GLASGOW, Scotland – Former SNP campaigner Stephen Noon has spent the last two years as the chief strategist of the campaign to ensure Scotland becomes an independent nation in next month's referendum. But with just three weeks to go until the vote, and with his campaign behind in the polls, he's got a fight on his hands to win over undecided voters and grasp victory.
In a Glasgow café close to the Yes Scotland headquarters, Noon told BuzzFeed what his team will do in the final weeks of the campaign:
1. Make the most of concerns among voters that Scotland's NHS is under threat.
Noon was happy to make the most of the contentious debate over whether funding for Scotland's devolved NHS would be threatened by cuts in England. What's more, Yes Scotland's chief strategist suggested the issue could help build support for independence among female voters, who are less likely to support independence.
"The Labour party in England is going on about the existential threat to the NHS, and if that happens in England then there'll be a knock-on effect in Scotland," Noon said. "That's a very powerful argument for a lot of people. It has a particular resonance with women."
And he reckoned that keeping the debate in the headlines could could help wavering voters believe they have a choice between more Conservative-led UK governments or a more social democratic, independent Scotland: "The NHS debate is useful beyond just the issues of the NHS. It creates that choice of two futures."
2. Ensure Yes Scotland supporters pester half a dozen friends who might be convinced to vote yes.
Yes Scotland volunteers are asked to target "six or seven" undecided voters in their social circle who they can have conversations with. Information is provided from the central campaign, but "then they work out the best conversations to have," said Noon.
And he held up his mum's efforts as a perfect example of what thousands of volunteers are doing: "She identifies individual friends and then gives them bits of information, even if it's two or three pages printed off the website."
What the pro-independence campaign hopes is that if you convince enough people to lobby their friends, you can create the sensation that the country is uniting behind a Yes vote. "Our aim is to build a groundswell, so that if you are an undecided voter in the final week, the cousin you're speaking to, the work colleague you're speaking to, the neighbour you're speaking to are all reflecting back that feeling that everyone's voting Yes."
3. Use a massive database that ranks Scottish voters on a scale of 1 to 10 according to their support for independence.
Yes Scotland has recorded enormous amounts of data about individual voters by using its volunteers. Potential voters are asked to rank how much they support independence on a scale of 1 to 10, "with 10 being definitely voting".
"The straight Yes or No question doesn't tell you anything: someone could be 6 on the scale and be a No voter," explained Noon. "But [a 6 means] they're not far from being a Yes voter."
The campaign wouldn't let on how many voters are registered on this database, but claims it's receiving 10s of 1,000s of pieces of information every week.
4. Use social media as much as traditional media, and trust people to do their own research online.
"In an election campaign politicians can get away with soundbites and assertions," Noon said. "But with this, [voters] are not trusting anyone, they're finding out information themselves. The traditional media is important but it's by no means as important as it used to be."
He insisted that Yes has a "significant lead" over No online, where its campaign is run by former journalist Stewart Kirkpatrick.
5. Hope that people will ignore the anti-independence campaign's “scare tactics”.
Noon reckoned the anti-independence Better Together campaign miscalculated by "running the same scare stories for two years", meaning many Scots are bored of arguments designed to make them fear independence.
"They've got the tone wrong," he said. "It's a campaign run by people based in London or who spend most of their time in London. They're not properly tuned in to the referendum mood. It comes across as rich and powerful people telling them what to do."
6. Don’t spend too long talking about the currency issue.
Alex Salmond has admitted that he struggled in the first televised independence debate to explain how an independent Scotland will continue to use the pound as its currency.
But Noon claimed this won't derail the campaign: "The No campaign's big claim is that if we lose the UK, we lose the pound, but that's demonstrably not true," he said. Instead, he reckoned people are doing their own research online and concluding that Scotland can still use the pound, "whatever Westminster tells them".
"Each time the No campaign has played the currency card hard they've lost support." he insisted. "The No campaign have overegged it, and they've pitched it wrong."
7. Trust your grassroots supporters, and give them the freedom to make the case for independence on their own terms.
"When we first began [the Yes campaign], a lot was about, how do we create a grassroots campaign?" Noon said. Instead, the official campaign has decided to step back and let people join whatever organisation they want, from official Yes Scotland campaign groups to other pro-independence groups such as the entrepreneurs of Business for Scotland or the artists of National Collective.
"The point at which we let it go but they also picked up the reins themselves was great. The No side has got a very traditional command and control campaign."
On the day of the vote, these people will be marshalled to "increase visibility" of the pro-independence campaign, but not to get voters to the poll, since he reckoned turnout will be as high as 80%.
8. Ignore the opinion polls that show the pro-independence campaign is behind in the polls.
Noon said the pro-independence campaign, which has never had a lead in the opinion polls, could win next month's vote even if it never leads a poll, because it makes the volunteers work extra hard when they know they're behind.
"The response on doorsteps is better than what we're seeing in the polls," Noon said. "A good number of our volunteers think we're further ahead than we really are. Our campaign is designed to win on 18 September. If the only time we're ahead is on the 19th, then I'll be delighted."
9. Don’t ask for Braveheart to be shown on TV the night before the vote.
"We've got to get the final week right, the mood, the tone and the emotion of it," he said, criticising the BBC and "metropolitan media" for covering the debate in superficial tones rather than as a policy debate.
So this means less tubthumping Hollywood-style haggis-n-kilt patriotism and more economy-and-securing-the-NHS nationalism: "We've got to be forward-looking and have confidence in ourselves. Calm, happy, smiling laughter. Anything that creates a bubbling confidence so that people are in a good mood and are confident about themselves and confident about Scotland."
Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Jim Waterson at email@example.com.
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