Less fluff! More fire!

I’m perplexed! Audrey Birt refers to the Cycle of Change model by Prochaska and Diclemente, then goes on to ignore its most important element – contemplation. The stage where the individual becomes aware of the problem is crucial to the whole process. Yet, when it comes to the constitutional issue, this stage tends to be disregarded. Largely due to the obsession with ‘positivity’ that was so thoroughly inculcated in the Yes movement during the first referendum campaign.

It isn’t independence that needs to be explained. People don’t need help understanding the concept of independence. Independence is normal. It is the default status of all nations. The benefits are inherent and comprehensible at an intuitive level. If you want to persuade No voters to change their minds about independence then you have to intervene at the stage of contemplation.

The task is, not to persuade No voters to change their minds about independence, but to persuade them to change their minds about the Union.

In the context of Scotland’s constitutional debate, the Cycle of Change, begins with becoming aware that a problem exists and identifying the Union as that problem. The journey from No to Yes begins, not with an epiphany about the nature of independence, but with a questioning of the nature of the Union. Remove the ‘Contemplation’ stage from the Cycle of Change and the cycle is broken. Nothing happens. Nothing changes.

How can an individual move on to the ‘Preparation’ stage and develop an intent to address the problem unless the problem has been identified?

Extolling the advantages of bringing Scotland’s government home is easy. And it’s fun. For the already persuaded, there is great satisfaction to be derived from talking about the virtues of the choice that has been made. The committed Yes supporter needs little prompting to explore the promise and potential of an independent Scotland. But the likelihood is that the equally committed No voter isn’t even listening. They are not intellectually equipped or attitudinally prepared to move on to ‘active modification of behaviour’, for the simple reason that they have been given no reason to question existing prejudices and preconceptions.

The first task is to overcome the inertia which prevents or hinders ‘Contemplation’. This won’t always be possible. A Unionist is someone who has yet to question the Union. A British Nationalist is someone who insist that the Union must never be questioned. For the most part, this latter category must be regarded as a lost cause. At the extreme, British Nationalism is a rigid and unyielding ideology with many of the characteristics of fundamentalist religion. The former category, however, is at least approachable. what matters is the nature of that approach.

In most instances, it will first be necessary to breach the armour of the individual’s resistance. Which means undermining their unthinking conviction that the existing arrangements are something close to ideal. Or the ingrained belief that ‘British is best!’. It means seeking out every weakness in the concept of the Union and exploiting it to the full; inserting a wedge which, if hammered in the appropriate way, may eventually open up a crack in that shell of mindless certainty.

We need to take a lesson from the anti-independence campaign. Not to emulate the unprincipled methods of Better Together/Project Fear, but to adopt and adapt the approach which worked so well for them. The key weapon in the British establishment’s propaganda armoury was doubt. They never argued for the Union. They never attempted to address the case for independence. What they did, with evident success, was create doubt. They made the people of Scotland doubt themselves, and each other, with a pernicious, insidious campaign of brazen lies, vicious smears, increasingly risible scares and, ultimately, empty promises.

We must rid ourselves of the notion that we have somehow failed to make the case for independence. On sober reflection, we realise that this would hardly be possible. Independence is, after all, perfectly normal.

We must, instead, resolve to make the case against the Union. With what we know, that should be easy. And without resort to the despicable methods deployed on behalf of the British state.

Audrey Birt’s intentions are beyond reproach. And I do not for one moment doubt her expertise. But the Yes campaign needs fewer motivational speakers intent on reassuring No voters of the validity of their attitudes and more political orators ready vigorously to challenge those attitudes.

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8 thoughts on “Less fluff! More fire!

  1. Alasdair Macdonald

    Changing attitudes is a complex issue. There are various models about how attitudes are formed and how they can be changed, but, in practice, they are pretty similar and only the terminology differs.

    What you have called ‘contemplation’ I would term ‘recognising’ and ‘reflecting’. Sometimes the former is called ‘raising awareness’.

    I agree with you that we do not spend enough time on this aspect, because it is more than,”I’ve jist tellt ye so ye should know!!” It is not a one-off; people have to be made aware of things repeatedly. That is the purpose of so much of our media. For example, BBC Scotland, for decades drip feeds us with ‘Scots are shite’, ‘too wee’, ‘no very good’, etc. But the Daily Ranger, The Mail, The Herald, The Scotsman, The Courier, The P&J, the Sunday Mail, The Guardian, etc have done it for years and continue to do it every day.

    Thankfully listening, viewing and reading figures are declining and blogs have become much better at providing corrections and reporting, as John Robertson does, of good news stories – ‘Naw, wur no shite, see?!” There are many alternative TV and radio channels – I usually check RT and Al Jazeera as a corrective for reports on the BBC or ITN. We can also, quickly get information in an instant via the internet from mobile phones. These are, of course, as prone to bias as the mainstream media – hence the whinge about ‘fake news’ by the mainstream crew. But, people are capable of sifting wheat from chaff – much of the time.

    To change attitudes, however, awareness is not enough. People have to be induced to reflect. The most effective way is to pose an alternative view which is not too far from the view a person holds and the ‘cognitive dissonance’ that this produces usually compels us to modify our position. If the alternative is too distant, then we tend to ignore it.

    The sowing of doubt by Project Fear was pretty skilfully done in that it sometimes posited ‘reasonable’ fears and it was reflection on these which prevented some people from shifting in the direction of YES. It did not necessarily move them more in favour of NO, but, it stopped the shift. They were targetting the group of reasonable and thoughtful people who could see that the current system has flaws, but had concerns about the uncertainties of independence.

    This is a fairly large group and it is from amongst them that the extra 6% will be found.

    So, I think you are right that the flaws of the union have to be played up and there is plenty at present to work with.

    However, so bad is much of our current politics, with the sex scandals now being added to the expenses one, that there is a significant disenchantment and disengagement from politics. So, while it is important to continually point out the flaws, we also need to demonstrate that we are good and reasonable people, who have faith in a better politics. As Alasdair Gray put it in the phrase he found, ‘We need to work as if we are in the early days of a better nation.’

    So, we have to show that NHS Scotland works well, that our schools and universities provide good education, that our bins are emptied, that we have good public transport etc.

    The continual attack on NHS Scotland and on our schools by the unionists is an example of Project Fear continuing, aided by the BMC, RCN, EIS, SSTA, Unite.

  2. stewartb

    To Alasdair (and Peter):

    Thanks for all this good and important info and insight.

    From my non-expert and distant observing of the Trump presidential campaign and the analyses of its methods that are emerging, it seems to me that political campaigning has evolved and become much more sophisticated in exploiting the opportunities of mass and social media – and that the disciplines of psychology, cognitive linguistics and related are being exploited. This is especially so by campaigning organisations with money. And the opponents of Scottish independence do have access to money!

    It was interesting reading the above as I had only recently stumbled across some material on the subject of ‘attitudes’ and the various models that seek to understand forming, sustaining and change phenomena (e.g. at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attitude_%28psychology%29 as a starting point ).

    I have also found the insights of George Lackoff on ‘framing’ to be fascinating, arguing that that ‘fact checking’ and, importantly in the present context, ‘refutation’ are not enough to succeed – will not be effective in changing views – if communicated within the same ‘frame’, i.e. one’s opponents frame.


    Once again, many thanks for my continuing education!

    I trust those who may ‘lead’ a national Yes campaign will take your insights into account and also help with further disseminating them (somehow) to local groups.

    1. Bill Dale

      If you have not already read “Don’t think of an elephant” by George Lakoff then it is a must read. We have developed workshops for implementing Reframing and are using the concepts in our branch activist program.

      1. stewartb

        Bill, I have read the book – very enlightening and with practical value!

        Great to learn it is being picked up and used locally.

  3. Lochside

    I would suggest Peter that ‘contemplation’ only occurs when there is a ‘critical situation’…which triggers doubt and fear that the core beliefs held by (Unionists) are inadequate and therefore open to questioning…then contemplation or reflection can ensue.

    Crtical situation…..e.g. no deal Brexit?

  4. grizebard

    Absolutely hit that nail on the head, Peter.

    Despite all the “stick together” propaganda we are being constantly drizzled by the media, former “no” voters need to be dislodged from their default option, and somehow shown that “sticking together” now would be a very serious error.

    Brexit is a historic opportunity. One though which seems to be largely wasted, at least so far. The SG has understandably been trying to respect the contradictory wishes of the electorate, even at the cost of seriously losing momentum on the issue, and for very little thanks from the selfsame befuddled public.

    Even worse, the separate “yes” movement has mostly* frittered away the opportunity in pointless leftard navel-gazing about EU vs EFTA vs this-that-or-the-other, all of which is of no interest whatever to the ordinary voter. Recent events in Catalonia haven’t helped. SIC could be the way forward, but it appears to be worryingly exclusive in its leadership, despite its claim to be open to all.

    We really do need to up the temperature in a coherent way over this. There is no “good” Brexit, just varying degrees of badness. We may never get a chance like it again, unless you allow for many years of suffering under its effects (chlorinated US chickens and all) before daring to make a peep. By which time it will be far too late.

    If you are a relatively recent convert, dear reader, think back about what changed your mind about independence. Or if not, find out from others what worked for them. That’s what we need lots more of.

    Whatever it is, it’s not about “proving” how bad old imperialist Britain was back in the day. Most people just don’t care. It may be about showing that modern neo-imperialist UK is a laughable absurdity out of the fevered imaginations of a coterie of deluded English fantasists (who incidentally don’t give a damn about Scotland either), and one which will flop not fly. A dangerous absurdity from which we really must escape before the effects are felt for real.

    *(An honourable exception being the “Journey to Yes” videos made by Phantom Power. If only there was some way to get these seen by the people who need convincing and not just the already-converted.)

  5. Jock McDonnell

    A great article, questioning the union never happened in 2014. Once you set the minds in motion, questioning becomes irresistible.

    Salmond was right to say there is a quiet majority for independence & that positivity beats negativity, but I think many people are only attracted to the positive message when their old certainties are no longer reliable.
    My own belief is that there was a little too much happy-clappy exuberance in 2014 & it made us look a little light-weight & unrealistic. More promotion of the fundamental issues of sovereignty & power is needed.

  6. Pingback: Fighting fit? – Towards Indyref2…

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