Unionists voice is broken

October 24, 2008

Is the Unionist argument finally maturing?

David Cameron's new book

David Cameron declared today that:

“Of course it is possible that Scotland can stand alone – that is true”

Could this be the beginning of the end of the Unionist scare stories about Scottish independence?

Have the Unionists begun to realise that their constantly negative ‘can’t don’t’ attitude is a turn off to Scottish voters?

If so, nationalists may for once have a real fight on their hands.

It seems that the Conservative leader has realised the correct argument for the Unionists to take:

“I don’t think we’d ever succeed in saving the Union by frightening Scots to say you couldn’t possibly make it on your own.”

In other words, ditch the negative agenda and promote a positive one.

Of course many parties in Scotland support independence:- the Greens, the SSP, Solidarity and of course the SNP. There is also an independent MSP – Margo Macdonald – that supports independence.

Such is the size of the SNP, they are the main drivers for Scottish independence. They are the dominant party of Scotland:- in Government at Holyrood, on the rise in Westminster, and have the largest number of councillors compared to any other party. They have a clear voice to the Scottish public.

The Conservatives though have currently 17 MSPs in Holyrood and 1 Scottish constituency MP in Westminster. They don’t have a great platform in Scotland.

So can they persuade the other Unionist parties – Labour and the Liberal Democrats – to follow their positive agenda?

I doubt it.

Labour are so far stuck in a negative agenda that their MPs and MSPs should be kept in a darkroom! Witness Jim Murphy’s Arc of Insolvency slur towards Iceland, for example.

And the Liberal Democrats with their federalist ambitions are hardly the best bedfellows for the Conservatives.

The three have just about managed to keep the Calman Commission afloat, all paddling in different directions! Without Kenneth Calman at the helm it would have perished on the rocks a long time ago. And even the Calman Commission is looking into more powers for the Scottish Parliament, so its more of a soft nationalist approach in any case.

So if the Conservatives alone argue for a positive case for the Union, their voice will just confuse with Labour’s negative case for independence and the Liberal Democrats case for federalism.

In short, the voters will switch off to the Unionist message.

Leaving the clear SNP positive message to take centre stage.

I have previously argued that unless the Unionists argue with a coherent message, then it would always lack ‘stickiness’. Something that the independence message doesn’t lack.

‘Stickiness’ is the vital quality before achieving the political Tipping Point; the backing for Scottish independence amongst the voters. And if you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s book you’ll realise that the Tipping Point is usually well before a majority; its just an equilibrium point – after which the product or message reaches everyone.

The course is clear for Unionists. To save the Union both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have to follow the Conservative’s lead.

And have a grown-up debate on the matter.

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Glasgow East? I wouldn’t live there says Margaret Curran

July 24, 2008

In what can only be described as the mother of all gaffes in her gaffe-torn Glasgow East campaign, the Labour candidate has refused to consider moving to the constituency once elected.

The Scotsman sums it up like this:

“But the news story was surely the refusal of Margaret Curran, the Labour candidate, to promise to live in the constituency if she wins on Thursday.”

She was asked on the Radio Scotland show Good Morning Extra by a caller if she would consider moving to the constituency if elected. She pointedly refused to answer the question instead calling her ‘I have lived in the East End all my life’ speech as just a slip of the tongue. She has lived in a £600 000 villa in the fashionable Newlands area in Glasgow’s Southside for many years.

The Scotsman article also follows on with this reasoning:

‘Must an MP live in the constituency? No. So why is this an issue? For two reasons. As the First Minister, Alex Salmond, said yesterday, it’s an issue because Ms Curran had “told fibs” about her home address.

The second reason is that Ms Curran has vowed to be a “fighter” for the East End. That’s more easily done when you are witnessing its problems on a daily basis, not on a once-a-week trip to the community centre for a weekly surgery with constituents on a Friday.

To make matters worse for Labour, Ms Curran’s SNP rival, John Mason, does live in the constituency. Predictably he reminded listeners of this fact.

Asked who he would vote for if he could not vote for himself, he said: “I live in this constituency. I’m voting for myself. I’m the candidate who lives here.”‘

On the eve of polling day, a refusal to live in the constituency must be seen as a huge slap in the face to the Glasgow East locals.

No doubt some of them would like to move into a swanky Southside house themselves but it hardly resonates either with those who are happy there or those are stuck there with no funds to move. Is this what she means when she says she doesn’t want to talk the area down?

Another Scotsman page numbered the activists in the Labour and SNP camp.

SNP 1000+
Labour 200 (The 2000 listed the paper admitted was a typo.)

That got me thinking of the membership bases of Scottish Labour and the SNP.

The BBC reported that the Labour Party in Scotland has 17000 members (2007 figures).

The SNP reported their membership figures of 14183 at March this year.

Given the bigger membership you may have expected Labour to have more activists in place in Glasgow East. In fact, as we know some of those 200 were English Labour MPs and the odd Swaziland journalist.

The Labour membership is sinking so fast that the SNP is predicted to be the largest Scottish party by 2010.

But using the figures quoted:-

Activist / Membership ratio of Labour is 200 / 17000 or 1.1%
Activist / Membership ratio of the SNP is 1000 / 14183 or 7.1 %

So an SNP member is 7 times more likely to be an activist than a Labour member.

It really does emphasise my point yesterday that the SNP message has Gladwell’s ‘stickiness’ quality and that the unionists are bereft.

The SNP campaign has been a triumph for their activists, win or lose.

Even if they don’t take the seat such dedication can only stand the SNP in good stead for the future. Many a safe seat will fall in Scotland with such an organised army of followers on the doorsteps.

I can’t wait to see if Labour’s vote is as soft as I think it is.

The tipping point

July 23, 2008

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.