Lessons from the Scottish referendum

So Scotland has voted to stay with the Union but with increased powers for their own parliament.

Credit: Kay222/Flickr
Credit: Kay222/Flickr

As a Scot long settled in England, how do I feel?

Relieved I think is my first reaction.

Rightly or wrongly, a 'Yes' vote would have created huge short-term economic uncertainty. That can only have damaged us all; whichever side of the border we sit. We have at least avoided that.

I’m also relieved for my eldest son. He’s called Angus and was born and raised in England. I did worry about how his English friends and future colleagues would have looked upon him if the land of his father had walked away from a 300 year marriage.

I am relieved also because whilst there is just about a big enough majority to halt the independence question for at least a decade, there is also a big enough minority vote that the body politic simply cannot ignore. I say this because my view is that whilst there were some nationalist tones to the campaign, this was much more a vote against the remoteness of Westminster from the lives and concerns of real people than simple nationalism.

I did also worry about the backlash that may come from a breakaway. There will still be some, step forward Messers Farage & Redwood. However, I think there are enough sane voices on either side of the now old Yes/No divide to avoid any great long-term divisions.

It’s a bit early to take too many lessons for us in communications from this vote, especially after a couple of hours sleep, but here’s six anyway:

Build a community

I think the Scots have enough of a shared identity and community to push for a vote. However, a lot of their concerns are shared by the people of the North-East or the North-West of England. Here, there’s just not enough of a shared identity to form a powerful enough movement for change.

Go and connect with people

I think the 'Yes' team won the campaign and lost the vote. They had by far the more organised group. They went out had generated a huge army of volunteers. They listened to them and talked with them in terms they understood. They really engaged with the people. Too often, the 'No' campaign didn’t do that – Jim Murphy’s 100 days in 100 High Streets was too rare an example for the 'No' side.

Sell a dream

The 'Yes' campaign demonstrated the power of positivity. They talked of hope over ‘Project Fear’. Alongside the word "Yes", they had all the positivity in the campaign (until ironically David Cameron came in a the last moment with a positive view of the Union). That gave the 'Yes's an approachability, an energy and a momentum that brought them closer to victory than maybe they should have done.


We didn’t see it from the 'No' campaign until Gordon Brown delivered the speech of his life on Wednesday. If only we’d seen more of that from the 'No' campaign and indeed from Gordon in a previous life.

Put your best people forward

Alastair Darling may be brilliant in a one-off debate with his forensic legal debating skills. He’s not a front man though. Gordon Brown, Douglas Alexander or Jim Murphy could and should all have had a greater role. They held back.

Don’t avoid the difficult questions

There were serous questions for the 'Yes' campaign to answer on currency and other matters. They never properly answered them. Gordon Brown identified this brilliantly on Wednesday. Such is the all-seeing, all-talking power of social media, none of us can avoid difficult questions. We need to front up to them.

I just hope Westminster now faces up to the difficult question raised by the 1.6 million who voted for separation. I think they are speaking for a sizeable number beyond Scotland too.