Another guest, this time from Andrew Graeme Smith, a London-based Scot who works in the PR industry. He grew up in Edinburgh and studied at Dundee, and you can read his blog at

Well, the battle lines have been drawn and the campaigns are about to properly kick off as we enter the longest and most important three years in Scottish constitutional history. All that stands between Scotland and independence are the matters of public opinion and a NO campaign that will involve a bag of dirty tricks and mud-slinging tactics that will make the scrutiny of a US Presidential campaign look like a walk in the park.

By day I work for a PR firm and spend lots of time working on campaign strategies and plans for a wide range of clients, so it’s with a professional hat on that I’ve been thinking about what form the NO campaign will take. On one hand they’ve already rejected most of the advice that I would have given them (The Tories should have elected Fraser, Labour should have elected Macintosh and both parties should have tried to embrace and shape the meaning of devolution-max) which leads me to expect that they’ll do the exact opposite of what I suggest, and then hopefully they’ll stand no chance of winning whatsoever!

One interesting aspect of the last few weeks has been the obvious divisions across the NO camps, but in some ways this makes perfect sense because nobody can have a monopoly on the idea or reasons why people might wish to vote NO. While it’s fair to assume there will be a nominal umbrella campaign for a NO vote it will probably only be used for letterheads, posters, adverts and the odd speech. There is unlikely to be much of a focus on a formal campaign because, as the recent discussions about the role of Alistair Darling show, the unionist parties know that they have utterly nothing whatsoever to gain from entering a presidential campaign against Alex Salmond.

This leads to my second point. If we are to believe the recent social attitudes survey then simple math dictates that the unionist parties don’t need to win over any new converts in order to win the referendum, all that they have to do is ensure that their own supporters turn out and don’t vote the wrong way, this stands in stark contrast to the YES campaign which can’t win the referendum without winning over new voters. This means that the approach of the unionist parties will almost certainly be very insular and will be directed almost entirely at their own supporters in a bid to ensure that they don’t vote yes.

Which leads me to my final point: the individual and collective campaigns will be incredibly negative. There will be some patriotic talk about World War 2 and the wonders of the NHS, but that won’t be enough to make them feel confident of victory. What they will probably do is make sure that the SNP are attacked from all angles in a bid to destroy their credibility in the eyes of their own supporters. This tactic has already been used over the last few days as we have seen the SNP fending off accusations from all angles, the assumption behind this strategy isn’t that the electorate will all want to drape themselves in Union Jacks, the idea will be to conflate the concept of independence with the specific policies of the SNP and the assumption is that if people don’t feel entirely confident about SNP economic policies then their doubts will lead them to vote no.

The history of referendums in Britain show that cross party campaigns can be very popular, and the recent AV referendum has shown that promoting negative messages and appealing to people’s inner doubts can be very popular (how about “she needs a new cardiac facility NOT an independence referendum” for a new slogan?). The AV campaign is an interesting case study because the NO campaign managed to get 2/3 of the vote in Scotland, and as the polling data shows it was only really once the negative advertising and the big political beasts had been unleashed that the NO campaign began to really establish a lead. In the case of AV people were being asked to vote on a reasonably inconsequential change – just imagine how much scare-mongering will be done on something as major as independence.

If the referendum has more than one question then almost everything I’ve written will be invalid (and possibly the topic for a future article) as the middle option will change the nature of the debate and pull both campaigns out of their comfort zones. I would expect that if there is a FFA option then the NO campaign will probably try to run a positive and more formal campaign that’s based more on the Make Poverty History type of model than anything that I’ve outlined. If this is the case then I would expect it to be presented as a conversation between civic Scotland about the future of the country balanced with some whining about the Nationalists being on the sidelines. Equally, all of this is conjecture and speculation and may well prove to be wrong, regardless, I would be keen to know everyone else’s views.