CommonSpace columnist Siobhan Tolland has been trying to find out more about the best way to engage with older voters as ScotRef campaigning gets started
OVER the last week I have embarked in an online dialogue with older Yes activists and their thoughts and ideas on the next referendum campaign.
Using Facebook as a forum, I initially requested volunteers for interview. I received such a remarkable response from ‘Over 60s for Scottish Independence’ that we agreed to have a structured discussion on the Facebook page so all could contribute. Around 80 people took part in the discussion, offering their insight, experience, advice and wisdom.
Some are veteran independence activists. Others came over to Yes in the last referendum. Others are interested in Yes and others were No voters and have since changed their minds. All are getting themselves ready for the referendum that is coming.
Answering the question of why so many older people voted No last time, fear was viewed as one of the major factors. Some saw a general fear of change being an issue and suggested that, as people grow older, the need for stability becomes stronger.
This is where other fears come in. The fear of change was made significantly worse by the fear people felt over pensions, about the economy failing and about currency. There was fear about banks leaving, also, and fear of economic insecurity was viewed as one of the main factors that prevented people from voting Yes.
Many different strategies were discussed on how to counteract the media’s influence as its role in the scare campaign was noted very strongly. There was acute recognition that mainstream media was the most trusted source of information among the older generation.
What particularly struck me, however, was that many strategies centred on a very personalised approach to politics. Leafleting was considered strongly as part of the campaign, but many others saw direct communication and individual rapport with people as a significant aspect of the campaign, also.
This ranged from canvassing and setting up discussions in women’s institutes, to talking to neighbours and friends and discussing issues over “many coffees”. Some recorded personal individual success in that strategy the last time round, and many felt more of this would be helpful.
It was suggested that trying to help No voters consider a longer-term future beyond ourselves was the way to help persuade elder No voters.
Even the need for authoritative factual government sources were seen through a personalised approach. A considerable discussion occurred around the need for a solid fact-based campaign from the Scottish Government or the SNP – offering certainties about the economy and pensions was discussed, for instance.
That someone suggested this economic guarantee be done in the form of a letter from Nicola Sturgeon directly to pensioners showed an attempt to personalise even the most bureaucratic governmental structures.
This occurred again in the discussion around the general difficulties of changing older people’s experience. Some commented on an entrenched sense of identity in older people and that, as the older people become the more scared of change in themselves, change in the world around them occurs.
It was suggested that trying to help No voters consider a longer-term future beyond ourselves was the way to help persuade elder No voters. Reminders that young people tend to envision a different future that is independent and European, for instance, was seen to open up older people’s vision to a world that many others want.
It was suggested that more open communication between younger and elder voters would allow this exchange of ideas more clearly, and someone even suggested running a campaign to encourage Yes-voting grandchildren to actively engage with their grandparents on this issue; articulating their hopes and visions for a better world.
It was suggested that more open communication between younger and elder voters would allow this exchange of ideas more clearly, and someone even suggested running a campaign to encourage Yes-voting grandchildren to actively engage with their grandparents on this issue.
It was hoped that this would initiate a longer-term imagining of a world beyond their immediate concerns. Asking people to imagine a world that their grandchildren would inherit was to personalise the debate in quite an emotional and intimate way: something above and beyond the immediately political. It was a very clear example of how personalised an independence campaign can be.
The progressive civic nationalism of our independence movement is pushed forward against the increasing inhumanity of Westminster, and this referendum is our attempt to retain a humanity in our approach to society.
Carolyn Leckie’s article in the National about how trying to convert the baby boom generation might not be worth the effort gave great thought and consideration to those living in a borderline poverty existence.
It felt to me, though, that this ebbed away as she began to consider the statistics and demographics of Yes/No voters. And when she considered whether it was worthwhile trying to convert the “most problematic demographic group”, the humanity seemed lost somehow.
I was also struck by the fact that I had, perhaps, being doing similar myself.
Asking people to imagine a world that their grandchildren would inherit was to personalise the debate in quite an emotional and intimate way: something above and beyond the immediately political.
Our need to win is strong, but our campaign has a responsibility to take all people forward into a new, potentially scary world. This shouldn’t just be about Yes and No voters as such. It should be about how we take a new society forward, together – including those who don’t want that society.
We have to think about where we can garner support, of course we do. And we do need to utilise statistical analysis in this. But we also need to be wary about not slipping into an overly statistical account of a society and see groups of people in terms of whether we can win them over or not.
Discussing the issues with my elder peers, their ideas and sense of strategy centres on a – sometimes deeply – personal connection with those we wish to convert.
By adopting that kind of genuinely personalised campaign, we will offer an independence vision that puts people at the centre.
Next week: Older people give their vision and hopes for an Independent Scotland
Picture courtesy of Flood G.
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