A few weeks ago as I was strolling past Edinburgh’s Waverley Station I spotted this headline on a newsstand: “’No’ campaign accused of negativity.”
As I was pondering whether Scotland will stay or go I started thinking about the enduring power of words. There are two opposing campaigns in Scotland – the ‘Yes’ campaign, seen as positive and the ‘No’ campaign which has consistently been accused of negativity. Which made me wonder, can a negative proposition ever been seen as positive?
The SNP and its independence supporters are hoping not. They’re constantly accusing ‘Better Together’ (which is how the ‘No’ campaign prefers to be known) of negativity. They now refer to the organisation as “Project Fear”.
There are several examples of the ‘Yes’ campaign using loaded language.
Bias – levelled at the media in the belief that ‘No’ campaigners are given an easy ride and ‘Yes’ campaigners are unfairly given a hard time.
Bullying – any mention of potentially negative consequences of independence by UK politicians, even if backed up by evidence and even if the politicians concerned are Scottish.
Scaremongering – any mention of potentially negative consequences of independence even if backed by evidence.
On the other side, the ‘No’ campaign is using the ancient art of propaganda to its benefit, too. The scary language of ‘separatism’ and ‘separation’ which implies danger, isolation and loneliness is being invoked. And headlines such as ‘Independent Scotland a ‘terror risk’’ (Scotland on Sunday), ‘Scotland would become like Greece after independence says academic’ (The Times), and ‘Legal experts in warning over Scots independence’ (The Herald). Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont even referred to the ‘virus’ of nationalism.
Latest research shows that two-thirds of Scots want a more positive message from the anti-independence campaign as the gap between the two sides continues to narrow. A survey found that 80% of those who plan to vote No want a more upbeat approach. And guess who commissioned that particular survey? Yes, the ‘Yes’ Campaign!
So how will all this play out in September? The Scottish Government has accepted the Electoral Commission’s recommendation that the question on the referendum ballot paper will ask voters “Should Scotland be an independent country?” Alex Salmond had wanted to ask: “Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?” but the commission demanded a more neutral question.
Language is proving to be the modern battleground for this most ancient of battles.
How do you make a negative into a positive? Tell us what you reckon…