September 18th 2014 | Scotland

The power of positive campaigning

Written by Neil Evans on 3 September 2014
Pinochet graffiti

A point of pride for anybody who has been campaigning for a Yes vote for any length of time is that Scotland has reached this point with not one drop of blood spilled.

Regardless of the result on September 18th, no matter how febrile the debate may have seemed at times, the journey has been one of political persuasion and the ballot box, not oppression and armed struggle.

It could not be further away from the circumstances surrounding the vote in Chile in 1988 on whether to allow General Augusto Pinochet another eight years of his military dictatorship.

His regime saw 3,000 of his political opponents “disappear”, more than 30,000 were arrested and 200,000 were forced to live in exile.

And yet despite the brutality that had led to them to that point, it was a vote – a national plebiscite – on October 5th, that saw a No vote to continuing his regime triumph with nearly 56 per cent of 7 million people.

A key part of the No victory was a campaign that attempted to paint a positive and joyful vision of the future, complete with a 15-minute TV slot in the month leading up to the vote, with the slogan Chile, la alegría ya viene (happiness is coming).

Two years ago the film “No” starring Gael Garcia Bernal, attempted a retelling of the story that focussed solely on this marketing campaign, although ignoring other crucial aspects such as push to convince people to vote - a massive grassroots campaign that resulted in 92 percent of the electorate registering – and ensuring that a hugely diverse number of opposition groups worked together to bring about a No vote.

At the time the film came out I was surprised there was not more made of it in Scotland. Here, with the independence campaign already underway was a film about a referendum.
True, it would be dangerous to draw too many parallels between a vote on an independent Scotland and the end of military rule.

But, as the latest campaign advert from Better Together launched, with its suggestion to vote No if you love your children, perhaps a vital lesson could have been drawn from history on the power of positive campaigning.

Neil Evans