As the Brexit referendum hots up here's the thoughts of one comms person on what they learned living through Scotland's independence referendum - #indyref.
by an Anymous Communications Officer in Scotland
Scotland’s Independence Referendum was one of the strangest events I’ve witnessed. I’ve always been politically active and never been afraid to share my views. But nothing prepared me for the run up to – and aftermath of – 18 September 2014.
What happened was astonishing and much has been written about the nation’s galvanization elsewhere. From my point of view, I found myself wasting huge chunks of precious time arguing. Pointless, raging arguments that no one ever won. I fell out with some really good friends and made wonderful new ones. My emotions went from ecstatic to seething and back again; all in the space of a few tweets. Being principled is tiring.
And that’s before you bring work into it. The media was in heaven. Arguments and counter-arguments were coming thick and fast from all and sundry –Bowie to Bragg; Carney to Chomsky – it felt like the eyes of the world were on us.
It put employers in a tough position. Quite a few big companies got their fingers burned by daring to poke their heads above the parapet, and the rest soon realised that anything they did say would be spun by both sides to fit their hyperbole.
My own employer - a large housing association - took the decision to keep well and truly schtum. Apart from ensuring our customers that their service levels wouldn’t change regardless of the result, we really didn’t say much else. Looking back, I think we did the right thing.
Residents asked me a few times how I was planning to vote. Everyone was asking everyone for crying out loud. But between 9 and 5 I’d remain professional, smile and change the subject. Of course, this was in stark contrast to my behavior outside work.
It’s different this time. This time I’m ready. I’m a battle-hardened ref-vet. I can’t wait for the Euros (not the football).
There’s nothing to suggest that the EU Referendum will tug on the emotional heart strings like the Indy Ref did. There are similarities (a government asking its population to decide whether its future lies in or out of a union), but there are massive differences too (the same Government doesn’t control the entire union’s taxes, foreign policy or defence forces).
It remains to be seen whether the debate will get anywhere near as supercharged as we all did north of the border. But, if you’re thinking of wading into any online in/out discussions, I’d keep very quiet from a corporate perspective. However, if you’re wanting to let loose in private, these pros and cons I learned in my first tour of duty may help you decide how loudly to shout.
PRO: You’ll play a historical part in the (temporary, at least) enlightenment of a country
One of the big positives to come out of the Indy Ref was the level of engagement. A massive 84.6% of the Scottish electorate cast their vote – the highest turnout since the introduction of universal suffrage – and social media was a massive influence.
It’s still unclear if the engagement has lasted, but turnout at May’s Holyrood elections was back down to 55%. Admittedly that’s a scraping higher than the 2011 Holyrood ballot– but it’s falling well short of claims that “Scotland is now politically engaged”. What’s undeniable is that people here felt very strongly about constitutional issues.
CON: You might lose friends…
Some friends won’t agree with you and you may find it very difficult to reconcile those differences.
CON: …or make unsavoury new ones.
Referendums aren’t like elections. Everyone has the same choice. This splits the electorate into two camps and unavoidably results in nasty people batting for your team. Here in Scotland, reasonably-minded campaigners found themselves being followed, messaged, and their comms being shared by some very questionable groups (not to mention being endlessly associated with them by the opposition when convenient). It’s always been a good tip but is worth mentioning again: double check the source of what you’re about to share.
PRO: You’ll start using really interesting but obscure slang, adages and portmanteaus.
It’s started already (see Brexit). You may already know about Cybernats, Quislings, Red Tories and Yoons, but I’d never been accused of using a straw man argument and genuinely didn’t know what Godwin’s Law was before September 2014. My favourite, though, is fundilymundily.
PRO AND CON: You’ll be competing for audiences with self-proclaimed citizen journalists.
It’s a pro because you’ll find some really interesting views. There’s been an explosion of online political blogs and news sites, including quality ones like Common Space and Chokkablog. But it’s also a con as others are frankly dire.
PRO: You’ll find hilarious Twitter accounts
It IS the most important political event in our lifetimes - but lighten up! When looking at something as massive as our constitutional future try to at least to have a laugh sometimes. Check out @journostephen, @Jamieross7, and @AngrySalmond for starters. It’s good for your health, and you may need some respite.
The author works in communications in Scotland.
Picture credit: Florida Memory / Flickr