This is The Monday Line
Denis G. Campbell
Elections are won or lost in the middle. Power lives with independent/undecided voters. When reviewing the polls conducted over the year leading up to Thursday’s Scottish Independence referendum, the ‘No’ vote always led, but never crossed the 50% threshold. Undecided voters made up anywhere from 25-35% of the electorate.
Watching the reluctance of those leaving polling places to speak with news interviewers, it was clear this vote was emotional, serious, uncomfortable and conflicted. On the one hand they wanted independence. Who doesn’t want independence? Voters grew wary of utopian promises made by ex-SNP First Minister Alex Salmond. While they were deeply angered by a barrage of unwanted negativity from Westminster politicians, the extreme messaging wars of both sides angered independent, unsure voters.
Time was not on anyone’s side
The ‘Yes’ campaign had two years to make their referendum case. In the last months of the campaign, it became clear Alex Salmond would do or say anything to win. Prime Minister Cameron, Labour leader Miliband and Liberal Democrat Deputy PM Clegg played ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ to help the ‘No’ campaign. A few days before the vote they promised more devolved powers to Scotland if they stayed in the Union.
When the ‘No’ vote was secured, PM Cameron shape-shifted the deal to a more ‘Tory-friendly’ demand that any new powers ‘given’ to Scotland should have corresponding benefits to England. Laws affecting England should only be decided by an elected English body. Then Wales’ Labour First Minister Jones added fuel by demanding more, new devolved powers for his nation and the filling of a £300 million pound Westminster budget hole.
While it would be normal for the Tories to pat Scotland on the head and send them on their way, the UK is eight months away from a General Election in which EVERY Parliamentary seat will be up for grabs. Add in an unresolved constitutional crisis and this could be a major problem for ALL parties. And again, fear will be a powerful motivator.
Learn to love shades of grey
Later today I will address a group of International Baccalaureate students studying Peace and Social Justice at a South Wales international college. We’ll talk about political parties, media wedge strategies and how unhelpful they all are in solving problems.
I often tell progressives to stop trying to convert their FOX News loving Tea Party uncle at family events. Your breath is wasted, just as theirs is trying to bring you to their side. The real effort needs to be on the middle. Foromer US President Richard Nixon’s ‘great silent majority’ was alive and well in Scotland.
Or were they ‘the great sick and tired?’
They hated efforts to manipulate. In this new era, they are the ultimate informed voting consumer. Media and politicians want them to remember simple talking points. Today’s voter though behaves much like today’s consumer. When I work with businesses on Customer Excellence, I tell them no matter what they sell the customer knows far more about you and your company than you do about them.
We used to say it took 6-8 positive contacts with you to fill the customer’s ‘convincer’ and get them to make a purchase. Today it’s 35+ contacts. Scotland’s ‘great sick and tired majority’ was well informed. They cut through hyperbole to get to the truth. Headlines don’t work. They read the article. They look for depth. On a decision this important they wanted real information.
While most hated the process, everyone participated. They knew 97% voter registration and 85% turnout meant their vote really mattered. So they voted from a well-informed space. This group respected shades of grey and… people who levelled with them. That was far important than making cheap media points or giving clever speeches.
It was easy to make blanket statements, to show stark black and white differences between ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ voters. That solved nothing. William Wallace is long dead. We are beyond the need to kill the opposition to show our strength. We show strength by resolving uncertainty together.
The most powerful speakers of the last few weeks spoke about their Scotland from the greyest area of all, the quiet spaces of a deeply uncertain heart. There was real strength in not knowing and reasoning together. There was real strength in a grey, tired heart… that came to its own conclusion.