Battle of the nation brands
The Scottish electorate voted on the question ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ on Thursday 18th September 2015. The UK Government stated that if a simple majority of the votes cast were in favour of independence, then “Scotland would become an independent country after a process of negotiations”. If the majority voted against independence, then Scotland would continue within the United Kingdom (1). In addition, further powers would be devolved to the Scottish Parliament as a result of the Scotland Act 2012. This article looks at some of the drivers and barriers from a political branding and also marketing perspective.
The Scottish electorate
Scottish residents over the age of 16 were eligible to vote, and according to the National Records for Scotland, 4.1m people registered to do so (2). Though of nearly half a million EU citizens living in Scotland just 94k registered. 16-17 year olds also voted for the first time. This is as a result of a political bargain or trade which suggests different benefits to the different political sides.
Influencing starts with awareness of an issue or opportunity. Appreciating or rejecting an idea, engaging (and potentially interacting with other influences or influencers) then follows to reinforce or change voting intention and behaviour. Research in political science has traditionally ignored non-rational considerations in theories of mass political behaviour though a growing literature suggests that affective states (i.e. emotions or feelings in contrast to cognition) are both beneficial and biasing (3). Further research (4) also found that anxiety and enthusiasm encourage more evaluation and consideration of political choices. In addition that events such as the outcome of football matches (5) and the weather (6) can stir emotions and affect voting decisions.
How does the electorate perceive the question?
The ‘Yes’ camp framed the question as Scotland vs. Westminster and painted Westminster, and the likes of David Cameron, as the enemy. Meanwhile, the ‘Better Together’ team argued that the question is not about choosing between two states but about choosing between one or both. Though through the electorate’s eyes there is a greater spectrum of options from Scotland the brand, to both Scottish and British brands. However, exactly where perceptions lie is key to electoral success.
What are the benefits of Scottish Independence?
Establishing the benefits or disbenefits of Scottish independence is difficult as much is unknown. Financial management was centre-stage, with the ‘Yes’ campaign playing up the benefits of the oil reserves. Equally ‘Better Together’ stressed the ability of the UK to offer longer term financial stability. Both sides also espouse the benefits of their causes, and the negatives of the other. For example, while the ‘Yes’ campaign manifesto claims to have a costed and credible plan, ‘Better Together’ disagree.
At the most rational level, some studies suggest that voters vote for what they do not want to lose, as much as what they hope to gain (7). Which is why spreading fear, uncertainty and also doubt is a strategy employed by both sides to ‘diss’ the other.
Our experience is that emotional arguments are more likely to hold sway. These are more deep-rooted than price/value arguments. For example, that Scottish independence gives Scotland greater control. Thus the ’Yes’ campaign challenge is to make this a meaningful benefit and convince the electorate that they can be relied on if granted ‘more’ control.
A distinctive Scottish voice?
A distinctive Scottish voice or personality is another feature of independent Scotland. Though the challenge is also to make this compelling. Historical evidence suggests ‘Scottishness’ is reasonably clear (Burns, bagpipes, whisky, golf, scenery etc.) though future ‘Scottishness’ is harder to comprehend. The Saltire, for example, is more ubiquitous in Scotland, than the flag of St. George in England. It is possible that a distinctive Scottish voice could raise Scotland’s profile and status on the world stage. It could also raise self esteem. All are particularly powerful emotional benefits. Thus this perhaps explains why a lot of effort has gone into defining Scotland the brand (8) and promoting Scottish iconography. Though one suspects the electorate are unaware of the underlying strategic nation branding effort.
Nevertheless, all things Scottish instill pride in being Scottish as much as the white rose, Yorkshire County Cricket Club, and Yorkshire Dales instill pride in Yorkshire folk. Pride is a powerful emotional benefit and is rooted in history as well as personal experiences.
A key issue is whether voters prefer ‘Scottishness’ over ‘Britishness’
Or the best of both. While the concept is ‘Britishness’ is harder to define, the Prime Minister recently attempted to do so (9), and the London 2012 opening ceremony illustrates some elements.
- Brand promotion is a precursor to brand recognition and engagement whether in politics or not. So use multiple means, and all available relationships to promote your brand and identity in places where it has positive and credible associations.
- Abstract ideas are hard to understand yet alone agree with so clearly articulate goals to tangibilise an idea and foster support.
- Persuasion requires the winning of hearts and minds. Though different customer segments have different agendas; some are more cerebral, some more sophisticated, and some more emotional or cost driven. Thus by understanding the needs, and hot buttons of all, it is easier to devise messages and policies that resonate and persuade. And also avoid alienating.
- For those competing in high risk and high reward markets, be ready for ever-increasing scrutiny and challenge.
- And what’s our opinion? Make emotional benefits centre stage to your political branding strategy. Further, in the run up to, during and beyond the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games brace yourselves for even more emotion!
Post election update; as the ‘nayes’ won, we’re delighted to retain our Scottish cousins …. though there are maneoverings for #indyref2 – return of the big beasts.
- About the Scottish Independence Referendum, UK Government, May 2014
- National Records for Scotland May 2014
- Andreadis, I; Chadjipadelis, Th. (2005), Differences in Voting Behaviour, pp. 1-13
- Kyogoku, J; Ike, N. (1960) Urban-Rural Differences in Voting Behaviour in Postwar Japan, pp. 167-185
- Marcus, G; Neuman, R; MacKuen, M. (2000), Affective Intelligence and Political Judgement, University of Chicago Press
- Healy, A; Malhotra, N; Hyunjung Mo, C. (2010), “Irrelevant events affect voters’ evaluations of government performance”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences if the United States of America 107 (29); 12804-12809
- Kahneman, D.; Tversky, A. (1984), “Choices, Values, and Frames”, American Psychologist 39 (4): 341–350
- Scotland the brand aims and characteristics.
- Cameron, D. Stop being bashful about Britishness, June 15 2014, Mail on Sunday, as reported by the BBC.