The US election passed with a narrow majority thanks to cries of Yes we Can and Forward from a leader who likes the sound of his own voice. Parallels with Scotland? They don’t stop there…
It’s often mentioned how awesome the SNP’s ground game is thanks to their voter ID technology and army of volunteers willing to knock doors and fill in forms to feed the input data. I personally have never fully appreciated how valuable this is until watching wall to wall coverage of the US election in Washington DC this past week which remarked upon the Democrat party’s similar jewel in the crown and explained in vivid detail how this made the difference on Tuesday.
The US electoral map is a sea of red and, at a glance, would suggest a strong Republican nation. The results from the House of Representatives suggest this also with the Republicans taking 242 seats to the Democrats 193. However, in the head to head Presidential race, the Democrats won where it mattered and won big. Huge majorities in concentrated areas were racked up and the thinly spread Republican support wasn’t enough to make up the difference. In DC itself the Democrats won a mind-boggling 91% of the vote. Team Obama knew where their vote was and how to get it out to reach 50%. The SNP and Team Salmond are well placed to do the same on behalf of Yes Scotland, and the US election shows that that can make the difference, irrespective of money spent and unhappy economic fortunes for the incumbent Government.
À terrific Democrat commentator on CNN, Van Jones, made the fascinating point that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to be openly Christian and a member of his party. The increased secularisation of the US, and the Democratic party, in stark contrast to the bellicose God-loving of the Republicans, makes Christianity rather uncool these days. Van spoke of feeling like he had to come out of the closet in admitting who he is to party colleagues.
The SNP and Greens are not in a dissimilar situation. The parties’ collective view on gay marriage and abortion should not alter for many Christians’ historic and I would say long outdated views on society, but the parties do have a problem if Christians with no quarrel with these policies nonetheless feel uncomfortable being a part of the party.
Scotland has never struck me as being as Christian as America is. There were 26% born again Christians taking part in the US election (76% of whom voted for Romney incidentally). The 2001 census showed that Scotland was 65% Christian at that time. I may not be comparing apples with apples there, but the Scottish Christian bloc is a significant one and there will not be a Yes result in 2014 if they are made to feel excluded from the main parties of the Yes Scotland coalition.
The SNP and the Greens may have a point in feeling (ironically) holier-than-thou on gay rights and abortion, but as a means to an end in terms of winning independence, they may need to think of a new strategy.
Speaking of coalitions, another point that Van Jones made was that the 2008 Obama coalition of blacks, Hispanics, the young and females stuck together and delivered a 50% return that provided victory against whites, males and the elderly who largely voted Republican.
I’m not aware of any specific studies that have analysed the demographics of those who intend to vote Yes but I would personally suggest that broadly speaking it is white, male and young. The recent independence march in Edinburgh certainly suggested this, though I’m happy to be proved or argued otherwise.
Should Yes Scotland aggressively target this narrow group of Scots, similar to how Obama won 2008 and 2012? Should it try to be all things to all people as Romney tried (and failed) to be? There’s a big strategic call to be made there.
Substance free election.
The most striking aspect of the past week for me was the absence of any discussion of specific policies held by Obama or Romney. This, presumably, was largely because neither had any. The Republicans spoke of taking America back and the Democrats wanted to go forwards but it’s telling that it is only now, post-election, that politicians and pundits are talking about what to do about the fiscal cliff and how the future budget will look.
The lesson for Scotland here is that opposition for opposition’s sake is insufficient to win elections, you have to be for something to beat an incumbent. Obama was fragile on the economy, on jobs and on not delivering the change that he had promised. Romney failed to outline what he was for and consequently, and deservedly, came up short of votes.
Labour is the main opponent to Yes Scotland and need to learn lessons from their own past and this US election. They objected to free tuition and council tax freezes, were then for them at election time and are now against them again. That’s not going to be good enough for a Scottish electorate that needs to have a strong vision of what devolved Scotland will look like post-2014 before they’ll put a cross beside No at the referendum.
Not that it’s just the unionist side that has lessons to learn. The SNP has so far failed to paint a clear enough picture of independence, specifically Scotland’s relations with the EU. Both sides of the debate are falling short and Yes Scotland cannot expect to win this referendum by default. Both Obama and Romney failed to project a vision of the future and the electorate went with the status quo. Yes Scotland should be mindful of this risk as much as anyone given it is they who want a change to be made.
Abraham Lincoln (bear with me) may even have a lesson for the unionists and probably specifically for David Cameron. While Civil War raged through the United States in Ye 1860s, President Lincoln made the decision to continue with the building of the dome to the US Capitol. His logic was that if the nation could see the seat of power being completed, then the union would endure.
Now, Scotland is not in the midst or on the brink of Civil War, and the UK Government isn’t going to rebuild Westminster, but perhaps using Lincoln’s strategy of building a visible and symbolic British artefact in Scotland over the next couple of years could help win a few votes. It’s too late for High Speed rail, the Green Investment Bank was too small and Salmond already has his grubby workmen gloves on the Forth Crossing but maybe there’s something else that Cameron can build and have filled with pro-British sentiment.
So, plenty of food for thought from the other side of the Atlantic to carry into the next couple of years. The only other thought to add is that a black President still carries appealing power as symbolism. Perhaps the notion of the first Prime Minister of Scotland being female might add the same momentum to Yes Scotland. If only Salmond was to provide a clue that he might be retiring soon….