Apologies to Billy Connolly for nickin’ the title of his film.
So, it was Saturday again, a glorious morning, as we gathered in Helensburgh to continue our canvassing programme, taking the Yes Scotland message to the people of ‘very’ West Helensburgh.
This week we had a change to our format to capture more useful information. I set off on my ‘Jack Jones’ to knock on doors in Cumberland Avenue – now famous for the great ‘forestry slaughter’. As I approached my ‘prey’ I had mischief on my mind. I was going for the truth. I obscured my YES badge and open with a polite ‘Will you be voting in Scotland’s referendum on 18 September? ‘
Without disclosing my allegiance I hoped people would respond to my question rather than my badge. This added a great new dimension to my task and every door that opened was an adventure, completely unrehearsed – and I felt, honest and candid.
As I went along, I could see a pattern emerging.
PROUD TO BE YES
YES voters responded immediately with enthusiasm. Some did not even need to be asked, they volunteered they would be voting YES. Some were even indignant as if to say ‘of course we are voting YES’. I realised these were not YES voters, they were PROUD TO BE YES voters!
The really interesting group were the UNDECIDED. They were glad to see someone to whom they could express their need for more information. I felt disappointment in myself that I was limited to the amount of time I could spend with them and the literature I could carry around. However, I was able to explain about the meetings, the information on line, the army of volunteers and I committed to return with more literature.
I did manage to spend some time with Undecided voters and I was very glad I had done my homework and was able to offer some helpful information. However, I believe more information is needed and we must find more and better ways to tap into and answer the concerns and information requests from Undecided voters.
One resident said he wished they,that is both sides, would stop bickering. I almost blamed Better Together – but I bit my tongue. Bickering NEVER unites people and that is what we are about – so we must NOT BICKER, NOT RESPOND TO BICKERING and we must defuse BICKERING by LISTENING AND EXPLAINING.
One thing I am hearing more and more and indeed I was able to explain to people, was that I am not an SNP member and there are a number of SNP policies that I do not agree with. This certainly opened conversations and moved barriers as we agreed that the Referendum is not about party politics. Its not about electing Alex Salmond as the Scottish PM, its about hope, belief and trust in future generations to continue to build their country; making their own decisions, making their own mistakes and evolving together as an independent nation.
This message sat well with the Undecided. It seems obvious, but SNP supporters have probably all made up their mind to vote YES. In the main, the Undecided are not SNP, may not agree with the SNP but they are looking for good reasons to vote YES. So I took 2 messages from this:
1. The Undecided voters are generally NOT SNP and we must reach out to them in a non-political manner. They are Scots who want a) good reasons to vote YES in the referendum, and b) who will consider the political arguments when electing the First Government of an Independent Scotland.
2. I saw no evidence that the Undecided voters were looking for reasons to vote NO.
The Undecided are looking for evidence to vote YES but may vote NO if that don’t get that evidence. This is by far the most important message of the referendum.
WISH I WAS YES
I met a guy working in his front garden. He said he would not be voting in the referendum. I thought, Oh,Oh trouble? However, he immediately explained that he was not a resident and did not have the vote. In fact he was a Yorkshireman and if he did have the vote it would be a definite YES. As I headed off, he shouted after me, ‘If we got the vote in Yorkshire, it would still be a YES vote for Scotland’. I thought to myself, we must never forget our English friends and ensure that they also benefit from our success as an independent Scotland – However, I suspect they already have their northern travel plans booked, and a warn Scottish welcome awaiting them.
I encountered a couple of households who responded to my question about voting in the referendum with ‘We’re voting NO’. I thought to myself that they cannot see my badge, I have not declare my allegiance – then, I realised I had forgotten something very, very important. They knew I was YES – BECAUSE I WAS OUT THERE TALKING TO THE PEOPLE?
Really, I should have seen that one, but how do you get around that – well, you can’t.
One women told me emphatically that she would be voting NO. I told her I respected the fact that she had made up her mind but inquired why she was voting NO. She explained she was a teacher and that she taught politics. And the reason she gave – IT WAS NOT A GOOD IDEA? I breathed a sigh of relief – relief that I was not in one of her classes where JUSTIFICATION was not on the agenda.
I did get a sense from the few NO voters that I encountered that they had made up their mind, they would not try to justify or explain their decision and if you try to engage them they just re-state their decision as if you did not hear it the first time.
I actually managed to get all this lack of engagement and negativity before explaining that I was from the YES Campaign.
Fortunately, I am a big guy with a lot of confidence and a good old Glasgow tongue (when required) in my head. I wondered how a young, inexperienced and perhaps slightly more timid person would feel being confronted with such ‘closed mind arrogance’ from simply asking a civil question?
Thank goodness we only need a majority, although I suspect we’ll get a rout!