FOR a referendum which is not yet in the political calendar, and which many on the unionist side (and a good few on the nationalist side, too) earnestly believe will never happen, there is an awful lot of campaigning going on.

The majority of the energy, since the SNP’s victory in the Holyrood elections, has been produced by the unionist side of the great divide. This energy deserves acknowledgment – from the spawning of a handful of new or reinvigorated unionist think tanks, to the augmenting of the Scotland Office’s ‘muscular unionism’, to the introduction of royalty into the case for saying No, there is much to talk about.

But energy and strategy are not the same thing.

When (and I use that word quite deliberately) indyref 2 comes to us later in this parliamentary term, it is highly likely that the winners’ total will be less than 60 per cent. The chances of the No vote hitting 65, or even 70 per cent are buried in the rubble of Project Fear.

READ MORE: Foreign holidays: The jet set wants to cancel foreign travel for ordinary people. Are you OK with that?

The myopic Downing Street operation of 2011-to-2014, by refusing to consider the sort of structural change which would have allowed the Better Together campaign to create a positive, compelling narrative for No, pushed ten per cent of voters to Yes, from where they have never returned.

They handed Better Together a pig and some lipstick, and they got what they deserved.

Unionists probably now need to accept that, in a single-question referendum, a minimum of 45 per cent of people will vote Yes. They can probably count on a similar proportion of Scots voting No, leaving perhaps only ten per cent of the electorate to fight over.

The question, then, is what unionism can do to ensure that enough of that ten per cent stick rather than twist. The trouble, though, is that they do not appear to have much of a handle on who these voters are.

This ten per cent are, by definition, pragmatic. They are unlikely to be loyal to one political party at the ballot box, highly unlikely to be members of one and wouldn’t be seen dead marching or waving a flag. They’re likely to be climate conscious and depend on good public services, but they also have skin in the game and therefore have both eyes fixed firmly on the economic prospects of their future country. They are, and this is critical, emotionally relatively unattached to national identity, and are probably content with their Britishness while considering themselves to be Scottish first.


This will inevitably be difficult to grasp for those leading the various strands of unionism, principally because those running the show are the opposite of all those things; they are emotional, partisan, and irretrievably convinced of the righteousness of their cause.

And so it is proving. Let me deal with the positives first. Much of the Scotland Office’s recent work has been canny and sits in the sweet spot of this ten per cent. The Union Connectivity Review and the levelling-up fund are despised by the Scottish Government, but that is principally because it understands how effective they could be. The ten per cent will not be marching down the Royal Mile to protest about the UK Government spending money on a devolved competency; they’ll be too busy making use of whatever it is that’s just been provided for them.

However, for every apparently thoughtful, strategic intervention by the wider unionist family, there is an idea which makes them sleep at night but achieves, at best, precisely nothing and, at worst, pushes the ten per cent away. Enter Kensington Palace, and the apparent concern amongst senior Royals that their politicians are making a hash of preserving their Union.

READ MORE: Kevin Mckenna: There's a reason Tories don't want our children taught Scottish history

They’re right about that part. But their intervention is cack-handed. They are displaying all the insensitivity to Scotland’s new reality to which many observers have become resigned. The emotional appeal to Britishness, to Royalism, may be magnetic to the sort of people who will be waiting in the rain for the polling station to open so that they can vote No. The ten per cent, on the other hand, will be completely unmoved by this or, in some cases, may find the idea of the Crown becoming involved in politics to be so patronising and constitutionally inappropriate that they will feel nudged towards Yes.

The result of indyref 2 is not a foregone conclusion. Team Unionism has the opportunity, and the ability, to win, but in order to do so it has to screw its head on. It must stop centring its offer on the sort of emotional unionism which appeals to the voters it already has, and start focusing its offer on the voters they need to get.

That, inevitably, means creating a vision for the sort of Union the ten per cent want to see, rather than creating a defence for the sort of Union which appeals to only the 45 per cent.

This problem – this inability to allow oneself to think outside of the zone of comfort – is not unique to unionism. The nationalist community has been guilty of this, to a greater or lesser extent, for the entirety of the time since the first independence referendum.

For a group of people who need to encourage a large group of No voters to shift to Yes, they spend an inordinate amount of time implicitly or explicitly telling those No voters that they are a dreadful bunch of Scotland-haters who don't care about poor people and are happy to share a passport with racists.

Instead, the nationalist movement needs to take a lead from the type of work which Andrew Wilson carried out through his Sustainable Growth Commission. They need to create an economic case that the ten per cent will find credible, and then nudge them towards a view that the short-term pain will soon enough be outweighed by longer-term gain for them and their families.

Should enough of the ten per cent be persuaded that the risk is likely to produce a good return, indyref 2 will likely produce a different result than its predecessor.

Indyref 2 will take place when Downing Street understands its inevitability. But it will be won by the side which understands how to appeal to that small group of voters who will decide on the future for all of us.

At present, it is most unclear that either side knows who they really are.

Andy Maciver is Director of Message Matters