A guide for people in England who want to get involved in the referendum debate

Yesterday, I published on this blog a reply to the video made by celebrities based in England under the new “Let’s stay together” banner. I was critical of their appeal to emotion based on general opinions without factual support. I went on to criticise their appeal to get us English (Welsh and Northern Irish too) involved in persuading Scots to vote “No”, by tugging the heart-strings.

Today, I started to get a bit worried about the prospect of legions of my compatriots plunging into conversations with Scottish voters about the referendum issues without proper preparation. So I am going to put my money where my mouth is and give some ideas and guidelines on how to prepare for these conversations more thoroughly. Here we go:

1. Don’t be upset if your friend or relative won’t talk to you about it. I’ve done some election canvassing in my time and some people just won’t engage with you as they feel politics is a private affair.

2. If they are willing to talk, be very respectful. It’s a delicate issue, you’re an outsider in the debate and you’re from the neighbouring big nation.

3. Listen to their views and be prepared to re-consider your views in the light of what you hear. No-one wants a marketing-style phone call from a friend or relative.

4. If you have strong feelings which you know you won’t be able to contain, leave the phone call to another time, and sort through your feelings first. Scottish voters have the prerogative of going into the polling booth on 18 September and voting on the basis of emotions and gut instinct. It’s their emotions that count on this one, not yours.

5. Be well-informed on both campaigns’ positions on the key issues. The Scottish Government’s official position in favour of independence is set out in the document “Scotland’s referendum on 18 September 2014 is a choice between two futures.”

The UK Government’s official position in favour of continued union is set out in 12 detailed policy papers. See : https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/informing-the-debate-on-scotlands-constitutional-future

The Yes and No campaigns also have digested versions of these policy positions. See http://www.yesscotland.net/ and http://www.bettertogether.net/the-facts

6. It’s worth also researching some websites that analyse and try to make sense of the conflicting views. For example, see this non-partisan blog from Edinburgh University academic, Michael Rosie : http://blog.whatscotlandthinks.org/2014/07/a-critical-look-at-scotlands-referendum-special-issue-of-scottish-affairs/

7. You might also want to refer to the different proposals for further devolution that the three main Westminster parties say they want to implement in the event of a “no” vote. See: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-25626977 Be aware however of the SNP’s scepticism of these plans. See : http://www.snp.org/media-centre/news/2013/aug/no-campaign-must-answer-further-devolution

8. Be ready to back up your opinions with relevant facts drawn from your research. Scots can easily read up on the issues themselves so add some value to the standard debating positions based on your own background e.g. if you’re a businessman, what could be the impact on trade between Scotland and the UK?

9. The “No” campaign sometimes uses soundbites like “we are better together” and “we will have the best of both worlds”. Also common are jargon words like “separation”, “severance”, and “family of nations”. If you use such expressions, be prepared to explain what you mean by them and follow your opinions through to their logical conclusions. Again, make reference to some facts or research.

10. Finally, good luck and let me know how it goes. Rather you than me!


6 thoughts on “A guide for people in England who want to get involved in the referendum debate

  1. Hey Dude. I’ll start with the elephant in the room. Unlike pretty much every political campaign where the majority of voters will not talk about their voting intentions, this referendum is quite peculiar in that nearly everyone is ready and willing to talk to strangers on it. Some are Yes, some are No and many are still undecided, but pretty much all are willing to talk politics.

    I am an ardent Yes voter and I have zero problem talking about it with friends and family who live in or are from one of the three other UK nations. I do object to “love bombing though” and I’m even more upset by the fact the “Better Together” are now bussing in political activists from the rest of UK to fight their corner over the summer months, as they don’t have enough grassroots support willing to canvass, run street stalls etc. for them. I have absolutely no problem engaging in debate though with people already in my circles (but who are not directly allowed a vote) and I even welcome it. Many have come to understand my burning desire for Yes. Not all agree with it, but at least over the last year or so they have come to understand my reasons.

    May I suggest a few other sites that your erstwhile readers may want to look at, as TBH the “official” Yes campaign was left behind yonks ago and has been supplanted by the grassroots movement for Yes.

    For quite a cutting take: http://wingsoverscotland.com

    For the economic arguments: http://www.businessforscotland.co.uk

    For a professional news stream: http://newsnetscotland.com

    A different Scotland is possible: http://radicalindependence.org

    Good informative and often funny blog: http://weegingerdug.wordpress.com

    Green Yes: http://www.scottishgreens.org.uk/independence/

    Common Weal Book: http://allofusfirst.bigcartel.com/product/common-weal-book

    Artistic viewpoint: http://nationalcollective.com

    There are a zillion other brilliant information sources out there, but these sites would be a strong start for anybody who so far is not involved, but wants to inform themselves.

    It is as you have said not about Yes supporters hating/disliking or resenting any of the people of the other UK nations. It is about grasping a once in a lifetime opportunity to build that country we all dream of. A just and fair society, whilst redressing many of the ills that Scotland and its people suffers. The Union has failed modern Scotland and its time to move on.

    My guess is that many of your readers will be Labour supporters (or maybe even Liberal if any exist any more). With a Yes vote Scotland will actually be able to begin the process of delivering that society that Labour voters for generations have voted to create, but which for the last couple of decades has been systematically dismantled by the the Tories and Blue Labour in the UK.

    Its not going to be an easy journey, but staying in the UK is not going to be any easier, so why not grab that opportunity when its presents itself.

    I fundamentally believe that Yes decision over time will be the best outcome for all 4 of the UK’s nations. When Scotland starts to deliver on the vision that most of Yes want to create and can create the other nations will finally realise that they also can deliver a “Better Nation”, for themselves, because if the Scots can do it, “Why can’t we?”.

    Thank your for contribution so far bud.

    • Thanks for your interesting piece. I am planning a new blog coming soon called English National Conversation. It will be for people in England to have a conversation about national identity, particularly in the light of the Scottish referendum. It’s an antidote to love-bombing campaigns from English celebrities. One of the features will be getting informed about the referendum debate and I will have a page of links to useful websites. I’ll crib some of your links. Thanks again, James

  2. “It’s an antidote to love-bombing campaigns”

    What it actually provides is another channel of communication between the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ camps, with the added bonus of having our southern neighbour’s also able to contribute to the discussion in a focused manner.

    It also provides another outlet for us Scots to get the message across load & clear that this referendum is absolutely NOTHING to do with anti-English sentiment (anti-Westminster – yes – for certain I for one would not deny that) and all to do with the political reasons behind a need for change in Scotland.

    I am of the opinion that an independent Scotland will be a good thing for the rUK as well as Scotland in the long run. It is not as if Scotland is going to float off into the Atlantic on the 26/03/16 if/WHEN we vote Yes – which judging by the apparent severe lack of No campaigners that can be seen up here on the ground.

    The BT/NT/UKOK campaign as well as the three main Westminster parties have just not been able to grasp the fact that this campaign is not being fought within the media or on the television and has gained so much more momentum than the ‘poll-tax’ movement ever did. I have NEVER known public political awareness to be at the levels it is currently at within Scotland.

    The permitted power of the political elites HAS ALWAYS BEEN IN THE HANDS OF THE GENERAL PUBLIC TO GIVE OR TAKE AWAY – is the lesson that has been learned as you will very likely see for yourselves on the 18/09/14.

    Remove the ‘public political apathy’ mind set and your arse will follow sort of thing. As all political parties actually play on that general apathy to begin with.

    Anyway thanks for the blog and more power to your elbow mate.

  3. A little link that you and your fellow readers may also find quite interesting – taken from an Interview with Lord Dennis Healey –


    Lord Healey states – (taken from linked interview)

    ” He says that the value of oil to the UK is a prime motivation behind Westminster’s opposition to independence now and in the 1970s.”

    It is the above interview by Dennis Healey that the below video link of a Margo McDonald public independence speech is actually referring too.

    I, and many other Scots, have so much respect for this woman, who is unfortunately now no longer with us to see her dream of an independent Scotland come to full fruition this coming September.

    Hope you find the links informative.

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