2016 is continuing to surprise and shock people, and the election of Trump is definitely going to overshadow the Brexit referendum in many people’s minds.
Some people started to comment on Twitter that the No vote in the Scottish independence referendum is starting to look like the exception in that the result was the one expected by the elites. For instance, here’s Kenny Farquharson from The Times:
I was thinking this myself last night. Did Scotland's indyref happen too early in the global insurgency against the elites? https://t.co/JUsFQv60Q2
— Kenny Farquharson (@KennyFarq) November 9, 2016
Tweets like this one have upset many independence supporters, because it makes an implicit link between the Yes campaign on the one hand and Brexit and Trump on the other.
Of course, there are some similarities, but there are also several important differences. Perhaps it gets clearer if we look at some of them in a tabular format:
|Mainly appealed to older voters?||No||Yes||Yes|
|Did they win?||No||Yes||Yes|
|Opposed by tabloids, Fox News, etc.?||Yes||No||No|
|Opposed by broadsheets, the BBC and all that?||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Strong appeal to voters ignored by the elite?||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Strong social-media campaign?||Yes||Yes||Yes|
So the similarities are basically that all these campaigns were opposed by the elite media (the broadsheets, the BBC and so on), appealed strongly to voters ignored by the elite for years, and ran strong social-media campaigns that to a large extent broke the conventional rules about how a successful campaign should be run. In most other regards, the Leave campaign and Trump were very similar to each other, but very different from the Yes campaign.
Interestingly, if we were to add Bernie Sander’s unsuccessful campaign and the Greek party Syriza to the table, they’d tick almost exactly the same boxes as the Yes campaign.
So did we lose two years ago because of some of the differences? I’m sure we would have won if the tabloid press had supported us, but if the price had been to turn the campaign xenophobic, it simply wouldn’t have been worth it.
If we had appealed more strongly to older voters, that would have pushed us across the line, too. It was hard to do without mainstream-media support, though, and this is something that we need to get right next time.
Perhaps Kenny Farquharson is right, and the independence referendum simply happened too early. Everything else was right, but people weren’t desperate enough yet for what was perceived to be a leap into the dark.
Perhaps the time is ripe now, and things will be easier next time. However, it’s likely to be a finite window of opportunity before people tire of insurgencies, either because the elites get better at listening to voters again, or because the future disasters caused by Brexit and Trump will scare voters away from audacious experiments.