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Engagement in the 2014 Scottish referendum campaign

An interview of Jean Urquhart, Regional MSP for the Highlands and Islands
p. 247-251

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I. Who got involved ?

11. What was your personal involvement?

2Speaking in public meetings organised by others, visiting groups, canvassing on door steps, holding public meetings in the Highlands and Islands, writing letters, making phone calls, funding campaigns, etc.

3When did you decide to get involved?

4I guess when I joined the SNP in 1988.

5What proportion of your days/weeks were devoted to the campaign?

6From the time of the date of the referendum being announced, other than the work of an MSP, every other minute was spent on the campaign.

72. What about the people around you ie your relatives, your friends and your fellow party members? Did they get involved at all?

8Yes, my family were all involved and for the first time in politics.

9Was it a spontaneous move or did you have to convince them to do so?

10I believe they believed, half-heartedly perhaps, in Independence; but as the campaign got underway and they heard the ignorance with which their country was discussed by Westminster politicians, they became very active.

113. How can you compare your commitment and that of people around you to previous election campaigns?

12No comparison.

13What were the significant differences?

14They all became absorbed in the detail of the issues – Europe, single currency, borders, Schengen Agreement, etc. Previously, they’d put up a poster, maybe wear a badge, and hopefully voted for the SNP.

154. Was there sufficient coordination within Yes Scotland? What were the advantages/drawbacks of these umbrella campaigns?

16I don’t think the umbrella campaigns did a great deal and agree there wasn’t enough coordination perhaps with everyone.

175. What did you think of the involvement of Better Together both at national and local levels? Was it similar to yours?

18They seemed to have more money; and a big scary “into the unknown” story to factor real fear into many folk. Remember, the YES side, until a few months before the referendum, had NO paper press supporting, the BBC, although would claim to give political bias, didn’t reflect what was happening in Scotland. Nobody saw the pictures of 400/500 people in village halls, desperate for information. Better Together very quickly adopted a policy of not taking part in these meetings – citing “intimidation” or “violence”. I never saw any. I met some crazy no voters and I met some crazy yes voters; but no more or less than I’d meet in any campaign. I don’t know any family where members don’t speak to each other because they voted in a different way.

II. How did people get involved ?

196. Where did you campaign?

20All over Scotland, but mostly, latterly, in the Highlands and Islands.

217. Did you use traditional campaigning methods ie canvassing on the doorstep and/or by telephone?


23Did you then benefit from the support of the Yes Scotland campaign?

24Good supplies of merchandise and some information; but relied much more on social media, the Wee Blue Book, blogs, activists.

258. Did you use the social media?

26No, I was crap at that.

279. Did you use other means such as Yes shops etc?


29Did you initiate any of them?

30Only one local group, but hopefully encouraged others by being invited along to speak at inaugural meetings where groups got going as a result.

3110. What did you think of the means used by your opponents?

32Awful. Not turning up at debates and trying to paint the status quo as a good deal for Scotland.

III. The impact of this commitment

3311. Did you focus on electoral registration or on the vote which would be cast?


3512. Were people willing to listen to you and to discuss various issues?


37Where there significant differences between individuals depending on their class, gender, age, occupation?

38No, I don’t really believe so; although it might be the case that some of the older generation didn’t have the stomach for the challenge of a new nation.

3913. Were individuals willing to pay attention to opposite arguments or were they trying to reinforce their own views?

40Well, we changed the views of about 25% of the population within 18 months so I guess something was working.

4114. What kind of influence did you have?

42Only just lucky enough to have time to talk to folk.

43When did you get the impression that there was a significant shift?

44In the last couple of months.

45How can you account for it?

46Minds were concentrated as the date grew ever closer; and many folk did begin to buy into the possibilities on offer.

4715. Do you think that this engagement fostered divisions in Scottish society?

48Of course it did; but we have many divisions in our society and overall, no-one died and thousands became political.

IV. The 2015 General Election

4916. Were you as much involved as in the referendum campaign?


5117. Were the methods used similar to those during the referendum campaign?

52No, I don’t believe so.

5318. Was there as much enthusiasm on both sides?

54Lots of enthusiasm on the YES side for challenging Westminster, the Vow, the political alliances and the lies told during the campaign – these issues all came home to roost for the Unionist parties.

5519. What was the attitude of individuals who used to cooperate in the referendum campaign?

56You don’t give up politics once you have become engaged.

5720. Were you getting involved to deal with bread-and-butter issues or with the future of Scotland ?

58Most bread-and-butter issues are dealt with here in Scotland ; of course we were and are still involved with the future of Scotland, and the future of the Union.

59Any other comments ?

60The referendum has been a magnificent exercise in democracy. It has brought alive the political issues of our time and become a common place conversation in every home in Scotland. We simply cannot go back now and I don’t believe we will. Scotland, they say, is on a journey and I believe that to be true.

61Westminster is still getting it wrong in Scotland – the EU Referendum not allowing Europeans to vote, not allowing 16/17 year olds to vote – many of both of these groups were NO voters, but not next time. Lots has been written to clarify some of the issues that were so red hot, no-one listened well to the arguments at the time – ie single currency, passports, nationality, cultural difference, pensions. But now, playing back some of the footage of Alastair Darling positively drooling about how too poor Scotland was to manage her own affairs and how ridiculous the SNP were to even think such a thing would be possible ; to frighten people into believing that they might not see their families who lived in England – the list goes on. But the people haven’t forgotten ; and they let the Unionist parties know how they felt at the General Election 2015. I guess there’s more to come. Westminster will strangle Scotland financially now – new £ 170m cuts announced were no surprise ; selling off the public share of the post office, selling off more of the nation’s wealth to pay the deficit. Robbing the poor to pay the rich – and England showed a very different voting pattern and bought into the conservative narrative of austerity being the only game in town.

62And so we will have to wait, but maybe not for too long, until we have another referendum.

63We need to know that we can have 75/80 % wanting Independence before we hold another referendum – no good winning by a whisker – as we have seen ! Only 200,000 voters to take us to the tipping point ; we are probably there already and it’s just the confirmation of the others who will follow in due course.

64Propos recueillis par Edwige Camp-Pietrain le 10 juin 2015

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« Engagement in the 2014 Scottish referendum campaign », Observatoire de la société britannique, 18 | 2016, 247-251.

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« Engagement in the 2014 Scottish referendum campaign », Observatoire de la société britannique [En ligne], 18 | 2016, mis en ligne le 01 octobre 2016, consulté le 17 novembre 2019. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/osb.1881

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