Better Together are consumed by ‘winning’ the campaign on a week-by-week basis, writes CRAIG GALLAGHER, but a focus on negative campaigning could rot them from the inside.
The pro-independence gang has struggled to deal with the tactics of their opponents, Better Together, over the last news cycle. Tactics range from obstructionist rhetoric highlighting potential difficulties Scotland might face if independent – the bread and butter of Better Together – to shrill press releases decrying Cybernat conspiracies against the Scotsman, Susan Calman and whoever else has dared to voice an anti-independence opinion that week.
It surely goes without saying that personal abuse directed at someone because of their political position, whether verbal or online, is beneath contempt. For that reason I accord the people who attacked Susan Calman the same low estimation as all those who gleefully compare SNP politicians to fascists, accuse opponents of being quislings, or who generally go after public figures from behind a wireless wall of anonymity.
On the other hand, Better Together border on hysterical when they imagine there is a concerted nationalist smear campaign at work against them. I suspect such thoughts emanate from their depressingly tribal campaign director Blair McDougall, who is fittingly emblematic of the lack of imagination that characterizes the No argument.
Given the state of our opponents, if you are pro-independence it seems silly to worry about whether Yes Scotland have had a bad week or not. By this I mean that because Better Together are so consumed with winning the argument on a week-by-week basis, they do not spare much thought for the long-term consequences of what they are arguing.
Constantly churning out stories about how Scotland will be expelled from international organizations, forced to slash public spending, saddled with debt, cursed with volatile resources, barred from adopting other countries’ currencies and generally ostracised by the wider international community might work on a short-term basis. You might get a helpful poll bounce and you know the newspapers will print what you say gleefully and spun as you request (because disaster politics makes excellent copy).
But this relentless stream of negativity can’t possibly work in the long-term. It relies entirely on the premise that your opponents have no answer to your many enquiries, and that even if they do they won’t be able to communicate it to the electorate. But we know we can expect policy papers from the Scottish Government and probably television debates on independence over the next year, which will be key to Yes getting their message out.
The Better Together approach speaks to the short-termism that defines modern British politics. It’s only important to win, not to genuinely persuade – well, it is if you’re part of what the Jimmy Reid Foundation calls the neoliberal consensus, as Labour, the Lib Dems and the Tories assuredly are. The SNP have at times appeared to fit with this consensus as well, but they have always stood apart from it in one crucial way: their long-term vision, of what Scotland can be and what it will be.
By this, I mean their willingness to play the waiting game and shape public opinion over la longue durée. Yes Scotland should continue to embrace this approach because given time, they have the arguments to persuade people to come to the polls and put their faith in an independent Scotland, rather than relying on them to accept that the modern UK is the best result for which they can justifiably hope.