RESOURCES: Scottish Referendum – a messaging case study

Remarkable Group ManchesterWith the Scottish decision on whether to become an independent country or remain as part of the UK only days away, Amy Hopkinson, of Remarkable Engagement, looks at how important it is to get the messages for your campaign right.

Let's start (in no particular order) with the Better Together campaign. On the face of it, the spirit behind the pro-union campaign conveys a fairly positive message about unity, family, and how working together can often be better for all parties involved than working alone. Trouble is, whilst the message is 'better together', the request is still for the Scottish electorate to vote 'no'. Indeed, cast your mind back a few months and you may remember that Better Together campaign was the No campaign, which was followed by a swift realisation that this wasn't a particularly enlightened slogan.

Yet, even with this revised slogan, the struggle for the pro-union campaign is that the three main political parties in the UK aren't calling the people of Scotland to action, but asking for active participation in a vote to retain the status quo. Even with the promise of Devo Max, the trade-off for this for Scotland will be a commitment to remain as part of the United Kingdom which considering this is already the case, isn't exactly compelling.

The consistency of your message is just as important as the message itself. The smoothness of political party machines in this day and age ensures that, within each party, members are on message. The trouble comes when trying to display a show of unity from three main parties, all of whom in the past have purported different views on devolution, and all of whom are in regular disagreement about all other aspects of policy and governance, including within the Coalition.

The Yes campaign, on the other hand, has been at a distinct advantage from the off, encouraging Scots to carry out a 'positive' action to instigate change. The suggestion from the Yes campaign that, by voting to become independent, Scottish residents are choosing to become masters of their own destiny no one can argue is nothing if not romantic. Indeed, Alex Salmond and friends would argue that there is much substance behind this romance, and that Scotland would prosper as an independent nation.

To demonstrate this substance, the Yes campaign has made many promises and assurances about keeping the pound sterling, making use of Scotland's natural assets such as North Sea oil, and an assurance that the Bank of England would remain the lender of last resort at least for an interim period. This issue around these messages, however, is not that they are unclear, but that they are uncertain.

Take Alex Salmond's preferred currency union approach. Although the Yes campaign makes it clear that they have a number of options around the currency for an independent Scotland, they have expressed a preference to enter a currency union with the UK. In response, the three pro-union leaders have made it quite clear that they would veto any request for Scotland to keep the pound.

On the issue of European Union membership, the Yes campaign has made it clear that they would request membership, and pointed out that it is very likely that this would be granted. Yet, even while EU membership for Scotland is accepted as 'realistic' by the UK Government, there is no guarantee.

Much of the Yes campaign's key selling points are those which can only be fully agreed once Scotland has a secure timetable for independence. To start negotiations on any of these areas before the electorate has made its decision would be folly, yet without some concrete proposals in place, some voters will view a vote for independence as too risky.

Given that neither side can, by the very nature of the debate, provide a set of messages which meet all the requirements of being positive, consistent, and backed up by substance, it's no wonder that the polls throughout this campaign have shown an extremely close margin between Yes and No. What happens next? #ScotlandDecides

Amy HopkinsonAmy Hopkinson is account director at Remarkable Engagement

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