Positivity with Venom: The Yes Campaign’s “Positive Tactics” are but an illusion

Robbie Travers – Executive Director

“This was a clear win for the Yes campaign – a positive, optimistic and visionary case presented by the First Minister against another dose of negativity and scaremongering from Mr Darling.

Positive. Adjective.

1. Explicitly stated, stipulated, or expressed: a positive acceptance of the agreement.

2. Admitting of no question: positive proof.

3. Stated; express; emphatic: a positive denial.

4. Confident in opinion or assertion; fully assured: He is positive that he will win the contest.

5. Overconfident or dogmatic: The less he knows, the more positive he gets.

Positive. Adjective. It’s a word zealously deployed by members of the Yes Scotland Campaign to describe their arguments and methodology in trying to secure a Yes vote on September the 18th to gain their dream of an independent Scotland.

Positive. Adjective. It’s a word mercilessly repeated as the preferred sound bite of the SNP, with the Yes camps spokespeople and politicians never failing to repeatedly state that they are a “positive campaign, that doesn’t rely on fear tactics.”

But before another frequently occurring, and increasingly more irritating Yes Scotland objection is raised, that the SNP and Alex Salmond aren’t the whole Yes movement, it’s safe to say that this self-diagnosed positivity also applies to Yes Scotland. While the previous aforementioned objection is undoubtably true, the unquestionable reality remains that the SNP essentially run the Yes campaign, the fact the Yes Scotland campaign and the SNP share the almost unaltered Party Political Broadcast, save for affiliation symbology, is somewhat illuminating. The Yes Campaign adores to constantly notify, and remind, the populace of Scotland that they are a “positive force for change.” It is not difficult to observe from where they drew their inspiration. Many commentators have noted likenesses to the exceedingly effective Obama “Hope” campaign of 2008, that was popular and drew almost universal acclaim at the time.

Salmond’s economic positivity can’t last forever, or can his enemies negativity be their undoing?

It’s an inappropriate comparison to make, as comparing Alex Salmond’s Yes Campaign, to Barrack Obama’s Democratic Campaign for Presidency in 2008 is simply wrong. Why, you may ponder. Well, despite the wide belief that both periods of canvassing were positive, the Yes Campaign, on closer examination, lack this overt and infectious positivity that they vehemently argue they enshrine above all other aspects of their campaign.

How do they lack such genuine positivity, well in one simple way: they attack Westminster relentlessly, with an aim to instigate widespread dissatisfaction and provoke other political divisions.

While Doctor Who isn’t renowned for it’s sharp political allegory, when the Twelfth Doctor is asked who is responsible, he responds:

“I don’t know, but I’d probably blame the English.”

While I’m certainly not saying “Anglophobia” is rife amongst Scots, although there are suggestions of it growing, there certainly seems to be a worrying trend of simply blaming Westminster. It’s clear that much of the SNP’s freshest arguments don’t inspire a positive vision for Scotland’s future, but increasingly blame Westminster for a multitude of sins. Let’s examine one case where Yes Scotland is guilty of being negative, rather than positive.

You may initially think I’m possibly focusing on the wrong case here, but do try to stay with me. Regardless of whether the initial vision is positive, positivity for positivity’s sake, without the backing of policies, is not an acceptable justification for massive constitutional change.

Foodbanks.

“An independent Scotland could bring an end to the use of food banks,” Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said today.

This “abolition of the Foodbanks” promise from Nicola Sturgeon seems initially to be an incredibly positive move and is, no doubt, a commendable aim. But it’s not an aim that is totally unique to the SNP, and for the SNP to claim that they have a monopoly on poverty and social justice would be an absurdity.

However, one finds themselves compelled to further scrutinise Sturgeon’s claims relating to how independence may lead to the end of Foodbanks. Her argument is deceptively simple: an Independent Scotland wouldn’t have a need for Foodbanks as Scotland would be a “more prosperous nation with a more equal distribution of wealth.”

Let’s be clear, this argument isn’t based on policy: the SNP seemingly lack a policy to tackle the root of Foodbanks in an independent Scotland. This isn’t me indulging in “SNP bashing” either, the actions of the Scottish Government in establishing their Emergency Food Fund(EFF), with an amazing 1.5 Million funding for Foodbanks and charities thag administrate these facilties are highly laudable actions, that rightly deserve praise and should be emulated across the wider United Kingdom. However, there is still a point to be made. While dealing with the immediate logistical problems that Foodbanks present is fantastic, there should be an aim to reduce poverty in Scotland by raising employment opportunities for young people, who make up an alarmingly high number of those using Foodbanks. It stands to reason that if we tackle the roots of the problem, then we no longer need to treat the symptoms.

Continually the SNP fall into a repetitive trap: good intentions with little policy to support those intentions or realise their potential. While Scottish Labour right now aren’t exactly the most popular voices in the Scottish political sphere, they still manage to make a suggestion of policy to tackle the roots of the problem, to therefore positively affect or solve the problem. And importantly, their policies, at the very least, are economically practicable.

The Nationalists do not have a credible or costed plan for welfare in a separate Scotland. Scottish Labour will remove the need for foodbanks and we will build a fairer Scotland by restoring the 50p tax rate for people earning more than £150,000 a year.

You may disagree with Scottish Labour’s policies on poverty, but the fact remains their plans don’t rely on monumental constitutional change that will have drastic effects on the whole populace of Scotland to achieve an aim that finely tuned policy could create.

Many a time, I feel that Scottish Independence is rather like cracking a walnut with sledge hammer. It’s politically disproportionate and disingenuous. To state that somehow all those who will vote “No” do not want greater social justice and the equality in the UK would be completely incorrect.

Labour’s policy relies on policy changes that affect people on the ground in Scotland by specifically altering the area of policy that isn’t working. Scottish Labour’s policy will increase funding to industries, education and healthcare the most deprived areas and this will most likely stimulate economic growth through creating jobs, therefore significantly limiting the number of people reliant on Foodbanks. It will therefore mean less money diverted towards treating a symptom of an economic affliction, as you treat the economic affliction creating it.

Let’s be clear: this argument isn’t based on enforceable economic theory either, as independence for Scotland is going to either mean across the board budget cuts of 6.4%, which will only increase when certain departments are safeguarded, or across the board taxes rises affecting every tax threshold, estimated by the Institute of Fiscal Studies to be around 9.2%. I’m yet to see how the fundamental realities departmental budget cuts or an increased level of taxation across the board in an independent Scotland are going to sufficiently cure poverty.

Furthermore, with even less money in both households spending power and in governmental terms, it will be harder to help young people in poverty, or positively affect those in poverty at all. I can see an independent Scotland having, if anything, a small, but significantly, increased level of poverty with more Foodbanks needed than ever before.

Sturgeon may want to end Foodbanks for good, but it will take realistic and economically responsible governmental policy, not monumental constitutional change, to bring a real end to poverty in the UK.

But here is the important question: what is to blame for Foodbanks in the SNP’s opinion?

Westminster.

The SNP’s argument, that was seemingly so positive and arguably empowering, has a real venomous undertone. Much like a cocktail in a bar that has an initially pleasant, even alluring taste, the bitter twist to he tone is soon to follow:

Ms Sturgeon said: “I don’t want a society where anyone is reliant on emergency food aid, but as long as we’re in a position of Westminster imposing policies that the majority of people in Scotland don’t want then that’s a situation we’re going to have to deal with.

We see here a Government blaming Westminster for the existence of Foodbanks, rather than implementing policy, as suggested above, that would try to tackle poverty. This is hardly a constructive argument, nor a helpful argument to help people in poverty. Moreover, Westminster may be implementing policies that the SNP do not want, but the SNP are equally yet to propose any economically responsible and viable alternatives that would help solve the situation, or indeed any benefits independence would bring to those in poverty. It’s laudable to want increase subsidiarity throughout the entire UK, but this is guaranteed in the event of a no vote. Many may point out that parties break promises, but if the slaughter of the Liberal Democrats(sorry Jack and Macleod) is anything to go by, political parties won’t want to break promises in terms of polling.

It’s not laudable to call for constitutional separation to affect policies that can be altered with increased powers.

Sturgeon continued:

“Far better that we have the powers in our own hands, access to our own resources and over time, not by waving a magic wand, we create a system whereby we don’t have people going to food banks to feed themselves.”

Irony strikes. The SNP claim poverty won’t be fixed by waving a magic wand, yet they lack a single policy announcement to deal with it. Again, Nicola states the system she feels that “Scotland should aspire to,” but doesn’t give a method of reaching such an economic prosperous outcome.

I don’t know about your magical skills, but unlike Rabbits, I don’t think any of us can just pull “a fairer, more economically prosperous future” out of a top hat. My friend, Macleod once said that he feels many “Yes Supporters believe that a Yes vote will instantly deliver their desires on September the 19th.”

He’s right.

Sadly, Better Together have admittedly not presented much of a unitary, positive vision for Scotland. But this is easily excusable: Better Together is made up of three parties with markedly different ideology, who all have individual political visions, therefore presenting a singular, positive vision is almost impossible. But Better Together are also realistic, it would be unethical to not warn someone of the dangers of what they vote for. Positivity may win a few votes, but positivity doesn’t win economic, political or social arguments.

The venom that underlies many SNP arguments is new, and it is deeply worrying that they choose to paint a picture of the UK government as oppressive and regressive. Last week, I had the pleasure of catching up with one of my Kurdish friends, who told me that he didn’t understand Scottish Independence after he examined the situation closely.

“Who are these people to talk of oppression? Some of them don’t know the meaning of the word. Saddam gassed many of my fellow Kurds to death in mass graves, Westminster allowed you devolution and a referendum.”

A sobering point that brings me to my conclusion.

Positive. Adjective.

1. Explicitly stated, stipulated, or expressed: a positive acceptance of the agreement.

2. Admitting of no question: positive proof.

3. Stated; express; emphatic: a positive denial.

4. Confident in opinion or assertion; fully assured: He is positive that he will win the contest.

5. Overconfident or dogmatic: The less he knows, the more positive he gets.

The SNP would like to think that their campaign is perhaps the embodiment of definition number 4, with it’s positive vision for a better Scotland. But I’d argue they are more akin to definition number 5: overconfident and dogmatic. It seems that the SNP believe that their positivity alone will win them an election, when in reality, it should be arguments of substance on issues that matter. Their overconfidence betrays a lack of positivity and asks voters to do one thing that it seems many politicians are failing to do: place trust in their manifesto and abilities.

This will be the last thing I ever write of the referendum till my assessment afterwards, many of you will be pleased to note, but I would ask you to think of whether it’s really a political change you want driven by sensible, economically affordable policy, or constitutional change driven by commendable passion, but lacking a detailed plan to improve Scotland.

A No vote doesn’t need to be a negative thing, it’s not just rejecting independence, but it can be a positive move towards a UK with increased subsidiarity; a UK that is more representative and a UK in which we have greater equality, opportunities and global influence.

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