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Five Ways To Lose An Independence Referendum

Updated on January 25, 2017
A divided Scotland could still reject Independence
A divided Scotland could still reject Independence

The Supreme Court ruled Parliament must be consulted over triggering Article 50 and that the devolved assemblies, the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Governments need not be consulted over the future of the UK since the Sewel Convention is a convention not enshrined in law. This contradicts statements made by the Secretary of State for Protecting Westminster in Scotland.

Another Independence referendum is now more likely, perhaps inevitable. The timing is important and the way the Independence Movement prepare the ground and campaign will make the difference in a Scotland divided, roughly evenly, sometimes bitterly, over independence.

Even assuming evidence of a majority for independence the Independence Movement can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in many ways and, to the secret joy of those who, like Margaret Thatcher, prefer to keep fighting than win, delay Independence till everyone alive today has died


Over confidence makes for carelessness. Carelessness leads to defeat. Aesop’s tortoise beat an over confident, perhaps arrogant, hare. The Brexit boost to Independence has vanished and polls predict the same result as in 2014. Some unionists are calling for another referendum, almost certainly because they think they will win. Scotland is in a Brexit phoney war, many have adjusted mentally to the changed circumstances and nothing will change till the results of the Brexit negotiations become clear.

Going into a political campaign thinking you will lose is likely to lead to defeat. Going into a campaign thinking you will walk it is a recipe for defeat. Underestimating your opponents is a recipe for defeat. Ignoring the obstacles: the Media, state propaganda and the inertia of supporters who, convinced you will win do not vote is a recipe for defeat. Ignoring what your opponents are saying is a recipe for defeat. And ignoring the aspects of human nature and cognitive biases that Bitter Together used so effectively in 2014 will lead to defeat.

The Wrong Narrative

Facts tell, stories sell. Emotion defeats reason and fear is the strongest emotion and will inevitably triumph over hope. The Independence Movement is currently, and understandably, pitching the wrong narrative. The narrative description is that Scotland is, on the basis of the referendum results, beiong dragged unwillingly out of the EU and the Single Market. This couples Independence too strongly to the EU and Single Market. A better narrative descriotion might be Scotland is, as always, being denied a say in this alleged equal partnership of nations. After Independence we can make our own decision on EU membership. Couple that with a strong call for a second EU referendum after Independence and a narrative description, for the SNP haters that After independence the SNP will not exist as we know it and a fear based one that Only Independence can preserve the NHS, Free Education, Free Bus Passes, Pensions, Free Prescriptions….. Of course all these must be turned into stories that have power.

A weak narrative or set of narratives will lead to defeat. A good narrative will have the power of a great myth and lead to victory. The Independence Movement needs to develop and deploy these before their enemies.

Political narratives - a few basics

In a Political Game All About Storytelling, Which Candidate is Using Narrative to Get Ahead?

How “narrative” moved from literature to politics & what this means for covering candidates

Echo Chambers And Division

Politicians devote at least as much time to those who may well not vote for them as to their supporters for the same reason businesses go out of their way to offer incentives to new customers but offer existing incentives only to customers who threaten to leave. Change inevitably means risk and in difficult times people fear change, prefer the devil they know and, like a cat forced to go out on a rainy night, dig their heels in.

The Independence Movement gives the impression of talking only to itself. This is understandable given the vitriol unionists spew if presented with information they dislike. Subtle, sometimes unsubtle methods need to be developed to get the case for Independence and, the case against the Union, in front of unionists in a way that subtly penetrates their world view.

How to Convince Someone When Facts Fail

The Independence movement must not become divided. Disagreements are inevitable but division will be fatal. The Enemy will exploit any disagreement in order to get the Independence Movement to tear itself apart.

Ignore the Elderly

Support for Independence among women over 55 has plummeted and women have far more influence than is realised: (“OK, OK, I’ll vote NO, anything to keep you quiet”). Older women also have influence as the matriarchs of the family setting the tone for discussion. And they want to vote NO to prevent change.

People feel more pain from the losing a pound than pleasure from the gaining £10. This Loss Aversion worked for Bitter Together last time. It must work for the Independence Movement this time..

Older NO voters need to be wooed, to realise that it is not a case of preventing change but choosing between two types of change. Like all NO voters, they need to be convinced that staying in the union means loss and Independence means a substantial gain.

Pat Kane: Don't give up on our elders, we must fire them up for the fray instead

Voting NO is Voting Tory
Voting NO is Voting Tory

Ignore the Big Issues

Currency, Oil and Pensions killed Independence in 2014 and, handled wrongly will kill it in the next referendum. The economic case for independence should be made without including Oil: Oil will be the bonus and the basis for a contingency fund. The current global trend to renewables will eventually drop the price of oil dramatically, with oil being used to make products rather than generating energy though given the time lag in investment in new machinery in areas like shipping there will still be a significant demand for Oil for the next twenty years.

The NO campaign scared pensioners into believing that they would lose their pensions the day after a YES vote. Now there is much more evidence that the Tories intend to abolish the state pension as soon as possible but the mainstream media do not publicise this. Pensioners need to know this

People do not like changing their currency but it is likely the Pound Sterling will fall to a small percentage of its current value thus trapping millions of UK citizens in the UK who are used to travelling abroad. An independent currency is an economic must but a psychological danger. The dilemma needs to be resolved and presented to the public who must be won over to the idea

Help Scotland pioneer a new currency

New Report - How to make a Currency: A Practical Guide

The Consequences of Overconfidence
The Consequences of Overconfidence

In Brief

The Supreme Court Judgement makes a second independence referendum much more likely but a referendum still looks likely to yield a NO vote. Pro-independence narratives with strong emotional foundations and Anti-Union narratives based on fear and Scots Pride must be created with the aid of Independence supporters used to crafting messages: those in Advertising and Marketing will be invaluable here. Bitter Together had focus groups. What did the YES movement have?

The old must be courted and the Independence movement must avoid turning its forums into echo chambers. For want of a plan for Currency, Oil and Pensions the referendum will be lost.


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