The pro-UK side has started positively – it’s essential they keep it up

Shots fired

Nicola Sturgeon may have fired the starting gun on another independence campaign – but I was more interested in how the return shots from the pro-UK side looked.

One of the most common criticisms of the Better Together campaign was its default negativity.

Some think it turned off floating voters, especially those of a sunny disposition, and gave the Yes movement licence to occupy all the positive ground.

I half agree – and the campaign itself recognised the need for change months out from the 2014 vote when it adopted a more congenial ‘No thanks’ slogan.

But it’s also worth saying that negativity was, and still will be, required at certain points.

How else do you point out flaws in policies you regard to be unsustainable and unworkable – especially when so much is at stake?

Eliminating the negatives

That said, any future campaigning needs to start talking up the strengths of the UK, rather than just the vulnerability of a Scotland cut off from it.

So I was pleased to read the opening sentence of the Scotland in Union response to the First Minister’s unveiling of her so-called scene-setter.

“Scotland’s positive future is as part of the UK, bringing together people and communities, keeping the pound, avoiding a hard border between friends and families, investing more in our NHS and schools, and creating more jobs.”

It was a heartening opening gambit, and one which will have gone against the instinct of slamming the SNP for driving up division and dragging Scotland back to the uncertainty and bitterness of a few years back.

Let’s be clear – just because another formal campaign appears to be in the making on the Yes side, it does not mean pro-UK representatives should be creating an official one of their own.

There is no legal referendum upon which to campaign, and the pro-UK parties should beware of accidentally giving a wildcat vote legitimacy.

But work – especially at UK Government level – should intensify when it comes to talking up why being part of a strong and successful UK matters so much.

The case for rejecting independence must give as much spotlight to the pros as it does to exposing the cons.

The SNP’s #UkBad rhetoric

One narrative the SNP will be keen to run is the idea that the UK is a poisonous country mired in inequality and misery. A place from which we simply must escape.

But this is a poor argument, and one that can’t even withstand the scrutiny of a raised eyebrow.

Much of the rest of the world envies the UK and wants to aspire to its economy, standards of living, fairness and opportunity.

It’s why so many more people want to come here than want to leave.

That’s a point pro-UK campaigners would do well to promote, and certainly never be ashamed of.

And, crucially, they should set out not just why Scotland benefits from that, but how it contributes too.

Just as Scotland would be worse-off without the UK, so too would England, Wales and Northern Ireland without us.

Stay upbeat, and put Yes on the back foot

It can be difficult to make these arguments appear snappy and compelling, especially in an age of people wanting their news brief, curt and immediately digestible.

But positivity must be established now as the foundation for everything the pro-UK side says and does.

The rewards will soon follow. To borrow a phrase from my old boss and politics maestro Eddie Barnes: say no to independence so we can say yes to so much more.

Such a successful strategy will ensure that voters – when they are next consulted either in elections or polling – won’t merely be scared into backing the UK.

They will do so with confidence and a smile on their face.

[Originally posted on Scotland In Union on June 16, 2022]