I am reminded of Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point where he argues that once a certain percentage is reached then it catches on and becomes an epidemic.
His tipping point theories can be applied to almost anything. Fashion, the Internet, Crime, Poverty, Politics.
For any idea or thing to become a phenomemon, he argues, you need the right personality types in place – only a few might do – and for the idea itself to be ‘sticky’ i.e. simple, easily understood and passed on.
Once these personality types convince a certain proportion of the population, it can then become an epidemic.
That brings me to the Glasgow East by-election.
The very constituency epitimises Labour’s stranglehold on west central Scotland. If the SNP do well here then the subsequent political earthquake that Alex Salmond predicted may well happen.
I think Gordon Brown will try and ride out the storm.
But the SNP winning the seat or coming so close may just create a situation where public opinion catches onto to the perception that Labour is desperate and the SNP are on a roll. That seems to have a lot of stickiness in the current polls.
The question now is not so much has that tipping point been reached for Labour. You would be hard pushed to find anyone outside of the Labour Party who thinks they will win the next election. Even some Labour MPs think they’ll lose it.
The question now is have the SNP come near to their tipping point? Because when that happens independence will be inevitable.
Like it or not, independence has Gladwell’s quality of “stickiness”. Its easy to understand and furthermore it has lots and lots of independent countries around the world that provide motivation. That motivation is an obstacle for unionists to try and push their own tipping point the other way. Why is independence good enough for other countries but not for Scotland? Its a tough argument to counter morally.
Gladwell, an American, offers the example of Paul Revere; the man who organised American resistance to the British in the American War of Independence.
He says Revere was a ‘connector’ – a man who knew the right people.
Revere was also a ‘maven’ – a man who had the right intelligence.
The other category is ‘salesman’ – obviously someone who can persuade people. And if those people have motivation and can see a multitude of success factors, its an easier sell.
Once these three types are on your side then The Tipping Point can be reached.
I’m sure both nationalists and unionists can identify people in their camps that are one or the other or even all three.
But the main problem I see for unionists is that their message lacks Gladwell’s stickiness.
For one thing, unionists aren’t even agreed on that message. The Liberal Democrats want federalism, the Conservatives are toying with English votes for English matters, Labour may want more powers or the status quo, depending on who you speak to.
Without that ‘stickiness’ of consensus from the unionists, all the connectors, mavens and salesmen of the unionists haven’t a hope of stopping the independence bandwagon reaching that Tipping Point.
Meanwhile, the connectors, mavens and salesmen of the SNP are given a free run towards that 2010 referendum.
Glasgow East might not be the Tipping Point.
But its as near as it gets.