Sunday, 17 June 2012

Don't Mention Independence

SNP MSPs got more than they bargained for at their weekly meeting on Wednesday, when psychologist and party adviser Claire Howell urged them not to use the word 'independence' in the referendum campaign.
Not everyone was impressed, but it seems objections are too late, as the SNP hierarchy has already made the change.

Here's the story from today's Sunday Herald.

by Paul Hutcheon and Tom Gordon

SNP MSPs have been urged to drop the word “independence” because the concept is off-putting to voters, and to talk instead of an “independent” Scotland, the Sunday Herald can reveal.

The dramatic shift has already been adopted by Alex Salmond and others at the top of the SNP, but most of the party’s MSPs were told of the change at a secret meeting at Holyrood on Wednesday.

The theory is that being independent-minded is a positive personal quality voters like, whereas independence as a concept for Scotland is associated in voters’ minds with risk.

The advice was handed down by positive psychology consultant Claire Howell, a long-term adviser to the SNP, who also drilled MSPs in the American marketing techniques which will be used to promote a Yes vote in the 2014 referendum.

SNP bosses have also circulated a campaign training manual based on text cut-and-pasted from US marketing websites, with jargon such as “Independence ambassadors blend the strengths of a connector and a maven”.

It compares the fight for Scottish independence to the Suffragette movement which delivered votes for women in the 1920s.

Although some MSPs reacted enthusiastically to Howell’s talk, others were left angered and amazed, with junior minister Alasdair Allan openly objecting to dropping the word independence.

Former children’s minister Adam Ingram is also understood to have been unimpressed.

One senior SNP source said the political ideas behind independence seemed to be get lost in a deluge of marketing gobbledygook, but many MSPs felt uncomfortable about objecting in case they were accused of being negative.

The source said: “It was about persuading people, and there’s a good reason for doing that. But voters admire you if you believe in something and show a bit of passion. That forum wasn’t really about the cause, it was marketing speak. She [Howell] was basically talking marketing tactics.

“This is becoming a bit of a guddle.”

However Howell’s controversial advice has already been adopted by the SNP hierarchy.

In the SNP government’s January consultation on the mechanics of the referendum, Alex Salmond said his preferred question was “Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?”

Whereas in a 2010 consultation on a referendum, Salmond put forward a question asking whether people wanted Holyrood’s powers extended “to enable independence to be achieved”.

Launching the Yes Scotland campaign last month, the First Minister also failed to say the word “independence” at all in his speech, instead referring twice to an “independent Scotland” and saying “I want Scotland to be independent”.

In contrast, Green MSP Patrick Harvie mentioned “independence” three times in his launch speech.

The website of Yes Scotland, the SNP-backed campaign for a Yes vote, also emphasises the word independent, with sections called “Becoming independent” and “Being independent”.

On the page Why Vote Yes, there are six mentions of “independent” in just three paragraphs, but not a single mention of “independence”.

The pro-Union parties said the SNP’s “desperate” contortions showed it was afraid of its own key policy, because it knew voters were hostile.

The Sunday Herald reported in January how Howell, chief executive of REDCo - the Really Effective Development Company based in Nottingham - had helped advise SNP members not to use “freedom” in the referendum, because of its association with the violent Mel Gibson film Braveheart.

Instead of harking back to medieval subjugation and anti-Englishness, Howell and SNP strategists Angus Robertson MP and MSP Derek Mackay advised using upbeat terms such as “transformational”, “exciting” and “historic” when talking to voters about independence.

Another imported idea being using by the SNP is that of “brand advocates”, opinionated gossips who are harnessed by US companies as a low-cost way of promoting their products.

Dubbed “independence ambassadors” by the SNP, they will be urged to sell the case for a Yes vote in their local communities and online.

MSP Patricia Ferguson, Scottish Labour’s constitutional spokesperson, said: “It seems the SNP is finally realising what everyone else knows - most Scots reject their core policy of independence.

“Now they are desperately trying to repackage a bill of goods that people don’t want and this latest attempt will fool no one.

“Instead of spending his time listening to advertising gurus, Alex Salmond should start being honest with the people of Scotland.”

Willie Rennie, the Scottish LibDem leader, added: “Would the SNP advisers call a spade a spade or a soil dividing implement because it sounds less offensive to worms?

“No matter how much the SNP resort to 1984-style Newspeak to make their plans sound more palatable the voters will see right through them.

“Instead of playing with words the SNP should simply answer the voters’ questions.”

Angus Robertson, the SNP campaign director, said: “The SNP has learned the importance of positive and optimistic campaigning, and the language by which we communicate our messages.”