Sunday 27 October 2013

Credibility is Everything: The Yes Scotland Declaration

For the second time in a month I have had my blog stolen! I wrote, briefly, at the end of September about how my three quarter written blog on the abolition of corroboration had been comprehensively pre-empted on the eve of publication by Lallands Peat Worrier, to the extent that my own thoughts on the matter could only have appeared at the risk of allegations of plagiarism.

And today it has happened again, albeit from a different source. For my intention in this Sunday blog had been to follow up what I'd said about our Dunfermline Campaign on Friday, and to try and address the extent to which both universalism and current local government funding needed to be reviewed by Scottish Labour if we were to have a credible policy platform in 2016. But, as it turns out, I've once again been beaten to it, this time by Kate Higgins at Burdzeyeview who, albeit writing from a (semi-detached) Nationalist perspective, covers the same territory so comprehensively that all that would be left for me would be to reach different conclusions.

I will return to that topic but only when recollection of Kate's piece has faded a bit from the memory of my potential readers!

But I'm left instead scratching about for a topic and have resolved on the old standby of having a go at the opposition when they set off down on a patently absurd course and then quietly hope everybody will forget about it.

Purely from the detached perspective of a political hack of thirty-nine years standing I was utterly bemused as to why, at the launch of Yes Scotland on 25th May 2012, the ambition was declared of securing one million signatures to the Yes Scotland Declaration. It struck me as something which could only have been thought up by somebody with no knowledge of electoral politics for it was something that was always going to be impossible to achieve.

Let me frame this in entirely Nationalist terms. There are Four  Million people, more or less, entitled to vote in the Referendum. In reality, somewhere between two and a half and three million will actually vote. let's split the difference and suggest 2,750.000. So to win the Nationalists would need 1,375,001 votes. Let's even concede them, for this purpose, a big win. 1,500,000 votes.

To get one million signatures to the petition would then require persuading two thirds of these people not only to vote yes but to (semi) publicly (I'll come back to that) declare individually an intention to do so in advance.

Now, here I simply ask a question of all hardened Party activists? Has any of our respective Parties ever achieved that degree of voter identification, even in the most marginal of seats, worked intensively over years and even then relying on the fall back of asking in telephone or doorstep canvassing if the views of the elector you're speaking to are shared by the whole household? Of course we haven't. And even then, we are only asking people how they are voting, not to sign in blood to that effect and, what's more, we are mainly relying on telephone contact which makes signing anything physically impossible.

So what persuaded Yes Scotland to set themselves such a patently absurd objective of a million signatures? It is difficult to conclude it was anything other than being completely naive about the realities of political campaigning. I can't imagine if Kevin Pringle had held the position then that he holds today that this would ever have seen the light of day. Nobody has ever suggested that the modern SNP don't know how to fight elections. I remain completely puzzled why they initially entrusted their most important election ever to such rank amateurs.

But the more interesting thing is what has happened since.

Firstly, almost immediately, the declaration became something less than a declaration. In common sense usage, a declaration is something with which you are prepared to be publicly identified. We all know who signed the Declaration of Arbroath; The US Declaration of Independence or indeed the Declaration (proclamation) of Ireland's Provisional Republic. Very quickly however it was announced that the identities of those who had signed the Declaration of Cineworld would remain secret. Three reasons have since been given for this. The first was that this was always the intention, although that rather contradicts the public nature of the first signatures on the day  and might have been expected to have been said on the day rather than several weeks later. The second was that to make the names of the signatories public would only alert the "unionists" to the strength of their opponents, although most people would think that was precisely the point of a Declaration. The third was that some people would want to sign who could not be identified publicly as supporters of any political cause by reason of their employment. That of course is marginally true but while it might justify an option for a signatory to ask that their name not being publicised, it hardly justifies downgrading the original apparent intention of the whole exercise.

But more interesting still is what has happened since. At the end of September 2012, Eck announced at the first March and Rally for Independence that 100,000 had signed up. That seemed to the outside an entirely credible claim (even if from a normally dubious source). The first one tenth of the number required was always going to be the low hanging fruit. All of the SNP's membership and most of those of their minor Party allies. And most of those true believers prepared to approach a street stall or go on-line in both the good weather and the first flush of enthusiasm. But the very fact that even then, only 100,000 had signed in the first four months showed the impossible scale of the overall task. The assumption, I think all round, was that this would be something, in time, quietly forgotten about.

And indeed that appeared to be the case until, in a bizarre development, on 24th May 2013, Yes Scotland announced that precisely 372,103 (secret) people had signed their Declaration. "What?" I hear you ask. Having only got 100,000 in the first four months, an average of 135,000 had then signed in each of the further two four month periods since. Through the depths of the Winter when face to face contact with any electors is at its most difficult? Really? Was anybody actually expected to believe this?

I suspect at this point even the SNP realised that such absurd claims were damaging their credibility for there have been no mention of any numbers since. Notably even as Nicola made her equally outlandish claims as to those in actual attendance at this Year's March and Rally.

Now here I want to finish with some advice. It would have greatly cheered my Labour readers if I'd blogged last Sunday on my return from Dunfermline that I expected a Labour landslide. But it would have so clashed with the actual feeling of those with experience on the ground that it would have been rightly dismissed as cheerleading. And cheerleading has never won any election. Whereas making claims that lack all credibility has lost more than a few.

So, if, as I suspect, we will hear no more about the Yes Scotland Declaration then I suspect the hidden hand of Kevin Pringle might, once again, be at work


  1. Any comments now the million has been reached?

  2. So what persuaded Yes Scotland to set themselves such a patently absurd objective of a million signatures?