Managing alignment with the Highlands on the line

I’m half Scottish. That may come as a surprise to some of you since I have a non-regional accent (perks of growing up abroad) but if you met my father, it really wouldn’t. Typical Scotsman with a pride in his homeland that would rival anyone’s despite his now living in England. This of course gives me the opportunity for a decent debate when it came to the topic of the Scottish Independence vote and the approach of Alex Salmond/the SNP. Simply put, my fathers opinion of Salmond’s politics is not a positive one and I’ll admit that the term ‘propaganda merchant’ was used repeatedly.

Alex Salmond, Head of the Scottish National Party that is at the forefront of the Independence debate.

Alex Salmond, Head of the Scottish National Party that is at the forefront of the Independence debate.

Despite my own misgivings about the referendum, and my own feelings that a ‘No’ would be a political, economic and social disaster for both Scotland and the remaining countries in the UK, I can’t help but admire Salmond’s technique. From a Comms perspective, his winning near 50% of my fellow Scots over to his ‘Better off alone’ viewpoint (compared to only 23% two years ago) makes for a fascinating case study on strategies for change management.

What I find impressive, is not only his oratory ability (which may in part be why he has a reputation for being a ‘propaganda merchant’) but his technique in aligning Scottish voters to his viewpoint over the last few years. A mere year ago, many would have said it could not be done, but despite the slow build up, he has managed not only to split a nation’s perception of the UK nearly in two, but to a level that is spurring nearly half the Scottish population to vote to abandon the rest, and the rest of the UK in one fell stroke. Whether that actually happens is something we will have to wait until 10pm this evening to establish.

At the 2013 Ethics in Internal Communications summit, Spencer Foxx of The Reputation Institute stated that there are three key reactions towards the introduction of a new value system.

The Scottish passion for freedom is a historic part of their heritage.

The Scottish passion for freedom is a historic part of their heritage.

He claimed that 10% of those exposed to a new idea would have an automatically positive perception of it (in this case the idea that Scotland should be independent) whilst 70% would be initially indecisive and therefore need persuasion. He also stated that 20% of respondents would hold a solidly negative perception and that to achieve their support, the ‘idea-pitcher’ would need to gauge what it is that is driving their stance or viewpoint?

Salmond’s strategy hinged on tuning into the average Scottish psyche so as to engage them on areas of public policy which were already generating Scottish discontentment, namely: unemployment, healthcare and energy. By stimulating dialogue around these highly emotive areas whilst adopting an attitude of Nationalist pride and Wallace-esque ‘Freedom!’, he was able to generate enough exposure and public displeasure that we are now in this politically precarious position. After all, as said in Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’; “He who controls the mob, controls Rome”, or, in this case, Scotland.

It is time however that is the key factor that has lead to the small margin between the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ campaigns. The long campaign period taken by the SNP prior to today’s vote has given them the time needed to sway the Scottish public towards their perspective through both hard and soft selling via lobbying, media relations and stakeholder engagement.

It’s a historic evening all in all to see whether Salmond’s strategy pays off, or whether the United Kingdom remains ‘United’ after all. Suffice to say that regardless of either ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, tonight’s event is yet another indication that devolving the British government and giving more political responsibility to local councils.

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