Democracy in a digital age

August 29th, 2014

 

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There’s been some tizzy over the last few days about people posting and sharing pictures online of selfies not only of ballot papers but filled in postal votes. Some say you should be jailed for it, others say it is harmless. I think it’s the finest expression of personal democracy.

A wiser man than me called Ian Cairns once pointed out that democracy isn’t the right to vote – it’s the right to choose to vote. There’s a subtle difference and it’s hard to argue with.

Democracy is not about the vote, it’s about you being able to participate in society and its politics in any way you choose:

  • You want to vote, you have the freedom to do so
  • You want to tell the world how you voted, free from state persecution, you have the freedom to do so
  • You want to keep your vote a secret and tell no-one? You have the freedom to do so.
  • You don’t want to vote, you have the freedom to chose not to
  • You think they are all rotten and want to stand for Government/Council/PTA yourself? You have the freedom to chose so.
  • And democracy also means you have to respect the (non-violent) rights of others even if you disagree

And not only do you have the freedom, you have the right. That’s democracy, that’s the right every person has in this country. If you live in a true democracy, the right not to vote is every part as valid as the right to vote. And the word here to remember is that it is your vote to do with as you want (except sell).

Digital expression has been used by many groups to gain further acceptance or legitmacy. It has helped 17 year olds with acne take on the world, it has raised awareness and money for charities and made unlikely celebrities.

Digital in this day and age is not about bytes or ones and zeros: it’s about sharing. The phrase Web 2.0 may be an overblown cliche but one fact from it is that people like to share things – from what would once have been considered private to the obvious.

But people share, often for free. We share love, we share kindness, we share information and sadly sometimes we also share hate but we share – and we will continue to share.

And that includes sharing pictures that reveal how people are posting.

At the time of typing this, there seems to be confusion over what is legal and what is not but I think it would be a hard thing for the Electoral Commission or others to consider penalising those who go online and reveal their own vote or share the an already public vote image. Here’s why:

  • Let’s be honest, it just wouldn’t be British in the noblest sense of the word. Expressing a democratic opinion peacefully? You’d fine or jail someone for that?
  • In the Terms and Conditions of most social media sites people accept that they give up the right to privacy with the material they share online.
  • By extension, most people now know that what they post publicly is there for the world to see (because changing privacy settings isn’t too hard on these channels)
  • Technically, hosting these images may make Facebook, Google, Instagram, Twitter, Kiltr, YouTube and others also liable as publishers (depending on the interpretation of Terms and Conditions) – you’d take them on?
  • Given that the majority of pictures posted so far seem to be backing Yes in the vote, can you imagine the cries of paranoid cybernats calling political consipiracy theory if the state chased these people up?
  • Equally, you would remove someone’s vote as valid because they posted it online? That’s democracy? No, it sounds more like a Burnistoun or Limmy sketch (“The Yes side won but because Big Tam in Govan and Mary D’oll from Partick posted their Yes votes online, we’ve ruled them out and the No’s win.”)

Democracy. People die for it, people die for the right to vote, people die for political expression. Come September 18 that won’t happen to you. You can vote and tell the world or not. That’s your choice, that’s your right.

That’s democracy.

Craig is the Digital Strategist for Weber Shandwick in Scotland. This is his personal opinion.


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What is Scotland?

August 19th, 2014

 

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To vote for an independent Scotland, we must first answer the question ‘what is Scotland?’, says Jon McLeod

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There’s a lot of Scotland in Derbyshire.

A statue of Bonnie Prince Charlie next to Derby Cathedral. Highland Games in Ashbourne. A haunted pub called The Gate in Brassington that was used as a Jacobite field hospital.

Why the obsession, you ask? Well Derby, of course, was where the Young Pretender decided he should turn back on his march to London.

The decision is commemorated at Derby City Museum, which has retained the panelled room where the ‘council of retreat’ took place. There’s also a rather unkind pie chart in the museum’s information booklet, which shows Charlie to be more Italian and Polish than Scots.

I suppose it is that way with all great heroes – they’re always rather less than they seem, and you should certainly never meet them.

But the tale also points up one of the wrinkles in the Scottish independence debate – namely the question of what is a Scot and what is Scotland. What am I, born in a bit of Cyprus that is considered British for military reasons, never lived in Scotland, but with a name as Scottish as haggis?

Bonnie Prince Charlie was an Italian-Pole marching to London with French support, as Hanseatic troops sailed to the aid of London’s Dutch monarch. Just shows what a crazy mixed up country we already were back then.

The Prince should, of course, have marched on, if the great artist Hogarth is to be believed. His hilarious painting of the press-gang raising troops on the northern fringes of London depicts just what a rag-taggle, drunken shower lay in store, spilling out of the pub at the call to arms.

Viewed from Westminster, the Scottish independence debate is almost entirely one-sided: ours is a unionist Parliament, and the overwhelming majority of political, press and media comment is squarely behind the ‘no’ campaign.

And it’s been a dreary campaign, only enlivened by the decision to use Al Green’s classic ‘Let’s Stay Together’ and Alastair Darling’s seemingly steroid-fuelled trouncing of Alex Salmond in the STV debate.  

The passion – or venom – of the ‘yes’ campaign hasn’t really permeated the collective political consciousness down south – except for the weird stuff about people being rude to J K Rowling. We hear talk of a grass-roots campaign, WOM (word of mouth) that may yet produce a surprise ‘yes’, despite the 57-43 split against that outcome in the polls as I write.

Yet the mood in Westminster is one of the pro-independence campaign about to be consigned to the dustbin of history.

Of course, a future alternative, which might prove more attractive to many outside Scotland is the option of invoking the Pictish ‘Auld Alliance’ with France.

A vote to approve a deal with France to swap Scotland with Burgundy, or Aquitane (including Bordeaux) has its attractions after all.

 

Jon McLeod

Chairman, UK Coporate, Financial and Public Affairs at Weber Shandwick

Jon is one of the country’s most experienced corporate communicators and lobbyists, with a strong track record in regulatory, financial and legal affairs.


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IndyRef’s biggest unanswered question: what if it’s a draw?

July 18th, 2014

 

Electoral workers begin counting votes in the fiscal treaty referendum in Dublin, Ireland

We all know what happens if the Pro-Indy movement wins (split up of the UK) and what happens if the Better Together movement wins (status quo) but there’s a third possibility no-one has considered: What if the #indyref leads to a draw?

Now before you scoff, it’s unlikely, but it’s not impossible. We spoke to Paddy Power and they put it at 1,000-1 which is the exact same odds Ladbrokes would have given you for Germany beating Brazil 7-1 in the World Cup semi-final. In fact when you look at the results of the last few elections they mostly end with an even number.*

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So what happens if there is a draw? It’s already been stated that there will not be a recount of the votes. Equally the normal council election rules of straws being pulled out a hat or the toss of a coin to decide don’t apply.

So what happens?

We reached out to the Electoral Commission and asked the straightforward question: “what happens in a draw?” After all, there must be something covering all eventualities in the Edinburgh Agreement or other paperwork, yes? To quote Bruce Willis in Armageddon, “you must have people around here thinking this stuff up?”

No.

In the words of the Electoral Commission: ”There is no provision [for the eventuality of a tie in the independence referendum] so it would simply be the declared result.”

So that means if it’s a draw, the status quo prevails, yes? Apparently not. The “no provision” part of the above means that there is no plan in place if it is a tie for either of the ruling. Not penalties, not mud-wrestling, caber tossing or a comparison of Facebook likes. No one knows what happens and who would be in charge.

We’re asking Better Together and Yes Scotland what they think should happen in the event of a tie and we’ll let you know what they say. But in the meantime, what do you think should happen?

* Every UK election since 1997 has had an even number of votes (31,284,698 in 1997; 26,366,992 in 2001; 27, 148, 516 in 2005 and 29, 687, 604 in 2010). In Scotland, every election since the Parliament was set up has been even numbers when you look at just the constituency votes except 2003. If you look at the total number of votes (including List MSPs) the numbers have been all odd.

UPDATE: We’ve just learned that STV’s Robert Dawson Scott wrote a mini-play for The National Theatre of Scotland on this very topic. And you can watch it below:

Dead Heat | The Great Yes, No, Don’t Know Five Minute Theatre Show from National Theatre of Scotland on Vimeo.

By Craig McGill 

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Craig is Weber Shandwick‘s Digital Strategist. 


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Germany vs. Scotland and the #indyref

July 15th, 2014

 

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On Sunday evening, Germany were crowned World Champions in a thrilling encounter in Rio de Janeiro.

In less than two months, on Sunday 7 September, the Germans will host Scotland in the opening qualifying match of Euro 2016 in Dortmund.

You’ll have probably read those first two sentences as asked ‘what on earth does this have to do with the IndyRef’?

Well, the answer as it turns out, could be a lot more than you might think.

There are some within the Yes campaign who privately believe that a Scottish victory in September could have a serious impact on the outcome of 18th September. They believe that a win over the world champs (echoing Scotland’s famous 1967 3-2 victory over the then World Cup holders, England at Wembley) could boost their support by 10%. A heavy defeat might have an impact too.

Others in the group believe a heavy defeat could see people rally round Yes and Scotland.  However, history suggests otherwise.

Linking the success of the national football team is not a first for Scotland either.

Many people (such as Hugh McIlvanney and Christopher Harvie) believe that a sporting collapse in Argentina was linked to the muted support for Scottish devolution in 1979’s referendum.

Back in 1978, Scotland went to a South American world cup with high expectations. Manager Ally McLeod whipped supporters (and the rest of the nation) up into a frenzy and many Scots went to Argentina with a sense of expectation, rather than hope.

Scotland's Football Captain Bruce Rioch

However, once in Argentina – the Scots lost to unfancied Peru, drew with Iran and inevitably beat the Netherlands in a ‘too little, too late’ final group game.

The impact on Scots was massive. In Graham McColl’s book ’78: How a nation lost the World Cup, Margo MacDonald described the aftershock: “People lost a lot of faith in Scottishness and their own abilities. Football is woven through the Scottish psyche.”

It’s not just Scotland where we can see the impact of a sporting result on political outcomes. Following last week’s humiliating 7-1 defeat to Germany, there is much speculation about how President Dilma Rousseff’s election prospects have been damaged ahead of Brazilians going to the polls later in the year.

Denis Howell, a former referee and Minister of Sport in Harold Wilson’s Government laid partial blame for Labour’s defeat in 1970 to England’s ejection from the World Cup just days before the election. His autobiography notes, “everything simultaneously began to go wrong for Labour”.

The idea that a game has to take place in close proximity to an election certainly gains credence when you look at a  2010 American academic study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which found that “A local [Ameican] football team’s win in the 10 days before an election garnered the incumbent senator, governor or president (or his or her political party) an extra 1.61 percentage points of the vote, the researchers found. They found no effect for games played earlier than two weeks before the election, suggesting that the game must be fresh in the voter’s mind to have an effect.”

Which brings us back to Dortmund. Our sources at Yes might be over-egging the pudding to suggest that a Scottish victory over the Germans might give the Yes campaign a 10% boost. But if the polls are tightening in the lead-up to the game, then the Scotland result could have much bigger implications than just three qualification points.

 

By Duncan McKay

Duncan is a member of the Public Affairs team at Weber Shandwick. He will be taking trams, planes, trains and a monorail to attend the game in Dortmund. He is definitely travelling in hope, rather than expectation.


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New YouGov poll

June 18th, 2014

 

YouGov

YouGov teamed up with The Sun to deliver this week’s third indyref poll.

This poll will have made for encouraging reading for the Better Together team.

The result puts Yes on 36% (-1), No on 53% (+2) and Don’t Knows down 1 to 11. It marks the first drop in Yes support in a YouGov poll since October 2012 whereas No are on their highest YouGov numbers since last September.

Also included in the YouGov poll were voting intentions for the 2016 Holyrood election, which, if replicated, will likely see another coalition administration in Edinburgh.

The results were as follows:

Constituency Vote

SNP — 35%

Labour — 37%

Conservatives — 14%

Liberal Democrats — 5%

Others — 9%

 

Regional Vote

SNP — 31%

Labour — 33%

Conservatives — 15%

Liberal Democrats — 5%

Greens — 8%

Others — 8%

 

When plugged into our Holyrood prediction tool, we see that Labour become the biggest party with 50 seats, followed by the SNP on 46. The Conservatives make a gain of two seats, with the Lib Dems losing a seat. The Greens would see their number quintuple from two to ten.

This poll certainly paints a different picture from last week’s Holyrood voting intentions poll from the last two Survation polls, with the latter predicting the SNP being returned as the largest party. However, there is one consistent theme across the YouGov and Survation samples with both predicting growing support for the Scottish Greens.

Holyrood16


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Panelbase and ICM poll analysis

June 16th, 2014

 

Panelbase

We had two more polls over the weekend, taking us to five polls in June already with half of the month still remaining.

It’s difficult to look at polls and argue that these two polls are anything but positive for the Yes campaign.

Both the ICM and Panelbase polls show an uplift in support for Yes.

The Panelbase poll,  commissioned by Yes Scotland, puts Yes on 43% (+3), No on 46% (-1) and Don’t Knows on 12% (-2). This marks the highest mark of Yes support in a Panelbase poll (apart from a much maligned survey last September).

In the ICM poll, Yes finds itself up 2% to 36% and No is down 3% to 43%. In previous ICM polls, the No vote has fluctuated month-to-month, with up-down being the only real trend. Despite a two point gain for Yes, 36% still represents the second worst polling performance from Yes in ICM polls since the turn of the year.

The two polls from ICM and Panelbase, added with last week’s polls point to an upward trend in support for Yes. We shall have to wait until the next installment to see if there whether a significant movement of support is taking place.

ICM


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