In just over a week Scotland votes on whether to become a separate nation, breaking its ties with a 300 year old union.
The debate has been deployed so far is a classic advertising problem. One that one side understands and the other it seems has failed to grasp. You could look at it as Apple vs Microsoft, Pepsi vs Coke or Audi vs BMW. How do you counter the challenger overturning the brand leader?
In this debate, two sides have lined up against each other offering opposing visions of the future. Alex Salmond on one side, the challenger, offering freedom, independence and prosperity. Pretty heady stuff. Who would not want to buy that promise. And of course all wrapped up graphically in a saltire declaring this is our destiny. ‘Just say yes’.
And what of the other side, the unionists, the brand leader? They counter this vision with a cry of ‘we’re better together’. A rather defensive position implying that Scotland needs the rest of the UK. It’s future cannot be secure without the help of others. Keep to the status quo. This I would argue is weak, defensive and lacks ambition. Not a great platform to adopt when you’re countering the challenger brands’ cry of freedom. On top of that the unionists underlining their argument with constant negativity. How much oil is there? What will happen to our currency? Will the EU readily accept a new nation? In any campaign it’s perfectly acceptable to point out the negatives in someone’s case. But not if negativity is the only message you transmit.
In this debate the Scottish public are being almost driven to vote yes by the negative tactics of the union camp. And in doing so play brilliantly into the arms of the pied piper, Mr Salmond. This is a classic advertising dilemma. How do you counter a seductive, powerful, emotional call to ‘buy’ when you’re proposition on the ballot paper is framed in the negative. To win the argument the unionists have to face this dilemma. Sadly, constantly I see them default to the negative position.
Humans are irrational beings. Information goes in through the heart. Constantly proposing rational reasons for voting no, doesn’t appeal to the heart. You have to create a positive out of a negative. The other lesson advertising teaches you, is people buy the future. You have to offer them a vision that is modern and forward looking. Whatever one thinks of the SNP case they are doing exactly that. Framed in the positive of ‘yes’. How clever it was to have their question on the ballot paper framed in this way
So the challenge for the unionists is to take a negative and turn it into a positive. Whilst also giving the union cause a narrative that allows the voter to frame their decision as modern and forward looking. There is an answer to this dilemma that turns the tables on the yes camp and offers the no voter a positive feeling. And that is ‘Vote No Borders’. A vote for the future, that understands where the world is going.
We can readily argue the history of the world is one where as we broke down the borders between nations, the borders of class, race and creed. The world has not only become a safer place, it’s also become a more prosperous one. When Europe was riddled with borders it was constantly at war. Fragmentation increases conflict. However you want to define conflict. No Borders reminds us we don’t progress by going backwards. The union between our four countries has spread wealth, opportunity and influence.
And one last point. Europe is in a precarious place. Dissatisfaction with the EU is growing throughout the continent. From the Catalans to the Belgians to the Corsicans. Across Europe there is a clamour for independence. If Scotland votes yes, the others will surely be emboldened to pursue their own narrow agenda. Taking Europe back to a fragmented past. Will that be Scotland’s legacy? Not one I would wish for.
Vote No Borders is the way out of this debate, reminding people of the value and opportunity of togetherness. Turning a negative into a positive.
Sir John Hegarty is a founder of BBH. This article first appeared in the Independent.