When No Means Yes

I try to steer away from politics, but every so often something political will catch my eye and, from a communications perspective, I feel it might be worth wading into the foray. 

As many of my regular readers will know, I’m based in Scotland and this year my country faces a significant decision on whether it should, or should not, be an independent nation. 

The political debates have been raging for months, and are expected to heat up as we career towards Decision-Day in September 2014. 

The communications campaign is critical for both sides of the debate. But here’s where, for me at least, it recently got very interesting. 

Putting aside my own political thoughts on the matter, the two sides have very clearly defined communication objectives:

The Yes Campaign is painting a portrait of hope, opportunity, possibility and passion. Underpinning these concepts, ideas and strategies is a lot of uncertainty and a lack of guarantee. 

The No Campaign is painting a portrait of maintaining the status quo, the fear of the great unknown independence would bring, the loss of certainty, and the security of unity. Underpinning these concepts, ideas, and strategies is knowing that the status quo will (and can continue to) prevail. 

However, from what I can see as a professional communicator, the No Campaign has already lost the battle. 

Faced with a growing lean towards “Yes”, they’ve taken to amplifying their message and not urgently reviewing it. From afar speeches have been made. Phone a friend, says David Cameron. The pound is ours, says George Osbourne. All the big brand businesses are leaving, say all the big brand businesses. 

But even a recent trade union vote on whether or not to back any specific political goal, clearly identified that the “market” has shifted. Turns out no-one supported backing the No campaign, they were either for Yes or somewhere in the middle. 

The Yes Campaign, for all its uncertainty, has always been able to maintain strong concepts of hope, opportunity, possibility and passion. It’s message is constant, unwavering and, recently, laudable in the face of adversity. 

So has the time come for No to re-evaluate their communications? Arguably, that time has come and gone. They’ve positioned themselves into a corner of selling us “same old, same old” and changing tack now may come off as a cynical ploy. And, let’s face it, it really wouldn’t be more than just that. 

For such an important political decision, and with some of the most clever communications strategists behind the campaign, it’s actually distinctly surprising that they didn’t see this coming from the outset. In fact, the No Campaign has done more for the Yes Campaign, than the Yes Campaign have done for the Yes Campaign. It’s probably one of the biggest unintentional communication backfires in modern political history, but time will ultimately tell on that one. 

The Yes Campaign, by contrast, are to be congratulated on what has been an exceptionally well thought out strategy. 

They knew from the outset this was going to be as much an emotional vote as a logical one. But instead of treating the Scots like a bunch of imbeciles, unable to make logical decisions, they’ve made the respectful assumption that we’ll suss out what many already know: when you set your mind on something, you can achieve anything. 

And so they’ve set out their stall in an ambitious manner. Scotland can be independent, they say. Look at what we have done. Look at what we can do. Look at what we could be. And, perhaps most importantly, look at what’s holding us back. 

They know we’ve got the brains. Heck, Scots have invented some of the most widely used modern gadgets –  it ain’t for the lack of brains that we’re not ruling the world of technology. They know we’ve got the mettle. They know we just need the opportunity to make it happen. 

And slowly, but surely, their campaign has chipped away at the premise of the No Campaign. Because No can’t fight back without first admitting that they have, actually, held us back. That they have treated us differently. That they intend to continue treating us differently. 

So what does No have to do if they are going to pull this back? Well, for a start, they’d better hurry. A good many people have watched the childish squabbling, quietly taken notes and have now firmly made up their mind to vote Yes. And that’s what they are, arrogantly, not quite grasping. The market has changed. So the strategy needs to move with it. 

They are no longer communicating on the basis of why people should not leave, they have to start communicating on the basis of why people should stay. Strong, visionary reasons. Sell us a future we want, not a status quo we don’t. And as for all this negativity? Bin it. At worst it’s demeaning, at best it’s boring.

And I say this as someone who stood firmly at the outset of the campaign as a No vote. Over time, as I considered the possibilities, I moved to maybe. Maybe Yes, Maybe No. Now? Well, I’m comfortable with my decision to vote Yes. 

As a small business owner in Scotland, and an employer, I’ve had to take my fair share of risks over the years. But one thing is absolutely certain: without hope, you have nothing. And without opportunity, you will get nowhere. And without possibility, there is no progress. And without passion, there’s no impact. Everything else? Well, I reckon we can tackle that as we go along, don’t you?