ScotRef Westminster Mismanagement

When losing is really winning

Written by David Bell

By Claire Howell

It is said that if you were to interview the gold, silver and bronze medalists in any competition after they stand down from the podium you would be given three very distinct views on their results. The person who won bronze would be ecstatic, after all the difference for them is a medal or not. The gold medalist feels a fleeting sense of euphoria but after that mainly relief. The poor old silver medalist though, feels crushing disappointment that they haven’t won the gold, for them there is a sense of lost opportunity with the hope they can have another go at grabbing top spot in the future. For the athlete their time is limited, they have a sell by date and a limited amount of future to reach that gold medal.

Ed Miliband

Ed Miliband could learn from the Yes campaign

Step forward to two months after the referendum and that palpable sense of relief still swirls around the No campaign’s victory. They didn’t celebrate their success well enough and it hardly feels like a win at all so soon after the vote. The polls for the No parties are dire and the backlash towards Labour makes even non Labour voters squirm in embarrassment. No one in the UK can possibly envy Ed Milliband whose personal ratings in Scotland are almost unbelievable.

Yet what about the runners up? For the Yes campaign are not being seen in a losing light, at least not by them. So successful have their members been recently that Jim Murphy, the favourite to be the next Labour Leader in Scotland said: “the horse that lost that two-horse race has spent the last 6 weeks parading round the winning enclosure.”

Like Jim Murphy you may have thought that all activists in the Yes campaign would have clothed themselves in sackcloth and ashes, such was their disappointment on the night. Many tears were shed over that weekend, disbelief that they nearly won and feelings of utter despair abounded. It barely lasted for a day.

They stuck to the positive can do approach as to what a successful Independent Scotland would look like. They batted away the project fear scaremongering and stuck to their beliefs. They did not waver and still have not entered into any period of self introspective doubt. No one would have blamed them if they had.

Alex Salmond said many times that a positive campaign will always shine over a negative campaign and that is true. You can win by running a negative campaign but you have to be a lot more negative than the other side. Rightly, in my view Yes stuck to being positive and that alone will take them over the finishing line first in the next race whenever that comes along.

Alex Salmond at BfS event in Aberdeen

Alex Salmond at BfS event in Aberdeen

The proof of the success of a positive campaign is clear to see in the vast numbers of people who have signed up to join the three parties that supported independence. The SNP have grown their membership to over 85,000 which now makes them the third largest political party by membership in the whole of the UK. The Green party in Scotland more than tripled their membership since the 19th of September and the Scottish Socialist Party have added over 2,500 new members to their party.

Not only have these parties seen a surge in membership numbers, but they have also benefited in recent election polling. The most up to date survey carried out by Survation gave the SNP their biggest ever lead over Labour in both Westminster and Holyrood voting intentions. If these polling figures were replicated across Scotland, the SNP could end up winning 52 Westminster seats at the General Election in May, an unprecedented number. The Greens have benefited as well, with their recent polling numbers suggesting they are now more popular in Scotland than the Liberal Democrats.

My view is this positive approach built an inherent sense of resilience in the Yes camp, a sense of right that has not been swayed by the result. This resilience will give the campaign longer legs for bigger strides the next time round, no one would bet against Yes winning next time and their supporters know it.

As for the bronze medal winner in this race then this goes to the Greens, they aligned themselves with the right side, they made it onto the podium and garnered thousands of new members along the way. They should be feeling ecstatic. The silver medal winners in this competition have bucked the trend, next time they just know it will be their gold to win.


Author Notes: Claire Howell is an acknowledged expert in the field of cognitive psychology and one of the most experienced executive coaches in the UK. Claire works with CEOs, professional athletes, political leaders, senior professionals, not for profit organisations and campaigns. She was was the architect behind the SNP running a positive campaign in the last two Scottish Government elections

Find out more about her and her company via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter or her company website.

Join Business for Scotland today.

About the author

David Bell


  • […] With reflection back to the Indyref it’s possible to see many of the same arguments playing out amongst the two sides. One saying that we’re facing a great leap into the unknown, the other saying everything will be plain sailing. I do note, however, that the Leave campaign are not being held to quite the same exacting standards as Yes was. The No campaign made very great efforts to force Yes to lay out in great and exacting detail everything that would have to happen post-hoc even when some aspects were largely or even wholly controlled by No. Negotiations over currency and Scotland’s place in the EU were two prominent examples. The doubling-down of the negative campaigning from Remain, doubtless a result of the “success” of its use in both indyref and in the 2015 UK General Election, makes me recall a statement made by Alex Salmond during the indyref campaign that whilst a negative campaign can be beaten by an even more negative campaign, a positive campaign could beat ANY negative campaign. Once again, it’s almost as if “Project Fear” looked only at the number of votes cast and decided to plough on ahead regardless of any other costs. […]

  • Very interesting article and a lesson in positive thinking. The difference between Yes and No today is we know what we did achieve. The NO side still don’t understand what they lost and the price it is costing them

  • Project Fear was so full of misinformation and downright lies, that the Yes campaign rightly thought their losing the referendum was due to cheating. They know that if the playing field had been level, they would have had an overwhelming victory. However, now that BT has been exposed time after time, they won’t have a single ace left up their sleeve the next time. As many of the participants were only fighting for their own personal gain, many won’t be here next time (or will have been elevated to the HoL), and the few that are left will have learned a valuable lesson.

  • The Greens didn’t ”align themselves with the right side”. Independence for Scotland has been a Green policy since 1990. And I believe it’s been SSP policy since the party was founded.

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