As the Edinburgh City Leader for Business for Scotland I attend a large number of business presentations and events focussed on independence. Last night as we came to the end of an independence debate hosted by Edinburgh marketing company Nth Degree, the No campaign got a bit of a shock. The audience were asked (post debate) to say how they now intended to vote.
The result was 75% Yes to 25% No.
The Royal Society of Edinburgh was a fitting venue, reminding us of many of Scotland’s great strengths. The walls are decorated by the names and achievements of Scottish greats and success stories, Kelvin, Adam Smith, Hume, the more recent Peter Higgs, and many others.
The debate Chairman, Paul Fletcher of the University of Edinburgh Business School, delivered a balanced and wonderful introduction to Scotland and the Union, and paid fitting tribute to a number of these great men. He also set the ground rules for a fair debate.
In the No corner was Iain McGill, former Conservative candidate, businessman, charity campaigner and prominent TV and radio spokesperson for the No Campaign. For the Yes camp, Michelle R Thomson, Director of Business for Scotland, Entrepreneur and Change Management expert.
McGill’s arguments in defence of the Union were entirely predictable. He warned Scots with the usual scare-stories, regurgitating as “fact” all the previously debunked nonsense, including the banking bailout, EU membership, joining the Euro and the currency union with rUK. And at the end recommending, ‘if you don’t know, then you are better to vote No’ with so many things that can go wrong. This tells us a lot about why Yes aren’t further ahead in the opinion polls at present but given we know how limited a tenure negative campaigning enjoys it also tells us something about where we will be in less than a year’s time.
Thomson kicked off with an enthusiastic vision of an Independent Scotland, around fairness, democracy and prosperity. She successfully challenged McGill on his assertions that the main parties were all guaranteeing increased powers in the event of a ‘No’ vote. That simply isn’t true. Thomson spoke positively about changing the future of Scotland through control of all ‘economic levers’.
McGill’s performance worsened when he was put under the slightest pressure with questions both from the Chair and Thomson. It gradually became clear to the audience that the case for the Union was groundless.
The vote at the end of the night was 75% Yes to 25% No. More importantly, the atmosphere in the room was buzzing with conversation as most of the business people became Yes converts like myself.
However, this result is less surprising given the recent trend of Yes winning public debates, most notably on national television. When the arguments of both campaigns are exposed in an objective neutral environment to a cross-section of ‘don’t know’ voters, Yes wins because of the strength of its arguments.
Abertay University Debate
The first of these wins was a convincing conversion at Abertay University where from a starting point of 59% to 21% against independence, the audience finished 51%-38% in favour. It was a battle of political heavyweights with Stewart Hosie for the SNP weighed in against Labour’s Lord Robertson, former Secretary-General of NATO.
In case you forgot, Lord Robertson was the man who claimed ‘Devolution would kill independence stone dead’.
As the Wings over Scotland blog team commented, “This is how it’s done“. Mr Hosie calmly dismantles Lord Roberston’s meandering negativity and generates a swing of several times more than Yes requires to win the actual referendum”:
The BBC, not known for doing favours for the Yes Campaign, hosted a major debate on Newsnight where the audience of undecided voters clearly surprised presenter Kirsty Wark by returning a 62% Yes to 38% No Vote.
Ivan McKee, another Director of Business for Scotland, made some hard hitting interventions on the economic facts and figures in the debate and drew heavily on his own experience in business and this helped to turn the audience.
Taking the average of these recent post debate polls Yes Scotland are winning 63% to 33%, almost the same percentages (60%-40% in favour) that the Business for Scotland Managing Director Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp has been predicting since the referendum was announced.
Prior to engaging in debate the people of Scotland naturally gravitate towards the status quo but become quickly detached from the No proposition (is there one?) as soon as they put their brain in gear and listen to the arguments. There is simply no positive case for the Union, and step by step, conversation by conversation, room by room the Yes campaign and Business for Scotland is winning the debate.
The partisan media is holding back the flood of indirect Yes conversions with the electorate but the media supported wall of unsubstantiated scare-stories and negativity is looking less like an impregnable dam and more like the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke.
As the debate gathers pace and more people move beyond the insulting negativity of the No campaign expect the polls to move, perhaps slowly but steadily at first but accelerating rapidly towards victory for Yes in the last few months and weeks of the campaign.
Yes is winning the argument and Scotland should prepare for promotion to the ranks of forward looking successful independent nation states.