Public engagement can be legacy of IndyRef

By the time you are reading this article, the result of the Scottish Independence Referendum will have been confirmed. All those leaflets, those flyers, all the hours upon hours of campaigning, all the Facebook and Twitter reposts will have led up to the early morning announcement on Friday. Whatever the result may be, it will give the public a much needed chance to reflect on the referendum process itself, free from the relentless barrage of propaganda from both sides.

In saying that, what exactly have we seen and learned in these past two and a half years? This referendum has been quite unlike any political process in the UK in living memory – not just the stakes being a lot higher, but the engagement from the public has been outrageous. 97 per cent of those eligible to vote registered to vote and the referendum was being discussed in pubs, in the shopping queue, on the streets all over Scotland. Journalists and political commentators might be scrambling to shake the hands of both Yes Scotland and Better Together for getting people so mobilised. However, they’d be mistaken to assign all the credit to these two campaigns, because, for the most part, the official campaigns have been utterly dire.

Better Together have been criticised for patronising voters with their material, a criticism probably most justified when they released the video ‘The Woman Who Made Up Her Mind’ – a three minute horror show featuring a middle-aged lady who takes a minute to make up her mind about the referendum all whilst seeming to have quantum leaped from the 1940s. Not that Yes Scotland are that much better; their Twitter spends half of the time celebrating the positive vision they have for Scotland, while the remainder is spent seeing how many times they can use the word “scaremongering” and sharing graphics depicting the likes of David Cameron and Ed Miliband with the brazen reminder that this is the horrible lot we’re stuck with if we vote ‘No’. Hardly the stuff that great debate is made of. The information leaflets produced by both campaigns have been barely above the standard of baseless propaganda – stuffed with unsourced and unchecked statistics both sides pass off as facts.

The political parties behind these campaigns, too, have been disappointing. The combined forces of the Westminster parties bleat aimlessly about more powers, without providing a single specific one that could turn a ‘Yes’ voter into a ‘No’. The SNP has become increasingly stubborn on issues such as currency and Europe simply because admitting there is no certainty on one part would effectively undermine the rest of their argument.

The real hero of the referendum wasn’t a person or even a winning ideology or policy, it was the internet. Social media, independent blogs, and crowd-funded organisations such as Wings over Scotland and No Scotland have been a central force in the quest of the public to find more detailed information. The difference with these websites is that often the arguments made are done so with reference to official figures, which are linked for you to examine and come to your own conclusions. A marked contrast to the approach of the official campaigns and the mainstream media, whose coverage often feels like someone trying to shove an ideology down your throat. The key thing to take from all of this however, might be a more inquiring public, a bit more savvy and sceptical in regards to official media and politics. Whatever side you were on, surely that’s some kind of victory?

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