Wednesday 3 June 2015

Referendum: the Power of 'No'

Of the forthcoming referendum, our longtime commenter (and sometime drinking bud) Steven L said yesterday:
I reckon the powers that be have learned a lesson when they plumped for 'yes' to be the 'in' vote. If you want people to vote 'no', you'll have to run a negative campaign and vice-versa surely?
Interesting. The last two big plebiscites in these islands were AV in 2011 and the Scotties last year.   Those two questions were, respectively:
At present, the UK uses the "first past the post" system to elect MPs to the House of Commons. Should the "alternative vote" system be used instead?
Should Scotland be an independent country?
The 1975 referendum, won by 'Yes', was asked:
Do you think the United Kingdom should stay in the European Community (Common Market)?
Next time around it will be:
“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?”
which is rather the same as 1975, with the new-found preference for starting with 'should'. 

Those jolly voting opportunities in 2011 and 2014 were won by 'No', so (a) is the 'No' side really doomed to run a negative campaign?  and (b) does that matter?

I'd say it's (just) a marketing challenge, albeit of massive strategic importance, and we already know the classic answer: it's a sunny smile and "nien, danke!".  There are plenty of other ways to play 'upbeat negative': "been there, done that";  "you 'avin a laugh?!", etc.  If you hired Ben Elton he'd coin several more to choose from.

The problem for 'Out' (symptomatic, because it's just one of many) is that you can't easily see any of the current 'faces of Out' pulling off anything as sure-footed as a campaign-slogan-of-genius.  It's worse than that, they are all sour-faced gits (Cash, Redwood et al) or saloon-bar bores (Farage).  It's not easy:  Salmond could never quite come across as sweetly positive for 'Yes', could he?  The mask periodically slipped and it was all hatred-for-England and ambition-for-self beneath.  Boris is the only remotely plausible candidate, and he changes his position on Europe every time his sensitive nostrils detect a change in the wind.  Someone we haven't yet thought of needs to be the person that cometh, when cometh the hour.

I have a feeling we shall be discussing all this again.  Many times ...



MyPropagandaName said...

A double 'thumbs up' with 'N' on one thumb and 'O' on the other would turn it round.
Incongruous, perhaps, but it would associate NO with a strongly positive gesture that everyone would recognise.

As I've mentioned before the unanimously recognised 'Oh yes it is/Oh no it isnt' chant is similar.
Whoever owns that will own the instant automatic reaction and cultural glow that it entails. So some ropey quote about Europe thus; 'EU membership is good for business' - Mr F Atcat - pictures of dole queues/ shabby housing/ traffic queues, cut to crowd chanting "Oh [b]NO[/b] it isnt!"

Dumbing down it the key to this one.

Steven_L said...

Good point on the AV referendum ND. But the proportion of Scots that want independence increased from circa 30% to circa 45% (and perhaps even higher now) during the 18 month campaign. I put a lot of this down to the 'establishment' and their negativity. Westminster kept saying 'no you can't' and Scots revolted, because they could. Whereas an independent Scotland of sorts looked like a fantasy a few years ago, it now looks very much on the horizon.

And up here north of Berwick, all political discussion, on TV, on radio, in the office, all came back to independence for the whole 18 months. Some Scots even cited that UK media, like Radio 4 and BBC1 only started discussing it a few weeks before the event, as evidence the English didn't care.

BBC Radio Scotland is a queer station. Despite that a typical Scot sports fan is just as, or even more, interested in how Ronnie O'Sullivan or Novak Djokovic are getting on as John Higgins or Andy Murray, they choose not to report it. A 'sports roundup' often consists of a run down of which Scots competitors have been knocked out of major events whilst declining to actually report the real news.

The news that did filter through from down south was basically a relentless 'no, no, no you can't'. This time around, I think the establishment will leave the negativity to Farage, berate him as a grumpy old man, and talk up things like Nissan factories and E111 cards. I'm sure the EU will manage to get a few factory owners to threaten to quit for good measure. But I also predict a lot of trendy hipsters, and even an A-lister or two - will come out in favour of ever close union.

Overall, I expect the establishment to sell us a positive message (unless they really do want out for some reason, who knows?)

Anonymous said...

MPN You should be in advertising if you aren't already...

SL no already has JK Rowling but apparently she was getting death threats on twitter. Perhaps she doesn't count as a true Scot.

Blue Eyes said...

No need?
No to holding Britain back?
Take the brakes off?

Something like that to make a positive out of a negative?

Electro-Kevin said...

Getting back control of our borders would appeal to many millions.

In fact it is the Out's strongest card.

It has been toxified, not by Farage, but by the Left who were allowed to smear and smear - stating that the Ukip position was 'anti immigrant' (xenophobic) when it was actually 'anti immigration policy' (claustrophobic - quite reasonably in view of net migration figures)

The Ins are allowed to be as hysterical, obsessive and as negative as they like. How they get away with it is beyond me. There can't be anything more negative than believing that this country can't run its own show.

I fail to see how giving our freedoms and demos away to an unaccountable supra national body is a good thing.

I fail to see how the European Arrest Warrant can be a good thing.

I fail to see how being run by a bunch of faceless Belgian ticket collectors is a good thing.

I fail to see how unselective immigration is supposed to help with law and order and the standard of living - especially where newcomers have exact entitlement to those who have paid taxes for decades or who were born here.

It might be good if you have your job in the city - your education and your des res rising in value, and if your children are already set up. But none of this is any good for my extremely bright and hard working kids who have yet to enter the jobs market and who have little chance of having what we had.

If you want an Out result then it is a mistake to dis Farage. But then this referendum is a forgone conclusion and is only a mechanism by which Cameron can dock Britain to the EU permanently and unify is party once and forever.

Blue Eyes said...

Stuff the economy to boost living standards? That's an interesting one. Didn't Ed Miliband try that as an election campaign recently?

Y Ddraig Goch said...

I just looked at the Political Betting website, and that shows polling results
for different forms of referendum questions. In all three the results are
50-something to stay in and 40-something to leave. While I agree that the
establishment will rig the result in any way they can, I don't think it is
quite the foregone conclusion people here are claiming. Greece is a fine
ongoing advert for EU competence and integrity and yet any genuine fix for
Greece (eg writing off the debt) will trigger similar demands from other
countries. I think there is a decent chance that events within the EU will be
enough to swing the vote no matter what distortions happen here.

Nick Drew said...

Y Ddraig Goch - you are right, there are several 'events' in the pipeline (Greece, Spain, Ukraine) that have the potential to transform the situation by impacting on

- precedent-setting: what can a stroppy EU member obtain from EC
- UK electorate's perception
- ability to use Russia as bogey-man
- how desperate is the EC to keep the UK in


every reason for Cameron to (a) play it long and (b) play it tough

(same with the Scotties)

Steven_L said...

I thought about it again, and I'm still not convinced. 'No Thanks' was tried as a slogan in the Scots referendum. There were dirty great "No Thanks" signs erected in countless farmers' fields on the drive into Aberdeen from the 'shire.

I'm not a 'marketing' bod, but I have worked in sales. Proper sales where you phone people up out of the blue and try to make them buy overpriced crap.

If you want the average voter to walk into the booth and put a cross in a box marked "Yes", as in "Yes I want the UK to be in the EU", then IMO you are going to have to run a largely positive campaign about the EU, ideally one that includes trendy people saying "yes" a lot.

There will be room for fear. For example, one could ask "Do you think Nissan leaving the UK would be a disaster for the north east? ... "Yes" But in main, to provoke a response in the positive, the campaign will have to be by and large positive.

At the end of the day, Nigel Farage and UKIP (and the 'right-wing' blogosphere) isn't cool. The 'in' campaign will promote the EU as 'cool' and the naysayers as negative, grumpy old gits, thus getting the young vote out to secure a majority. Not one proper celeb that still wants to sell anything will support 'out'.

Electro-Kevin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Electro-Kevin said...

The Outs have to fight against the belief that we have a status quo and 'safety' in EU membership.

The fear of leaving something stable and protective.

What the EU has planned is, in fact, in the realms of unchartered territory and is anything but stable. It, in fact, desires radical diversion from the natural and known order.

It offers anything but stability - as our cramped and disatisfied young rentier class feel but do not realise. Even those professionals in basement flats do not know that they are living in half the accommodation built for milkmen.

We oldies do.

That we, on middling wages, were able to raise families in neat, three bed semis with gardens within punching distance of central London without our wives working - less than twenty years ago !

It was so easy and affordable.

How do the Outs (invariably older and for good reason) express their argument without being negative about something which is so inherently and obviously negative ? Especially when they are called old, small minded, mean and stupid for daring to say so.

Only the Ins are free to abuse, ruducule and stretch the bounds of credibility with impunity.

Why so ?

It's a hell of a disadvantage for the Outs to be in. And (as I said before) if you really want it to be an Out vote then it was a mistake to partake in the marginalisation of Nigel Farage.

He actually said nothing wrong. Except for it to be unacceptable to the Left. And just what the hell is wrong with that ?

DJK said...

Maybe someone in the No campaign should watch No.

Jan said...

EK Maybe "no" should campaign on 2 fronts:

1. Economic....How much do we pay in and how much do we get back eg regional grants etc and is this value for money? I have no idea what the figures are but someone must know. Can we be sure it's not a bigger version of FIFA ie a lot of cronyism and outright corruption? The accounts as I understand it are not available.

2. Sovereignty....Do we want the ultimate power to rest with Brussels or Westminster? Remember how long it took (more than 10 years) to deport that guy (whose name escapes me) back to Jordan because he kept appealing including to the court in Brussels.

I've almost persuaded myself there. I originally voted "yes" for a Common Market but what I voted for has morphed into something quite different and while I don't want to stand as an isolated "little Englander" I think we could have a similar arrangement as eg Norway and still be part of Europe but not part of the EU.

Electro-Kevin said...

Jan - I agree. Little Englander is so often used in the pejorative but what is wrong with not wanting to interfere in the affairs of other countries ? Or have them meddling in ours ?