IN the second of a two-part article, STUART TOOLEY thinks it is time to start talking about the dependence referendum.
In my first piece for Labour Hame, I laid out the two frames in the biggest debate in Scottish politics. The first is the one preferred by the SNP, the parent-teenager independence frame: positive and inevitable. The second is the one preferred by Labour and the other unionist parties, the married couple separation frame: negative and the result of failure.
It is clear that despite using the separation frame, Scottish Labour has not stemmed the tide of the nationalist frame dominating the public debate. Unconsciously in my last article, I referred to the “independence debate” not the separation debate. Meanwhile, the media, and the public have been using the SNP’s frame for years. What is the solution? How do those of us who believe in the union start to win people over to our position using frames?
Well here we must revert back to the inspiration for this article, George Lakoff, author of ‘Don’t Think of an Elephant’. He argues that there are a group of people who will only ever be influenced through the Republican’s frame, and a group that will only ever be influenced through the Democrat’s frame. I think it is probably safe to assume that this is the case in Scotland. There will be a group who will only ever be influenced by the independence frame, others only influenced through the separation frame.
But crucially there is also a group who can be influenced through both frames – the crucial swing voters in the referendum. It is clear to me that there is already a tactic for this group: continuing to push forward with greater discipline the separation frame in all public appearances, press releases, speeches, etc.
This is in and of itself not a hugely consequential conclusion. That there is a need to create and solidly follow a line in the referendum will come as no surprise to politicians or activists. But there is a second message I would like to test.
If we want to be influencing those crucial swing voters, we could also try a different tact. Why not use the SNP’s independence frame – but turn it on its head?
Next time one of your nationalist friends says something about the independence referendum, why not correct them?
“You mean the dependence referendum?”
“The dependence referendum. If we become independent from the rest of the UK, we become more dependent on a variety of other institutions.”
“I don’t follow, surely this is about independence from England?”
“Well if we become independent from the UK, we’ll become more dependent on the scarce resources in the North Sea.
And we’ll become more dependent on our UN, NATO and G8 allies like the UK and the US to protect us.
And we’ll become more dependent on either the European Central Bank, or the Bank of England (who won’t be looking after our interests) to set our monetary policy.”
You’ll recognise all these arguments as three main arguments against separation. But when put in to the frame of (in)dependence we target the voters who could be swayed who have already accepted the SNP’s frame, as well as those crucial swing voters.