A new YouGov poll now shows the ‘Yes’ campaign leading 51-49% with just over ten days left before the vote. James Forsyth sees the late surge in favor of independence as an example of “anti-politics sentiment” sweeping the U.K., and suggests how unionists can respond to it:
Voters who are fed up with Westminster and disappointed by politics are seeing voting Yes as a chance to rip up the whole system and start again. Breaking up the United Kingdom is, perhaps, the ultimate expression of anti-politics.
This kind of voters isn’t going to be persuaded by politicians or by the corporate bosses who we hear will be coming out against independence in the coming days. After all, they regard these people as part of the problem, not the solution. But they might be by their fellow Britons. If they understand that this frustration with Westminster isn’t unique to them and Scotland, they’ll be more likely to vote No [bold mine-DL].
Forsyth’s argument is interesting mainly as an example of how unpersuasive and counter-productive most unionist arguments have been during this campaign. There is the familiar condescending attitude that support for independence must be driven by “anti-politics sentiment,” as if ‘Yes’ voters are rejecting all politicians everywhere. That denies the possibility that a majority of Scots might vote ‘yes’ because they see the referendum as an opportunity to be active citizens and because they believe independence to be an opportunity to secure greater control over their own affairs. It is true that there is a strong degree of anti-London and/or anti-establishment sentiment in the ‘Yes’ camp, but that is entirely different from a rejection of politics. Yesterday I happened across a recent article by the author and blogger Jean Muir, an American who now lives in Scotland and will be voting ‘yes’, and this is how she understands the appeal of independence:
The referendum is an amazing opportunity for the people who choose to call Scotland home to partake in a political process in which their votes will actually matter [bold mine-DL]. Together we could craft a constitution to reflect the needs and values of our community, and make sure that each person within Scotland can actually share in the bounty of her many resources.
Whatever else one wants to say about this, it’s clear that ‘Yes’ voters think that they are affirming their active participation in their political community. They are responding favorably to a major constitutional change that is being promoted by their country’s local ruling party. That’s not “anti-politics” by any reasonable definition. When someone chooses to label others as “anti-political,” that is usually because he doesn’t understand what motivates them or because he strongly dislikes the sort of politics they want to practice.
The idea that Scottish voters can be swayed to vote ‘no’ because they hear from people elsewhere in the U.K. about how dissatisfied they are with the status quo is one of the stranger ones that I’ve come across in this debate. It’s not very compelling to tell people to stay in a political union by emphasizing how unhappy lots of people throughout the union are with the current state of affairs. Instead of “better together,” the slogan for this might be “misery loves company.” If this is the message that fence-sitting voters hear in the last few days, it will be much more likely to push them into the pro-independence camp.
Unfortunately for the unionists, that’s been the story all year. Almost every argument that they think should make Scottish voters less likely to want to leave the U.K. backfires and does harm to the unionist cause. That’s because most unionists can’t fully grasp why anyone would even contemplate such a move and therefore don’t understand how to reach the persuadable voters that they need to keep on their side. There is a joke about the referendum that the U.K. could be dissolved in a “fit of absentmindedness,” but the truth is that it may end up being dissolved because the people that most want to preserve it don’t appear to have the first clue about how to argue their case effectively. That was true at the start, and it appears it will remain true until the very end. The ‘No’ side may still manage to prevail next week, but if it does it will be in spite of one of the most uninspired and dreary campaigns in a long time.