2007 - 2021

Tribes and How to Win Them


Today everybody’s gone tribal. Prompted by Gerry’s account of Labour’s extended huff (A nation defined by more than party prejudice) and this rather generous advert by the BBC for the No campaign (Scottish independence: Better Together targets voter ‘tribes’) Bella brings you a breakdown of the various tribes within the Don’t Know and No voters …

1. Don’t Know Yet Brigade: some may be waiting for the White Paper, some may have entirely legitimate questions they don’t yet get, some may be intrinsically cautious. Just be glad they haven’t been overwhelmed by the deluge of darkness thrown at them by Project Fear

Suggested Yes tactic: listen and avoid ramming certainty and essentialism their way, it’s bound to be completely unproductive. Important question for all Yes campaigners: how do you distinguish between scare stories and legitimate questions?

2. Trapped Tribes of Alba: trapped in their own tribe despite all exposure to logic many people are left on the wrong side of the debate despite agreeing with 90% of the Yes campaign. Think: members of the Labour Party and progressive people who have spent 40 years campaigning against Trident or for social justice. Commonweal project has released many folks looking for an excuse to make the move but stuck in anti-SNP headlock of their own making.

Suggested Yes tactic: engage engage engage.

3. Who Moved my Cheeseites: implacably resistant to any change whatsoever, this group is pathologically against notions of movement. They have a fixed view of the universe in which the Queen is the Head of State and all things are good as they are. Motto: nothing must ever change.

Suggested Yes tactic: study management manuals for answers. These Cheesers need to think they are the agents of change, which, unparadoxically, they are (!)

4. Yesterday Was Better: trapped in the 1950s this group long for the days when tv ended with the national anthem and women knew their place. Helpfully this group’s worldview is played back to them on a continual loop by publicly-funded celebrations of enshrined feudalism, monarchy, street parties, ‘Look There’s a Princess’ wall-to-wall media coverage, repeat-Jubillees, constant remembrance, Kirsty Allsop TV and bunting-based boosterism.

Suggested Yes tactic: roll out the shortbread tin and portray a future Scotland as a couthy place where gentlemen wear plaid troose and ladies serve coffee cake and Black Bun. Have to overcome base deference. Present Bullingdon Club Cabinet as ideological revolutionaries destroying the fabric of British society (shouldn’t be difficult). Motto: for things to stay the same everything must change.

5. Low Aspiration Unionists: operating on a very low frequency and addled by decades of managed decline, this group can be persuaded to consign their country to rule by others with only four letters: UK:OK.

Suggested Yes tactic: suggestions welcome.

6. Swithering Jenny’s: people who believed Skyfall was a good film, or decided they were British Loyal Subjects because they saw someone row a boat in the Olympics. Change their mind every other day depending on what’s on Call Kaye.

Suggested Yes tactic: the Ryder Cup should do it.

7. Don’t Know Don’t Care Won’t Vote: a huge untapped group – need inspiration and not-so-subtle tactics. But while it may be easy to write this group off, they may also be a sub-set of another group who articulate: ‘I’ve not seen any reason to vote Yes yet’.

Suggested Yes tactic: need genuine inspiration combined with practical reasons for change. Voter registration also essential.

8. Apolitical Cultural Scots: in the opening to Unstated Scott Hames wrote: “Over the past three decades, it is commonly argued, Scotland achieved ‘a form of cultural autonomy in the absence of its political equivalent’ (Murray Pittock) – a transformation led by its novelists, poets and dramatists.” There’s a danger here that the extent to which we have (an element of) cultural autonomy people feel there is no need for political change. The start of #TradYes and the intervention of Ally Bain may be helpful, but the reality is people need to move beyond identity politics..

I believe that all decisions regarding Scotland internationally and at home should be made by people living in Scotland that have our nations interests at heart. For too many years of my life I have lived under Westminster governments who neither I, nor the majority of Scottish people voted for, and I fail to understand how this is acceptable.
– Ally Bain

A subset of the culturally-inspired but politically apathetic are perhaps 90 Minute Patriots who will get very exercised about all Scottish sporting activities but seem un-bothered that we’ve seen a massive rise in Foodbanks because of benefit changes from a govt we didn’t elect. Less face-paint more elbow-grease required.

Suggested Yes tactic: engage engage engage. Open culture wars but also need to continue to stress the prospect of endless austerity.

9. Bitter Togetherists: Led by the unholy triumverate of Willie Bain, Michael Kelly and Brian Wilson this is a set who have a tribal hatred of the SNP and even if an independent Scotland was a guaranteed utopia, they would oppose it on the grounds of narrow party politics.

Suggested Yes tactic: avoid entirely and allow them to cook in a ceviche of their own bile.

10. First Time Voters: young and very young voters engaging with these big issues face a real challenge. We’ve never done this before. Many will have an instinctual desire for change but if you’ve never personally looked after yourself it’s difficult to imagine your country doing so.

Suggested Yes tactic: inspiration, education and registration. Use different channels and platforms. How many 17 year olds watch Question Time?

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  1. Barontorc says:

    I think you’ve nailed it, but with rather an obvious category miss, the – orange card carriers. However, absurdly preposterous it may be but, they could gather comfortably under the rallying banner held stupidly aloft by Irish nationalist sympathisers and perverse Scottish refusenik hypocrites Kelly and Wilson.

    The mind boggles!

    1. Could be the orange card folk may vote yes for progress but wont tell anybody as its a secret vote!

      1. Dave Coull says:

        There’s more than one kind of bigotry, and it’s rather noticable that some of the “green” variety are quick to make assumptions re their opponents, while ignoring inconvenient facts like the entire board of Celtic football club supporting “Better Together”. I know “orange” folks who are thinking of voting YES. As for not telling anybody, well, they’ve already told me.

  2. Brendan Hamilton says:

    As a generic and pedantic 3 & 4er, (with a will for this country to head out), I’d suggest that wearing ‘Trews’ would be the one there. Eating black bun as I type!

  3. Tribalism is, in my opinion, the root of all human evil, whether it’s on the football terraces or at the gymkhana. It’s bad enough that Better Together have fallen into this disgusting way of thinking; I’m extremely disappointed that Bella Caledonia has decided to jump in with them.

    1. Paul

      I don’t think the author is advocating a separate Tribe for them to join and be part of.

      In my mind they are identifying the groupings of people and, generally speaking, their motivations to be where they are now.

      One can only pose questions and present facts which pertinent to whichever grouping they cluster.

      After that is is for them to decide which way to go.

      No one will be beaten with rubber hoses.

      You can take a horse to water etc.

      1. innerbearsdenurchin says:

        It is a bit like your website where you video asks if the viewer requires something written (I paraphrase) which chimes with what they wish to say. Targeted writing. It is just the same and what Bella is suggesting.

    2. bellacaledonia says:

      You may have temporarily mislaid your sense of humour Paul?

      1. innerbearsdenurchin says:

        I don’t seem to be able to spot my punctuation, grammar and spelling mistakes on anything I write onto this screen until I see in context or even better in print.
        Now you all know why I call myself, Bugger.

  4. Dave Coull says:

    By far the most important group, far too big to be considered a mere “tribe”, is the half of the electorate who did not vote at the last election. Generally speaking (and while acknowledging loads of exceptions on both sides), this group tends to be financially poorer than the half of the electorate that did vote. They also tend to be more skeptical about politicians in general: what’s the point, they’re all the same.

    For this half of the electorate, it is important to stress that this is NOT an election. It’s just a straight YES or NO to the question “Should Scotland be an independent country?”, and, no matter which way you vote, not a single politician will get elected. But if there is ever to be any chance of anything changing, it has to be YES. With this poorer half of the electorate, you don’t have to worry about being “moderate” in case you offend a Tory voter, you can call David Cameron a rich privileged upper class prat, and you can agree that you wouldn’t trust that Alex Salmond as far as you could throw him (well, I wouldn’t, anyway) and the answer is still YES.

    It is vitally important that the YES campaign makes a point of thoroughly canvassing streets and areas that sometimes tend to get neglected in general elections, on the grounds that folk there are less likely to vote, or because the election outcome in that constituency is thought to be a foregone conclusion. In a referendum, there ARE no constituencies, and it really is a case of every single vote counts.

    Also, as has already been noted, voter registration is essential. If you own your own house and have lived there for umpteen years, then you are virtually certain to vote, but you are also more likely to be conservative (small “c”). If you have had to move within the last couple of years, possibly because of problems over mortgage or rent, you are more likely to be open to radical ideas, but less likely to be on the electoral register.

    1. Braco says:

      Dave Coull,
      Very good post, thank you.

      I would just add that when you emphasise to this section of the electorate that ‘… no matter which way you vote, not a single politician will get elected’, I think it would be very helpful to also state bluntly that a ‘YES’ vote will instantly result in the sacking/redundancy of a good half of Scotland’s existing political class!

      That alone is enough to motivate me. Of course half is by no means satisfactory, but as a first step it’s quite impressive.

      ‘YES’ is simply the only route available that guarantees a well deserved and radical Scottish political cull.

      I think this is a popular and motivating message amongst the large group of non voting electorate that you have correctly focused on as very important to the final result. It is also avowedly non ‘party political’, another important selling point to the politically skeptical.

  5. Douglas says:

    Excellent piece, Mike Small…:Here’s my pub line for what it’s worth:

    Scotland has the internal contradictions of a nation state…three languages, three different geographical regions, and three hundred years of oppression…

  6. This us a lighthearted, but pointed good contribution. Ive maintained for some time that a major fault in our previous thinking was that all who were not ‘yes’ or ‘no’, were all the same. Dont knows are not the same as undecideds… Etc.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Also Don’t Know’s are not the same as Won’t Know’s

      1. Braco says:

        Mike Smail,
        thanks for the article. I think it helps emphasise the many different ways in which ‘Independence’ is the only really relevant answer to the many varied concerns held by the electorate over the future direction Scotland is being moved in.

  7. Tom Potter says:

    Must agree with Dave Coull, in the same vein how is Indy going to lead to a better and more inspiring democracy?

    1. innerbearsdenurchin says:


      It will not, not on its own.

      We have to do it.

      Independence is a journey not a destination.

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