To whatever extent a “new Project Fear” succeeds it will be because we failed to learn the lessons of the 2014 referendum campaign. Arguably the most important of these lessons is that “Project Fear” is a misnomer. The Better Together would be more accurately regarded as Project Doubt. People are not so easily provoked to fear. And fear is difficult to sustain. Doubt, however, is something of a speciality of our species. Doubt is always present. Doubt can always be exploited.
Political contents are not won by the side which has the best campaign so much as by the side which campaigns best. The basics are always the same. It’s how these basics are implemented that makes the difference. Project Doubt won because it was a better implementation of exploitation of doubt than the Yes campaign had. In fact, it didn’t have to be all that good, because the Yes side made very little effort to exploit the tendency to doubt. So little in fact that it might as well not have existed.
The obsession with being ‘positive’ and the almost pathological aversion to negative campaigning meant that the Yes campaign was, quite literally, half-arsed. It was only half a campaign. That the No side had almost no positive campaigning tells us only that when even the most effectively implemented positive campaign comes up against an only moderately effective negative campaign it is that latter which succeeds. Which nicely illustrates the importance of negative campaigning.
The term ‘negative’ campaigning is sorely misunderstood. It is NOT synonymous with ‘dirty’ campaigning. It refers only to that part of the campaign which pushes voters away from one option so that they are more amenable to being drawn to another option. That push is absolutely essential due to another human speciality – inertia. People tend to stick with what they have and what they know. That inertia acts like glue binding the voter to the status quo. The glue has to be weakened before they can even start to move.
No matter how tempting the proposition offered by the positive aspects of a campaign it is unlikely ever to be good enough on its own to break the hold of inertia. Because the attempt to make it more tempting inevitably makes it more vulnerable to doubt. It becomes too good to be true.
One of the most effective ways of creating or amplifying doubt is to plant questions in the minds of voters. Questions work in this regard both in being asked and in the effort to answer. Unless the answer kills the question, it only increases doubt. Project Doubt was very good at planting questions in minds. The Yes campaign was woefully bad at dealing with those questions. And even worse at planting its own questions regarding the Union.
Dealing with questions asked solely or mainly for the purpose of exploiting the tendency to doubt does not necessarily mean coming up with a definitive answer. If the implementation of negative campaigning is good, the questions asked will not lend themselves to definitive answers. Struggling to find a definitive answer which doesn’t exist both weakens your own campaign and strengthens your opponent’s.
Such lessons have to be learned. What is gob-smackingly unbelievable is that seven years on from the first referendum the SNP hasn’t even attempted to learn those lessons and in the wider Yes movement those who have made the effort to do so tend to be disregarded.
This must change.
DissolveTheUnion #UnionNoMore #WhiteRoseRising #NowIsTheTime