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How The YES Movement Could Lose The Next Independence Referendum

Updated on February 17, 2017
Beware of this
Beware of this

Know your enemy and know yourself, find naught to fear in 100 battles.

Know yourself but not your enemy, some you win and some you lose

Know your enemy but not yourself, wallow in defeat every time.

Sun Tzu—Art of War

This kind of thing scares NO votoers
This kind of thing scares NO votoers

Assume The Worst

The last Independence Referendum was not rigged

The Mainstream Media did not win it for the Union.

The YES movement lost for several reasons.

The YES movement has the same proportion of knuckle dragging morons as the Unionists

Many NO voters had good reasons to vote NO.

Assuming it will be all right on the nigh is a guarantee it won’t

Traditional methods of canvassing are increasingly obsolete with Big Data

Relying on anecdotes not Data will result in a NO vote.

Echo Chambers and psychological biases will result in a NO vote.

The Unionists and Westminster will fight dirty to win a NO vote

The YES movement will be Outspent by the Unionists and outmanoeuvred by the same techniques that put Donald Trump into power and swung the Brexit Referendum.

The YES Movement knows neither itself nor its enemy.

Allowing the SNP to own Independence or be seen as owning Independence will result in a NO vote.

If they are scared they need reassurance not insults
If they are scared they need reassurance not insults

The more sure you are about something, the more you should look for corroborating and counterfactual evidence, just in case you're fooling yourself (5).

Never Underestimate Your Opponent

No boxer goes into the ring thinking they will lose but they know their opponent will take advantage of any weakness and has studied their past fights to look for those weaknesses. Nobody lawyer goes into court without knowing the weaknesses of their own case and the strengths of their own and every one of their witnesses has had at least one mock cross examination as of they were a hostile witness.

Going into the next independence referendum believing all is well without preparation is a recipe for defeat. And the signs are, unfortunately, that most of the YES movement are happy to march into battle unarmed and unprepared and swimming in the river of denial.

It is statistically certain some people, influential in SNP circles and the wider Independence movement would, consciously or otherwise, rather fight for independence than actually win it for winning would deprive them of purpose and/or a career. This must be recognised and dealt with.

The odds against the YES movement are high and not reduced by overconfidence, confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance.

Timing Of The Next Referendum

Two years in the face of concerted Westminster and Mainstream Media Propaganda took Scotland closer than ever before to Independence. But the past is no guide to the future especially in Politics and a repeat of the 2014 Campaign techniques will result In defeat as the world has moved on.

The definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result (6).

2018 is too early for several reasons. Scotland will still be in the EU which means those YES to NO voters who consider remaining in the EU to be worse than remaining will still have a reason to vote NO, or at least abstain, and the soft NO voters who want to be in the EU will still have hopes of a last minute Brexit reversal. After Independence the YES-Leave-to-NO voters will have achieved their goal be and likely to switch back to YES and the NO-Remain-to_YES voters will be sufficiently annoyed to vote to leave in the hope Scotland will apply to rejoin. A third EU referendum would settle the matter but a general election where EU membership was a dividing line between parties would also settle the matter, this time for a generation. The SNP, with the main plank of its constitution gone would be reforming, attract a different constituency and its opponents would not easily be able to use Independence against them. It would lose the YES voters who, holding their nose, only voted YES to get independence. It would gain the former NO voters who voted NO only to prevent independence but actually liked the SNP. Labour and the Tories would be under new leadership and possibly have undergone a thorough purge of the elements that lost them power. Tories might go back to One Nation Conservatism and Labour might adopt a non-statist non authoritarian socialism, which no Labour government has yet tried.

Another reason is the YES movement is neither prepared, organised or united and is unaware how much new technologies and the use of data driven campaigning has advanced since 2014. We are miles behind and, in campaigning terms, fighting the battle of Culloden against an enemy armed with cruise missiles, long range sniper rifles and superb intelligence. The Leave campaign claimed that they spent 98% of their budget on Data Analysis and Digital Strategy. To reduce this to the bottom line

If they have not done so already the Unionists will reach every floating voter in Scotland, with a personally targeted message before the YES movement has decided where the first march will be.

The Risk YES Voters Pose To A YES Vote

To say we're miles behind is an understatement. Taking an interest in fine-grained demographics? Paying attention to opinion polls? Learning from the real-world feedback you get from people on the doorsteps? That's how you win campaigns.

I'll go further. If you don't know what use opinion polling or demographic research is, you'd be better to spend a little more time learning and a little less time tweeting” (5).

Independence Supporters pose more of a threat to Independence than the Unionists at present (1). The tendency to inhabit internet bubbles and echo chambers means none of them know how strong the case against Independence is or how much support there is for remaining in the UK. This is vital information. But the information is at least partly there.

Groupthink, the pressure to conform to the norms and opinions of a group stifle the presentation of unpopular facts, the kind of facts that if ignored could scupper independence for ever. The mindset is that of an end of the world cult that, when its prediction fails shrugs and says “Same time next Wednesday?”

Independence groups think they are invulnerable because their case is unanswerable. They rationalise their defeat blaming it on others instead of first eliminating their errors. They complain about media bias with no idea how to counter it.

The case for Independence and its presentation was flawed, on the issue of pensions specifically, but in other areas too; it was flawed both in content and presentation


When the pensions issue became a big topic rigorous and robust answers were not forthcoming. The same inertia was demonstrated by the awful way the currency issue was handled”. (1)

Independence groups deny inconvenient facts, for example dismissing anti-English feeling as a few nutters, while not challenging it, which would an English born Scot more likely to vote NO. They dismiss opponents as fools, reactionaries or knaves. This is an approach better suited to the Westminster main stream parties. Independence groups do not allow any criticism of the SNP alienating independence supporters who are not SNP supporters and they howl down dissenters, for example those who doubt the 2014 Referendum was rigged or that tying Independence to EU membership could cost a YES vote. They indulge in confirmation bias, seeing only evidence that supports their view where they should be looking for evidence that contradicts it and some groups are vehicles for the leaders’ egos with efforts to control everything.

What to tell people who dislike change
What to tell people who dislike change

Going Forward

The Independence movement needs to be united disciplined and organised. It needs to be aware of the obstacles it faces and know their opponents better then themselves. It must find ways to ensure its opponents engage and counter them perhaps using the Judo principle of using their own weight and momentum agains them, the Aikido principle of push when pulled and pull when pushed or the Capoeira principle of manoeuvring opponents to where you want them then acting. It must learn respect for its opponents, discipline its extremists without stifling dissent and learn to use the tools their opponents wielded to such effect in the Leave campaign.

There seems to have been a shift towards Independence in the mainstream media and by some senior Scottish Labour party figures. This could still be negated by a carefully stage managed Brexit and the YES movement could still turn victory into defeat.

Amateur hour is over.

Further Reading

These references will involve a lot of reading and thinking. Dismissing them will be a mistake and a critical read is recommended for all Independence activists. Remember the saying attributed to Oliver Cromwell

In the bowels of Christ I beseech ye think you may be wrong.

  1. Group Think

  2. Rigging Votes Is so 20th Century: Big Data Will Make Referendum Rigging Unnecessary

  3. Independence Is Inevitable Unless Its Supporters Kill It Off

  4. The Demographics of Independence Craig Dalziell

  5. Robin McAlpine: It's all getting a bit Culloden – let's pick our moment wisely

  6. This quote has been attributed to Einstein but he almost certainly never said it


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    • AlexK2009 profile image

      AlexK2009 11 months ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

      Thanks Christoper.

      Your blog post inspired this article. Apologies I did not make the reference to it clearer earlier on.

      I hope this will jolt enough Independence supporters out of the sense of complacency I detect from the Facebook groups I frequent and into effective action. Someone has already suggested crowdfunding to allow us to target soft NO and YES voters including those who would vote NO in order to leave the EU.

    • profile image

      Christopher Neill 11 months ago

      I enjoyed that tremendously, although it makes sobering reading. It was an added, unexpected and gratifying to find my blog post on group think quoted. I only realised that looking t your references and further reading