Catch-2014: Why ‘Yes’ lost the referendum
Jack Foster combines modern political history with indignant polemic in this impassioned account of the failed 2014 Scottish independence referendum. In an attempt to understand the reasons for that defeat, Catch-2014 takes on some uncomfortable truths and attempts to slay a few sacred cows in the process.
From media manipulation to corporate intervention, party politics to poor strategy, Foster examines the failures at the very heart of Yes Scotland, as well as how the Unionists managed successfully – against all the odds – to capture the campaign narrative.
How does psychology explain our natural aversion to change? Our instinct is to reject information which conflicts with our existing world view; how, therefore, can Scotland overcome this to ensure its future as an independent country?
This is not a book to make you feel warm and fuzzy about the glory days of Scotland’s independence movement. There is much to be proud of, but this book tries to understand where we went wrong, and how we can ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Supporters of the Union, those who campaigned for a No vote in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, will argue that this book is unnecessary. They’ll say the reason Yes lost the referendum is simple: The Scottish electorate rejected nationalism. But of course, it was far more complex than that.
Of the 1.6 million Yes voters, it would be difficult to find a single individual who was not extremely passionate and motivated about the potential of independence, or unwilling to share their reasons for backing a Yes vote. Yes was a campaign that was comfortable in its own skin, hopeful for the future and unafraid to shout it loudly from the rooftops. The contrast with those who voted No could not have been starker.
Unlike their pro-independence counterparts, No voters were characteristically reluctant to be drawn into conversation about the referendum, often choosing to keep their voting intentions to themselves. The No vote is widely regarded – even amongst its most ardent champions – as one made with reluctance, and a certain degree of resentment.
The reasons for that stark contrast between the behaviour of Yes and No voters are innumerable, but essentially it boiled down to a crucial fact about the unionist vote: it was not – perhaps somewhat ironically – a united, or coherent group. Unlike the Yes vote, which comprised a solid, motivated movement, the No campaign relied on a heady mixture of partisan animosity, fear, apathy, disinterest and a subtle, yet potent, dose of British nationalism.
It is likely that only a small proportion of those who voted No did so for genuinely “unionist” reasons. Indeed, many opponents of independence were extremely uncomfortable describing themselves as unionists. Many of them didn’t hold any sort of natural affinity with the politics of Westminster, and many wouldn’t be seen dead waving a Union flag.”
The No vote was in every sense a negative one, yet not so much a rejection of Scottish independence, as it was a rejection of the debate itself.
Those of us who supported the drive for independence in 2014 – and I count myself amongst them – have a tendency to scoff at the “Better Together” campaign and, indeed, at No voters in general. We would do well to remember, however, that Scotland is not yet independent, and despite the seemingly unanimous opinion that it’s an inevitability, we do still need to win that independence.
When the next referendum comes around, as it surely will, we cannot simply hope that things will go differently. Who knows? Perhaps they will, but hope alone is a risky strategy, especially given the potentially fatal blow that a second No vote would deal to the independence movement.
There has been a tendency to blame the defeat of 2014 on external factors: a biased media, corruption of the civil service, MI5 infiltration, or – most outlandish of all – brazen vote rigging. Few have been willing to acknowledge the far less fanciful, far more obvious mistakes made by their own side.
For example, hardly anybody wants to consider the major miscalculations made by the Scottish National Party, or the official “Yes Scotland” campaign, which fell far short of the effective, influential campaign it should, and easily could, have been.
A reasonable amount of time has passed since the morning of 19 September 2014, but as the wounds continue to heal, a lot of collective soul searching still needs to be done.
Tempting though it might be to dig out the old banners and rush headlong into another referendum campaign without pause, this is surely the time to ask ourselves some difficult questions. Because if we don’t fully understand why we lost the referendum in 2014, what’s to stop us doing it all over again?