8 Reflections on the #IndyRef TV Debates

by Adam Ramsay

27 August 2014

Credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty images

The vote is just three weeks away and with the televised debates over, pundits are clamouring to make their predictions on #IndyRef. Has the Fringe consolidated the pro-Scotland sentiment? Or have Cilla Black and Ross Kemp lovebombed the Yes campaign? Here’s what our regular contributor, #IndyRef commentator and OurKingdom co-editor Adam Ramsay had to say on the TV debates and how they’ll affect the coming weeks:

1. Salmond may have beaten Darling, but it was the audience who came first.

This debate was in Glasgow, so it should be no surprise that the audience was intelligent, well-informed, articulate and proudly left wing. That’s what Glasgow’s like. That’s why the powerful are forever mocking it. The city has (like lots of industrial cities the world over) a long tradition of workers’ education. The hero of the night wasn’t Alex Salmond. It was the woman who wished Darling had Nye Bevan on his shoulder every time he was paid thousands of pounds by a private healthcare company to give an after-dinner speech.

2. This tells us about the importance of alternative media.

The only way I can find that she would know about Darling’s profiteering on the back of private healthcare is from the pro-independence website Newsnet Scotland, who ran the story in 2013 of Darling getting £10,000 for a speech to Cinven Limited, who had bought 24 hospitals from BUPA. As far as I can find from a quick google, the traditional media didn’t pick up on that story. To get that kind of scoop takes considerable time and research. The collection of pro-independence websites have attracted audiences which are competitive with the mainstream media now, and can reasonably claim to have been key to the campaign. If the left in the rest of the UK wants to learn from the pro-independence movement, investment in alternative media is one important place to start (though I suppose I would say that, it’s my job…).

3. Yes voters are more enthusiastic.

The polls show No is still a bit ahead, yet walk round any Scottish city at the moment, and you’ll see lots of Yes posters and badges and very few for No. This isn’t because the polls are wrong. It’s because Yes voters are much more excited by the vote. This was demonstrated perfectly by the audience – the people who put their hands up to express an opinion largely turned out to be Yes supporters (or, so you’d guess from what they said). No voters just sat quietly. This is basically a metaphor for the dynamics of the referendum as a whole.

4. Salmond won.

The polls show that 71% of voters think Salmond won the debate and more importantly, polls of viewers immediately after the vote put the referendum neck and neck. After the last debate, No voters thought Darling won, Yes voters thought Salmond won, and because there were more of the former, Darling got a points victory. This time, it wasn’t even close.

5. Salmond’s success matters!

Lots of people – particularly Yes supporters – have said repeatedly that the debates won’t matter because people are persuaded by their friends, fellow workers, and so on. I disagree. The debates matter because they frame the conversations that people have at work. They shape what the areas of discussion will be and they set a mood. Yes campaigners will feel much more positive for the next week, much more willing to bounce up to that swithering colleague and chat with them about the referendum – and many of them will feel able to move on from silliness about currency and to more positive questions.

6. Yes could still win.

That’s not a prediction. The No campaign is still slightly ahead in the polls. But it’s close; the momentum is now back with Yes, and the undecided voters clearly see some advantage in voting Yes or they’d be decided for No – status quo bias would see to that.

7. The tone shows how much the left have shifted this debate.

We could have had Salmond standing on the stage and making the case for cutting corporation tax and attracting inward investment. Instead, he made the case against social security cuts and the bedroom tax. This is, in part, a sign of how much the left across the Yes movement has shifted the ground in the debate over the last two years.

8. Once Salmond had answered the currency question, Darling still came back to it, much to the mirth of the audience.

There’s a risk that Better Together will end up looking like William Hague’s 2001 “Keep the Pound” election campaign-cum-one trick pony. Of course currency matters, but it’s not, as Darling said, the foundation of the economy. Work and natural resources are the foundation of the economy, and the fact that Darling couldn’t cite three job creating powers that are going to be devolved to Holyrood if it’s a No vote begins to move the discussion onto less arid turf.

Adam Ramsay is the author of the e-book 42 Reasons to Support Scottish Independence, available now on Commonwealth.

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