an asset to their campaign - recently and gamely took part in the ice bucket challenge. Good for him. He was nominated by James McAvoy - who also nominated Alex Salmond. Unfortunately the First Minister hasn't yet got round to staging this charity stunt - which has provoked Better Together to tell the Daily Record that “it looks like the First Minister is a big fearty after all. Surely Alex Salmond hasn’t got the heebie-jeebies?” Cue hundreds of supporters of Better Together making quite a deal of this on twitter.

Is this really the best Better Together can do?

On one level, the ice-bucket challenge is silly, nothing more than a bit of fun that raises some money for a good cause. But this episode underlines the character of the Better Together campaign. The slurs on others personalities, the focus on issues that don't really matter, the determination simply to get one over the SNP and Alex Salmond personally - this is what we've come to expect. They're more interested in creating rather pitiful stories like this for Daily Record readers than they are in actually dealing with the important issues which should be framing the debate.

I'm not sure why Better Together think that this strategy will work, although perhaps they look at the polls and imagine they will win in spite of themselves. How can any self-respecting Scottish voter who is remotely informed on political issues take seriously a campaign that is so focused on the insignificant, that exists only to oppose and is determined to make itself appear small-minded? Better Together should be sending out a signal to Scottish voters that they are serious, that they can be trusted to deliver a better Scotland in the event of a "no" vote and that they are committed to a collaborative apporach to politics. Instead, they resort to the politics of the lowest common denominator.

Please, for the sake of informed democracy, can we start talking about what actually matters to Scottish people?

Last week former Scottish Green Party leader Robin Harper announced that he would be voting "no". How he chooses to vote has little effect on me - although it does confirm the range of opinion within the Green Party - other than to consider what a loss his sober-minded and tolerant approach would have helped Better Together if he'd been involved from the beginning.

Better Together can hardly be complaining about being perceived as negative when they do idiotic things like this. I'd also remind them it's not only negative to paint "yes" supporters as nationalists, but intellectually lazy - especially when they actively appeal to emotion in promoting a British nationalism I find every inch as repellant as its Scottish equivalent.

There are only a few weeks left. I'd like to think that Better Together can up its game in the final days, but I wouldn't bet on it.


1 comment:

tris said...

Update: Eck has in fact been iced, and so has Nicola. Alex nominated David Cameron and Brian Taylor and Nicola nominated Johann Lamont, Shona Robison and Nick Clegg.

I think in fairness that both campaigns have been right to point out the negative aspects of whichever future we choose... Whichever way we vote there will be negative things happen, as there are everywhere in the world.

I heard Cameron at the beginning making the positive points for the union: strength, world importance, clout in the EU, the UN, Nato, G20, G8, 4th largest military spend, security council permanent member, ear of the United States, the BBC, NHS, welfare state, the queen.

Most of these things are not relevant to the ordinary voter, who will never feel as if they profit from them (nuclear weapons, G8 membership, EU clout???) and some of the other ones are being dismantled as we speak (welfare state, NHS).

It is a hard sell, no matter how important these things may, in reality, be if people don't actually give a toss about most of them.

It is more likely to get through that shopping bills will rise dramatically (so they say) we shall have to pay roaming charges to phone our granny in Pontypridd; mortgages will cost another £1300 a year, a sick kid won't get help from Great Ormond Street, we won't be allowed to have English blood transfusions, or to see Dr Who.

These things actually affect ordinary people, whether or not they are true.

Simply, it's much more effective in changing people's minds to use an argument that they feel involves them.