I’ve just had the chance to catch up with Scotland Tonight from Thursday evening (available online for a limited time) and the 3 person discussion on what the events of the last few days mean for the Yes campaign.
I started working for the SNP in 1994 by doing a year of hard labour in Peterhead, in the constituency office of Alex Salmond, and I spent the 1997 campaign in Banff and Buchan where I learnt from the very experienced local team how community campaigns should be run. The Banff and Buchan result was one of the few highlights for the SNP in that year, and the campaign itself was a great deal of fun.
My first national election was 1999 when I was based in SNP HQ. Some of you will remember the 1999 campaign – the level of assault on the SNP was enormous in its scale. Like 1997, that campaign was a massive learning experience but at almost no stage was it fun. I remember sitting in the main HQ office at the back of midnight every night waiting for the next day’s papers to arrive and we were all anticipating the mauling we would receive. It was a nightmare on North Charlotte Street.
Some are querying the performance of the Yes campaign, but what I would say to them is that the scale of attack on the independence movement is off the scale in comparison even to 1999. I’m not talking about the hacking of recent weeks, but of an assault that has seen the full weight of the Westminster government brought to bear, the not so subtle influence of the British Establishment across a range of areas and London based newspapers acting like mouthpieces for the No campaign (having abandoned any sense of journalistic integrity). I am not saying any of this to complain, quite the contrary.
Compared to 1999 when the SNP campaign, in many respects, crumbled in the face of a lesser assault, the Yes movement has not only stood up to this unprecedented onslaught, not only held its ground, but is beginning to push back. How do I know this? Because I see the numbers. People are moving up the support scale, including in key groups that we need to attract to win. Those campaigners on the doorstep know exactly what I am talking about. Numerous people have told me that they sense a shift, they feel the movement in our favour. Despite all Westminster’s might, today, more Scots are undecided than No and more of those undecideds are moving to Yes than to No. The No campaign’s relentless barrage of uncertainty and fear is by no means finished but their attempt to overwhelm and crush has not succeeded.
And, it won’t succeed. That’s because there is a big difference between today and 1999: the centre of gravity of the debate has shifted. The true power of those ranged against us has waned. They can’t see it, but they are no longer the centre of the political universe. Although sometimes we don’t believe it, our collective voices are now far louder.
Yes Scotland is not a small group of people sitting in an office in Hope Street. Yes Scotland is all of us who want a Yes vote next year. And while the No campaign might stride victorious in Westminster or in the headlines of the Telegraph or Mail, the Yes campaign is winning where it matters most, in face-to-face engagement.
This week, while our IT systems were offline and our Comms team were dealing with the media frenzy, you should know that our Communities team were getting on with their job of supporting the activity of campaigners across the country – campaigners who are participating in dozens of events taking place every week. They continued to pick up their phones, even though their email was out of action. The team I work in was busily preparing the next wave of materials, so that we are ready for the next big pushes after the 1 year to go anniversary, the publication of the white paper and the start of the Year of Yes in 2014.
The newspaper headlines, and sadly, far too often, the TV headlines, do not in anyway reflect what is going on in this campaign. They show just a sliver of the activity that is underway. So keen are they to be participants in the debate that they are missing the real story of this referendum.
Do not look to the traditional media to judge the Yes campaign’s success. Instead, why not join the fast growing Business for Scotland or the excellent and imaginative National Collective (a real gem, and unreported story, of this campaign) – two initiatives that have no parallel on the No side – or sign up for one of the many local events.
Speak to people about your own personal reasons for wanting a Yes vote, tell them why it will be good for you, your family, for them and their family. Every word you utter will be way more powerful than anything that drips from the newspaper headlines or from the mouths of the politicians at the heart of the No campaign. And, that is why we will win.