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The opposing camps

Updated Tuesday, 30th April 2013

Article one of eight: Introducing the two campaign groups.

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The debate is structured around two campaign groups, both of which are umbrella organisations that encompass various political parties, voluntary and charitable organisations, business and trade union interests, as well as celebrities and other individuals.

The pro-independence campaign is organised around the slogan 'Yes Scotland'. The campaign was launched in May 2012 and is led by Blair Jenkins. One of the key organisations behind 'Yes Scotland' is the Scottish Independence Convention (SIC), which was established in 2005 by four pro-independence political parties (SNP, Scottish Greens, the Scottish Socialist Party and Solidarity). The Convention is convened by Scottish actress Elaine C. Smith (and has its own website).

The pro-union campaign is organised around the slogan 'Better Together'. Also launched in the spring of 2012, it is supported by the three main unionist parties (Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrats) and is headed by ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Labour MP, Alistair Darling.

Negative and positive campaigning

At the end of 2012 the Scottish Government released its preferred question for the referendum in 2014 – 'Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country? Yes or No.' This question was immediately challenged by Better Together and the UK Government for being 'biased'. It's bias consisted in the question being framed positively (that is, 'do you agree?'). Hence, someone voting 'Yes' (for independence) would be responding positively ('I agree') while someone voting 'No' would be responding negatively ('I disagree'). This would make it more likely for someone to answer 'Yes'. The issue was referred to the UK Electoral Commission which concluded that the question was biased, and should be shortened to the plainer 'Should Scotland be an independent country? Yes or No.'

The incident highlights a problem facing the pro-union campaign. They are viewed as fighting a defensive action and having to campaign negatively – to argue that 'Scotland should not be independent'. But the latter could also involve arguing against Scotland's ability to be independent, and this may be perceived as criticism of the capabilities of Scotland's people. Better Together try to position themselves carefully to argue for the United Kingdom and the benefits they see this bringing. This is a change of direction from the traditional position adopted by successive UK governments and unionist political parties towards Scottish nationalism, whereby the debate was framed around claims about Scotland's high dependency on UK taxation and welfare and/or its lack of economic self-sufficiency.

Both groups are now trying to campaign on what they see as positive ground. However, this positivity has not been without contradictions for the pro-union campaign. On the 10th February 2013, UK Prime Minister David Cameron stated that 'the question is not whether Scotland could be independent, it is whether Scotland should be independent'. Therein Prime Minister Cameron admitted independence was feasible in so far as Scotland could be a self-sufficient country.

Take your learning further

Read the article on Total Politics which highlights the manner in which the three main parties making up the 'No' campaign (Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats) all have alternative 'offers' in place for the Scottish people in the event of a 'No' vote. That is, they are wanting to offer Devo Plus or something similar as a longer term settlement within the Union. The article also examines the problems they face with regards to working alongside each other.

Read the next article from the collection

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