Saturday 6 October 2012

How the unionist campaign can attract support

The unionist campaign is coming together with broad support. It is in our interest to keep it that way and to bring waverers on board. In order to achieve these ends, there are certain ways of campaigning, which are helpful and certain which are unhelpful. 

The Better Together campaign has Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem supporters and those of no particular party alignment. While we have much that divides us, for the moment we must put these divisions aside, just as during World War 2, a government of all parties was set up for the duration. Of course, normal political debate must continue, but we must always remember that the independence debate is by far the most important question facing Scots and its not worth falling out with our fellow unionists over short term political issues, which no one will much remember a few years hence. 

It is important to make the unionist case as attractive as possible. Committed unionists are already on board, but we would also like the doubters, the don’t knows and those who are attracted to the idea of independence to eventually join the unionist camp. It’s important therefore not to put off such people with the style of our campaigning. 

The cybernat style, I believe, hurts the chances of the SNP and is one of the reasons that it looks, at the moment, as if their support has already peaked and is declining. Such a style of campaigning with anger, insult and personal attacks is simply not attractive. We must be careful that unionists do not emulate the cybernats.

When unionists use insults to describe nationalists, or use extreme terms, which are obviously not true, or personally abuse SNP politicians, they harm the unionist cause, because we want to attract people who have a degree of sympathy with the SNP and the idea of independence. By all means, point out the dangers of nationalism as an ideology, relate this to present and historical examples of nationalist movements, describe the dubious history of nationalism in Scotland, but don’t call them Nazis, because they self-evidently are not. The SNP government were elected democratically and their policies have tended to be social-democratic. We disagree with them, but we should stick to the facts, because lies and nonsense hurt our cause. We have to remember that a lot of Scots voted for the SNP. We need these people to come back. Polls suggest that even some SNP members will vote “No” to independence. We need these people, we need their votes. But we are hardly going to attract them by insulting them. 

We also need to appeal to unionists in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. We need their support, friendship and help. The independence referendum is a matter for them too, as their country, the UK would be broken up if Scotland were to gain independence. But just as David Cameron has avoided being part of the unionist campaign, because he thinks it would harm the interests of the Union, so we must be careful that we don’t bring too much of the politics of other parts of the UK to Scotland. In the end, it will be Scots who vote and many Scots resent interference from those living outside Scotland. Such interference may be well intentioned, but is liable to prove counterproductive.

This is especially the case with Northern Irish unionism. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the situation, Ulster unionism is deeply unattractive to the majority of Scots. It’s something that we don’t understand. We associate it with the Orange Order, which is widely seen as divisive, sectarian and exclusively Central Belt. We in Scotland need the help of our fellow Brits in Northern Ireland, especially those who live here in Scotland, but they will do more harm than good if they bring the politics of Northern Ireland to Scotland, because such politics will put off a large number of Scots who we need to attract to the Better Together camp. 

A similar issue arises from the unionism of Rangers supporters. The Better Together campaign needs all committed unionists and Rangers supporters are some of the most loyal. However, as can be seen from the present treatment of Rangers, there are precious few non-Rangers fans who sympathise with the plight of that club. Most Scottish football fans would even prefer to act contrary to self-interest, than to give any sort of favour to Rangers. Of course, as unionists, we need Rangers fans on board, but in campaigning we must be careful not to alienate other supporters. If the unionist campaign begins to look like a Rangers supporters club, we will lose. 

This in no way should be taken as an attempt to discourage people with a Northern Irish background or who support Rangers from campaigning for the Union. We need their help, we need their love of the Union. But we must all put forward the unionist case so that a Catholic Celtic supporter is just as likely to support the Union as a Protestant Rangers fan. We must appeal to all those who live here in Scotland who can vote, people of all religions and none, from any and all ethnic groups. It’s vital that we make it clear that anyone living here is welcome in our Union. By putting forward as inclusive a campaign as possible we are simply more likely to win. While retaining all committed unionists, what we need to do is to appeal to the uncommitted. Therefore, whenever we get involved in the Better Together campaign, we should always have the aim of attracting support and avoid saying or doing anything, which might put off a potential supporter.