Hope, fear and narrative power

I had originally planned another post about the music behind The River Maiden. In fact, I wrote one and have it sitting in the bank waiting to be published. However, something in the news yesterday caught my eye. It was this article in the US edition of The Huffington Post. The gist of the article is that the campaign for Scottish independence or the "Yes Campaign" came out the leader in a poll for the first time. 

I write FICTION about neo-Jacobites on the cusp of the twenty-first century, so I've been watching the referendum debate much closer than your average American. But, I am American and don't live in Scotland, so don't have a dog in this fight.  I'm just an outside observer. I like to think of myself as a perceptive observer and I am a professional story teller. Now, it would take history and economics lessons far longer than I can fit into a blog post to explore this issue, and the referendum itself is not really what this post is about. I'm writing today because of the stories being told by the campaigns on either side. 

I confess I'm a political nerd. Here in the states I watch campaigns and have even worked some, and (money aside) the campaign that is successful is always the campaign that can tell the better story. I learned in over a decade in software sales that the most popular product wasn't always the best product. It was always the product with the best marketing. Sometimes that means the most coherent story, but more often it means the story that people respond to in an emotional way. In the jaded world that we live, people want a positive story. They want hope. And THAT is why the Yes campaign is gaining ground. 

The majority of the argument that has come from the "Better Together" campaign has been stoking fear about what would happen if Scotland became independent. You hear things like: "The economy will go into a tailspin.", "Who will manage the National Health Service?", "If Scotland becomes independent Wales and Northern Ireland will want to leave too?", "The oil will run out and then Scotland will be poor and helpless." There are all manner of straw man scenarios that have been floated that would be the supposed result of devolution, but they're all hypothetical. 

This scare mongering is perfectly exemplified in the following ad that was released last month. 

This is possibly the most insulting political ad I have ever seen and believe me we have plenty of them here. According to this ad, Yes voters are irresponsible gamblers, but No voters are just too busy to get informed and have their heads in the sand. And don't even get me started on the blatant misogyny going on here. In fact, the ad is roundly trashed that it has prompted a wide array of memes. I think one sums it up. 

It might be more accurate to call the "Better Together" campaign the "Don't rock the boat campaign" or the "Shut up and eat your cereal campaign".

Contrast that ad with this one for the Yes campaign. 

It's a much more positive message. It's not saying vote status quo because change is scary. It gives people something to vote FOR. The message here resonates because it gives people HOPE. Grant O'Rourke (2:30) actually makes me a little teary in this video. It's hard to look at the hope in his eyes and not get a warm feeling. It's the Scottish version of "Yes we can!" and that worked pretty well here. 

If you want more specifics you can watch the debates between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling on Youtube. However, even during the debates you will find that those for independence have a plan with specifics and those who are against independence, don't have a plan for improving life in Scotland. They just want to shoot holes in the independence plan. 

Either way the majority of the argument presented by Better Together appears to be more about the potential horrors of parting than a plan to actually make it better for people in Scotland. That is until the late last week when a list of promises to move toward self-rule were released after the polls started showing a shift. This seems to be viewed as a panic move, sort of their version of John McCain suspending his presidential campaign to go to the White House to solve the financial crisis when no one asked for his help. Nice to see them offering some sort of plan, but I think it's a bit too late in the political narrative for that. It just winds up looking desperate. 

As I mentioned before, I write FICTION about Scottish independence, but it's just that fiction. What's going on right now is very real. And story telling is a very important part of convincing voters either way. At moment it appears that the Yes Campaign owns the narrative. They are simply telling a better story, and if the momentum continues it might just carry them to independence.