Normalisation Achieved: Counting the Xmas Trees

When I was a lot younger – I mean, before I was even at school – my mum used to take me to the local supermarket. I was the youngest of three, so the weekly shop involved a large buggy – kind of like an enormous collapsible pram, that could carry a giant cardboard box (the type that carried lots of boxes of eggs). We would leave home, and go along a winding way through Dudley, to get to the Leith Fort supermarket. On the way back, during the winter months, we would play a game: counting the Christmas trees in the windows of Dudley Avenue. As the days grew shorter, and the weeks remaining grew fewer, the number of trees would increase, until you had to be quite sharp to notice them all on both sides of the street.

I’ve found that I’ve been playing that game – or one very similar – recently. This time, it is with Yes posters or stickers. Day by day, and week by week, they have been building in number. I went down today to a newer larger supermarket than I used to go to with my mum, going a long way round, just to see out of interest how things were going over a wider area. Yes, there were indeed more up in the windows around Newhaven and Leith – spreading like a virus, as Johann Lamont might say…but I have still only seen the one ‘No’ property that I mentioned some weeks ago – that belonging to the Scotland For Marriage car owner. That upper window has been turned into something of a shrine now – with even a special light show on it last night. Fancy stuff.

I confess that the reason why I went out today was to buy a copy of the Sunday Herald, with its cover recording the YouGov poll putting Yes ahead by two points at 51-49. It was very satisfying to see – it has been a long time since PanelBase showed a similar 1 point lead for Yes last year, and as a polling company that has been strongly resistant to the ‘charms’ of Yes, for this to have come from YouGov is sweet indeed. This does not mean that I take anything as read in terms of a result from this – or from any other poll. Complacency can kill a campaign all too easily. But what it does signify is that with a headline poll commissioned by a highly respected London newspaper – in the blink of an eye – a ‘Yes’ win is suddenly a realistic prospect for the first time for many people.

This is part of the process that I talked about some weeks ago, when I spoke of badges and posters as being about ‘normalisation’ – a poll ‘win’ also very effectively normalises the idea of a Yes result. You only have to see the running and panicked response across Westminster this morning, George Osborne beating a trail to Andrew Marr’s studio door, to see that impact.

The process of normalisation for me, I guess, has been something that the online movement provided. As much as there is a danger in such conceptual environments to indulge in unhelpful ‘groupthink’, instead it has expanded the dialogue and enriched and invigorated people, making them committed campaigners and articulate advocates as to why Yes is important and indeed essential for the future. Although I’ve believed in the possibility of such a win since the SNP obtained their majority, I know that I initially thought it might only happen in a second referendum. But that belief has grown in confidence, particularly over the last year as I sensed the tide turning and the confidence quietly growing around me. The Normalisation of Yes – firstly amongst ourselves.

But many people need something like this to validate the idea of deciding to vote Yes – to normalise it for them – before they would seriously consider it. This morning, Gordon Brewer on Sunday Politics Scotland talked to some representatives of the 16 and 17 year old voters, and the one that declared himself ‘unconvinced’ enthusiastically observed that the poll influenced him…although, when challenged by Brewer, he backed away from the suggestion that it made him more likely to vote Yes as a direct influence. But I think his response was indicative of that ‘you know – I guess I could vote for that after all’ sense that comes from the perception that there are actually TWO real possibilities as ‘winning sides’. Its part of that subliminal need that many of us have, if not deeply and passionately committed to one outcome or the other – simply to be on the side of the winners.

It doesn’t mean that we are going to win because of it – of course. There are far too many ways that No could still derail Yes. But it means that people who would have found it difficult to vote Yes before, now find it a lot easier to consider doing so. And are more receptive to listening to the Yes message than they were two days ago. Of course, the drawback is that it may well also galvanise a new phenomenon – ‘No’ activists that don’t have to be paid or shipped in from across the border. In contrast, I don’t think that Yes supporters by and large are daft enough to become complacent after one poll result. We’ll see. In particular, we’ll see what appears in the next few days in terms of the garbled ‘additional offers’ that Osborne has mentioned this morning (although apparently without bringing Carmichael and Alexander into his ‘loop’, hilariously enough), in a textbook move from the 1995 Quebec playbook.

So. ‘Yes’ has been normalized – job done. Now let’s see how many of those newly receptive ears we can speak to in the last ten days. Will we get to enough of them? Well, to paraphrase Game of Thrones: Christmas is Coming.

Watch the Windows.


“The greatest awakening of political thought in our lifetime” (Derek Bateman, former BBC Scotland broadcaster)

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