Prior to her party’s spring conference, the First Minister announced that she wants to hold another (presumably ‘second in a generation’) independence referendum by 2021 if the United Kingdom leaves the EU.
Depending on your point of view, this is a bold move to progress the inevitable drive to sovereignty, or a fudge to keep increasingly restless party members at least half-way happy when all the public polling data suggests there is still no majority for leaving the UK. I incline to the latter view, not least because, despite the ‘referendum by 2021’ soundbite, her speech to parliament also contained these telling words:
Acting to ensure that an option of giving people a choice is progressed is not quite the rallying cry she would want to headline any campaign. But it does more closely represent the reality in which she is trapped.
In any event, the SNP have started to crank up a campaign on the subject under the rubric ‘Yes Scot’. Its website and Twitter account appeared almost simultaneously at the time of the First Minister’s announcement. If the website looks familiar it’s probably because (1) the party always uses the proprietary NationBuilder software for these campaigns and (2) they’ve done almost precisely the same thing before, in 2016. Compare and contrast the respective brandings:
(In what follows, National Survey images are to the left, yes.scot images to the right)
I wrote extensively about the National Survey at the time. This link takes you to my last article on the subject from which you can work back, if you’re so minded, to my earlier comments. In brief summary, the exercise purported to be a survey of Scottish public opinion on various issues distanced, at first, from the SNP itself but in fact designed to collect not only opinions but individual contact details for party political purposes. Some of the problems with the 2016 exercise are referred to below. Unfortunately, the original survey website has been deleted, but not before the Wayback Machine website captured images of some of its pages.
The rest of this post charts some similarities, and differences, between the two exercises, then draws some conclusions from the comparison.
First, on that subject of branding, while immediate connection to the SNP is more obvious this second time round, there is still an attempt at distancing through the use of ‘Yes’, which we were told in 2014 was so much broader and more inclusive than just one political party: here they have appropriated the word for their own use. The website name is merely yes.scot not, for example, snp.org/yes, just as the survey’s website was survey2016.scot rather than snp.org/survey2016. And the party’s trademark yellow and black appear nowhere on either site.
Another point of, I assume inadvertent, similarity is doubtful compliance with data protection rules. The original National Survey site was found by the Electoral Commission to be in breach of both the Data Protection Act and the Privacy and Electronic Communication Regulations. This was because a ‘Privacy and Data Protection Notice’ on the site did not spell out how personal data collected would be used.
When you open the home page, you find this at the very bottom:
How large this print is and whether you can read it obviously depends on your own eyesight and the size of the screen you are viewing (you may be able to click on it to view it enlarged) although only the top half of the smaller print on the upper line is visible and I for one could not guess at what it says.
Clicking on that in turn opens up a separate page on the subject that runs to no fewer than 2,754 words and includes this statement:
A cookie is a tiny text file that is stored on your computer. We may use technology to track the patterns of behaviour of visitors to our site. This can include using this “cookie” file which would be stored on your computer. You can usually modify your browser to prevent this happening. We may store the internet address you connect to our computer with, the time and date you connected, browser information and the pages you visited. This information is used only to provide us with a broad statistical breakdown of our site usage and to monitor site security.
we will keep the concerns raised on file. This will help us over time to build up a picture of SNP’s information rights practices.
I have no idea how any of this would ‘enhance [my] viewer experience’.
Both sites introduce their subject matter with a video, although the National Survey video is no longer visible:
Fair enough. We then get on to the substance of the two sites.
Both want to collect information about you. In the case of the National Survey, the actual survey questions are no longer visible but even if you answered them, there was an additional opportunity to give your personal details:
(Some text is probably too small to read but you’ll get the gist)
Both want you to spread the good news to others:
Both have information to help you do that:
(In addition, yes.scot has pdfs of signs you can print out to display in your window)
And both urge you to ‘encourage’ (same word both times) others to write their commitment down too, in the one case by completing the survey, in the other a form.
Note the amount of printing at their own expense people are expected to do, especially in the current exercise. And the committed in 2019 are expected to go one step further:
Ah, the fundraiser. Not of course for a generic Yes campaign, but for the SNP’s own coffers. Do they need more money? Probably. Latest official Electoral Commission figures for the last quarter of 2018 show that, apart from public funds (i.e. you and me as taxpayers) the party received donations of only £15,240, £33,301 less than the Scottish Greens.
The yes.scot home page tells readers that ‘It’s time for independence’ and includes a rather hollow assurance that ‘today’s announcement gives new impetus to our campaigning’. It rather peters out with the information that the plan ‘is to distribute An Independent Scotland: Household Guide to every household’ in Scotland, of which it asserts, correctly, there are 2,460,000. No timescale is given, but immediately before comes the claim that:
building an independence majority …will start with a major new campaign focused on Scotland’s economic potential as an independent country.
Now here’s an interesting paradox. One of the major causes of the failure of the Yes campaign in 2014 was the SNP’s inability in their ‘Scotland’s Future’ white paper to convince voters that the country’s economy would thrive after independence. The long-awaited publication of their Sustainable Growth Commission report last year did little to assuage concerns that they still didn’t know how to ensure ‘Scotland’s economic potential as an independent country’. Two related aspects especially still rumble on – the currency an independent Scotland could or should use, and whether it could or should join the EU. Both are major causes of contention amongst more thoughtful nationalists.
Bearing in mind that preparation of ‘Scotland’s Future’ must have started in at least 2013 (maybe earlier), the SNP have failed in six years to answer people’s concerns about the country’s economy post-independence. Have they now found the magic bullet that will allow a credible plan to be included in a household leaflet to be issued shortly? Or will it be deferred for another 2-3 years while they try yet again to produce that plan?
In either case their aspirations are likely to be fatally flawed. Either they go ahead ‘at pace’, as they say these days, and get the leaflet out without effectively addressing the economic questions, allowing critics full rein to do what they’ve done for the last six years – successfully demolish their lack of credible proposals. Or they defer it to allow effective policies to be drawn up (though Lord knows what they’d be) and miss their deadline for indyref2 by 2021.
None of this of course takes account of the impact of whatever form of Brexit we end up with, or the unknowable result of the 2021 Holyrood election. You could doubtless add your own uncertainties to this short list of two. The net result is likely to be that the ostensible aims of the current yes.scot campaign are almost certainly unachievable.
Which thought takes me back to the 2016 National Survey and the unverified and unbelievable claim by Nicola Sturgeon that it received two million responses. No results from that survey have ever been published. If they had, and if the current campaign could be seen to flow from those results, I might have some confidence in the logic of what’s going on now. Instead, I’m drawn to the sceptical conclusion of ‘Same old, same old …’.
As it is, the faults and ultimate failure of the National Survey are likely to be mirrored by the faults and ultimate failure of an eerily similar yes.scot campaign. The SNP are good at slick websites and effective graphics. I still don’t see that they have the ability to convince the majority of their fellow citizens that we should follow them down the uncertain path they insist on treading.