Editorial: The National Conversation


We are closing in on the highly symbolic date one year out from the referendum, and the national conversation is still characterised by trench warfare between opposing camps.

Trench warfare is an apt metaphor because this daily, combative style of debate over airwaves and printed press has seen remarkably little progress from either side. Outside the often insular worlds of political campaigners the crucial swing voters aren’t just undecided – they aren’t even listening.

It is common to hear independence supporters bemoan the lack of a positive case for the union, or criticise the No campaign for deliberately trying to make the debate as dull and parochial as possible. But opponents of independence are under no obligation to turn this into a high point of political thought and debate. The potential of the American Revolution inspired Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, but no comparable great defence of colonialism or monarchy. After all, it is not in the interests of those who stand in the way of change to inspire.

At a year out, the prospects for a Yes vote are still better than many would assume. For all the trench warfare of the national conversation might frustrate committed Yes voters, it is the personal conversations that will win or lose the vote. And beyond the bubble, there are still those who have never heard an argument in favour of independence.

The media tussle rarely explores the fundamental arguments. Many of us are motivated by the inability of the British political system to tackle structural poverty and the belief that independence would give us both the means and the political will to build a different kind of economy. But, to the undecided who has never heard this argument articulated, a headline or a soundbite about ‘ending poverty’ is likely to sound like a meaningless promise.

Likewise, many of us are motivated because we wish to stop prioritising spending on nuclear weapons over providing a basic standard of living for citizens – epitomised in the tragic and upsetting case of a bedroom tax victim driven to attempt suicide in a council office. But until the disengaged voter hears this argument made and made well, ending the Bedroom Tax may seem a simple bribe.

Of course, people are disengaged for a reason. The existing political sphere in both Scotland and the UK is deeply exclusive. We can’t simply ask Scots, rightly frustrated by a disconnected political elite, to make a one-off intrusion into a sphere that may continue to exclude and patronise them after a Yes vote. That’s why the diversity of the campaign must be seized upon and extended into the Scotland it seeks to create. Networks can be built, alliances sought and friendships found – not only within the opposing trenches, but maybe even across them. This process should be a fundamental part of any effort to persuade people, and they should be inspired to get engaged with it. That way, the referendum can move beyond the simple question of Yes-No and become a progressive moment in Scottish politics regardless of the result.

For all the back-and-forth since the launch of the competing campaigns, some basics remain true. Most Scots would be comfortable either in or out of the UK. But if the public can be convinced that independence is workable and that there is some personal, material benefit – whether that be the protection of the NHS or education, the reversal of damaging welfare reforms or the likelihood that economic control would lead to a higher standard of living – then we will win.

The argument will be won by the thousands of conversations that you, the Yes supporter, will have over the next year. Be polite, be patient, be persuasive. Persevere.

We have the ability to change Scotland. Forget the bullshit; go out and talk to people.