Countdown to Christmas: Day six – independence

Back in September this year Scotland faced a key decision when it had to vote for or against independence. At the time, communicator Keith Lams wrote for my blog to look at what was happening and what comms pros could learn.

This is the latest post in my series of articles taking a look back at guest writers throughout the year as we countdown to Christmas.

Thoughts on independence

This week is a key one for Scotland as a referendum is taking place tomorrow on independence. Scottish residents are being asked to vote yes or no to a proposal and the question is: “Should Scotland be an independent country?

SONY DSCComms pro Keith Lams takes a look at what communicators can learn from such a debate and his thoughts on the topic.

I’ve known Keith @keith_lams, since we worked together in-house at Visa back in 2006 when he was Head of Media Relations and Internal Communication. He is now the Communication Lead for several change programmes at HSBC, where he uses the framework he developed for the global bank.

Over to you Keith…

Independent thought

I remember seeing Alex Salmond, (pictured below), First Minister of Scotland and Leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) in a Scottish referendum news item on TV in summer 2013 and thinking “Why are they starting campaigning so early? There’s more than a year to go until the vote.”

And then the penny dropped.

Unless you count sharing a name with a small Moray town, I have no Scottish connections and I’m not writing to influence anyone’s vote.

I’m merely giving a communicator’s perspective on why the Yes campaign exceeded many people’s expectations.  They may not win, but they have closed the gap in the polls and, at the very least, gained some concessions from the main UK political parties.

Why so early?

AlexSalmondThe thing that impressed me most was that early start. People take time to come to terms with change, and this is not only a big change but also one where Alex Salmond needs his audience to act.

In late 2013 and early 2014 we heard argument after argument against the proposed change.  The polls showed that this resistance was working, but after a while its effect diminished.

I don’t think the Yes campaign convinced people that the counter arguments were flawed, rather that some Scots accepted there would be challenges and had time to put them in perspective and consider how they could be overcome.

For me, it’s an excellent example how, over time, people adapt to the idea of change and begin to see new possibilities.

Heads versus hearts

It’s a phrase  that has appeared frequently in the referendum coverage: the Yes campaign talks about freedom and self-determination to pull the heart-strings; the No campaign majors on the potential economic and financial implications.

scotlandFrom what I’ve seen in the UK press, the rational arguments that back a No vote are getting more coverage, and yet the gap in the polls is closing.

Surely further evidence, if we needed it,  of the power of emotional messages, and a reminder to keep asking ourselves “so what does my audience care about?”

So I add myself to the long list of people who recognise Alex Salmond as a canny operator. Well done for starting the campaign so early and giving the emotional messages time to compete with the rational ones.

And good luck, Scotland, whatever you decide.

Post author: Keith Lams.

Further reading
Want to know more about the referendum? You can read global views on what’s happeningvia the Guardian newspaper.

You can also read both sides of the story via the live BBC coverage.

If you want to read more about change, I’ve published numerous articles on the topic – see the tagged ones here.

Enjoyed this article? Want to read lots more guest posts? I’ve featured more than 100 communicators on my blog since starting it in 2009 and have collated an archive here.

If you have a topic you’d like me to consider publishing, do please read my guidelines first.

Thank you for stopping by,


First published on All Things IC blog on 17 September 2014 and republished December 2014.

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