Insights
3 min Read
September 10, 2014

YES to vision! Positivity! Maybe even independence!

On September 18, 2014, Scotland will be voting in a referendum to determine whether it will become an independent nation. As of a month ago, when I was in Scotland, the YES (pro-independence) campaign looked destined for certain loss. The polls had remained largely stagnant for months.

Then, this past weekend, a new poll put the YES vote ahead for the first time. In other words, as I write this, it’s suddenly too close to call. So what happened?

Let’s ignore whether independence is a good idea. The Ducks that are paying attention don’t even agree with one another. But what I will say is that the YES campaign has been doing a much better job with its messaging than the NO campaign.

As a messaging exercise, YES has a clear advantage in some ways. YES is an inherently positive idea. NO is inherently negative. The NO campaign has called itself “Better Together” to compensate. YES has been YES and only YES.

And YES has built on that by being relentlessly positive from the beginning. You can see what I mean by visiting their official website or checking out their Facebook page. Positive posts far outnumber the negative ones. They’ve also let their supporters embrace the YES campaign in their own ways: Greens for YES. Women for Independence. Italian-Scots for Si. They can define what an independent Scotland means to them in their own terms. The excitement in all of these groups is palpable and infectious.

On the other side, Better Together (or “No, thanks”) dominates with messages of risk and fear. It’s fascinating. It’s called Better Together, but Worse Apart might be more accurate, and you can see it in their website. They haven’t expressed a positive vision for what the United Kingdom might look like in the future for Scotland. Instead it’s the feeling of separation anxiety: however things are in Scotland now, it would only be worse as an independent nation.

In the last few days, after the devastating poll, Better Together has tried to improve its message, offering a vision of what it might look like to give Scotland some additional powers without granting full independence (sometimes called DevoMax, or a souped up version of devolution). Unfortunately for them, the different parties that control Westminster don’t agree on what DevoMax looks like, so they’re still not getting a positive message out. At least not a consistent one.

And DevoMax at this point is a hard sell anyway, since the Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond originally asked for that to be an option on the independence ballot, which Prime Minister David Cameron refused to grant. It was to be full independence or nothing on the ballot.

I tend to think it’s the relentless positivity around their vision for Scotland that’s put YES within reach of Better Together. A huge swath of the population is still undecided, and they appear to be breaking overwhelmingly toward YES. A positive vision is something that people want to be a part of.

And this is something that nonprofits can learn from. What might the world look like if you succeed? How can you define your exciting, positive vision for the future in a way that’s sure to build excitement and support, even if it takes time?

I have no idea how the Scots will vote on September 18. But I’m seriously impressed with how the YES campaign has been able to focus people’s minds on what Scotland has the potential to be. Win or lose the vote next week, there are now thousands and thousands of people motivated to make it so. That seems like a win to me.

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