Kirsty Strickland: Why anti-BBC billboards are a terrible idea before indyref 2

CommonSpace columnist Kirsty Strickland says adverts about media bias in Scotland will not persuade No voters to vote Yes in a second independence referendum

YOU may have noticed the 'BBC Is Misreporting Scotland' stickers and posters that have been going around recently. 

In my local area I’ve seen them stuck to lampposts and on post-boxes. Last week, a Go Fund Me page was created to fund 10 billboards with the slogan to be put up across the country.

After six days of fundraising, the campaign has nearly hit its funding target of £8,500.

Read more – Nationalists raise thousands for anti-BBC billboard campaign

The organisers say: "As ordinary people tired of BBC distortion, we want to fund giant billboards across Scotland drawing everyone's attention to the ways in which they are being lied to.

"We know that a significant minority of people in Scotland still trust the BBC as a publicly-funded broadcaster, and are quite unaware as to how they are being misled."

Nicola Sturgeon announced recently at the SNP Conference that draft legislation for a second Scottish independence referendum would be published. The first minister is a canny politician and the only thing we know for certain is that she won’t call a second referendum until she is confident she can win it. 

Though we aren’t certain if/when #indyref2 will happen; that hasn’t stopped the jubilant cries of 'We’re getting the band back together' on social media. While we wait for the SNP to navigate the political waters that lead us to that point, some Yes supporters are chomping at the bit to get going again.

An image from the billboard crowdfunding campaign

In some respects, this is a good thing. Energy and enthusiasm is never something the Yes campaign was lacking. It’s not the intent that concerns me; it’s the method.

Take this billboard initiative, for example. Imagine you are a No voter – what message would you take away from it? That the BBC is biased? That every single thing it says about Scotland is done with the purpose of sabotaging Scotland’s future independence? Doubtful. 

Putting something on a giant poster doesn’t automatically make it believable. In truth, there will be far more people who glance at these billboards and shake their heads. That was my instinctive reaction when I saw one on my post-box and I’m a Yes supporter, for christ's sake.

So much of the intent behind this and other calls to "expose" the "MSM" (mainstream media) is rooted in the righteous belief that Yes knows something No doesn’t; that if we help them "see the light" they will disregard all their concerns about the economy, the deficit, pensions and what currency an independent Scotland would adopt. 

In reality, the only way to alleviate those concerns is to coherently and patiently address them. Telling people that they are so stupid they have fallen victim to an establishment conspiracy does nothing to quell those long-held fears.

We have to get tough with ourselves as a movement. Not all forms of campaigning – however well-intentioned – are helpful, you have to make smart moves.

We have to get tough with ourselves as a movement. Not all forms of campaigning – however well-intentioned – are helpful, you have to make smart moves. At the root of this is our inability to exercise a bit of restraint and humility at times. 

As a Yes voter you might not trust the BBC or care about the oil price but that, frankly, doesn’t matter.

Yes is not a social club or a family. Only speaking to each other and campaigning in our echo chamber might feel good but it doesn’t bring onside the people who we are asking to change their minds and their votes the next time round.

We have to be a bit more thick-skinned and stop whining that the 'yoons' started it. Or that a No voter was rude to us once so why even bother. This is too pivotal an opportunity to let pass by in a sea of grievance and negativity about everything being stacked against us. 

Life is tough. Convincing people to choose to leave a 300-year-old union, is tough. It is achievable, but realistically we’ve only got one more shot before it is off the table for a decade or more.

Only speaking to each other and campaigning in our echo chamber might feel good but it doesn’t bring onside the people who we are asking to change their minds and their votes the next time round.

If commentators are correct, and #Indyref2 is a possibility before the UK leaves the EU in 2019, then we’ve got to start as we mean to go on. In three years’ time we could be celebrating a Yes vote and moving forward with trying to create a better society. 

Or, we could be wiping away tears with our foam fingers, bitter about how we were stitched up again.

On the whole, the Yes campaign was hard-working, relentless and dogged. In the run up to indyref 2 I have no doubt that people will again be pounding the pavements, travelling across the country, nursing blistered feet and, occasionally, bruised egos.

We owe it to everybody that puts the graft in to not undo that work by directing energy/attention elsewhere and painting Yes as paranoid, fringe grievance hunters.

We have to take the rocky, exhausting, rough terrain of the scenic route on this one. Let’s not make that task harder by strapping weights to our ankles. It’s harder to swallow pride, acknowledge concerns and talk through them. It's much easier to tweet No voters and tell them to "wake up sheeple, you are falling for the corrupt yoon msm conspiracy".

We have to be a bit more thick-skinned and stop whining that the 'yoons' started it.

But 'winning' arguments on social media isn’t the same as winning hearts, minds and, more importantly, votes.

How many times have you changed something as significant as your vote because the side that wants it has insulted you and told you that you’re stupid? I’d bet, never.

Yes campaigners on the whole don’t spend their days calling people "yoons" or traitors. The majority don’t believe that BBC Scotland manipulated a photo of John Swinney to make it look like he had aHitler moustache. 

The majority of Yes probably agree these billboards are counter-productive and unhelpful. But it only takes a minority to divert attention away from the positive argument for Yes and breathe life into an embarrassing side-show.

I have criticised the BBC - many times actually - on a variety of issues. And I understand why people feel let down by some of its coverage during the independence referendum. But the answer to that isn’t abusing BBC presenters online, or protesting outside or putting up billboards across the country. It is in funding the alternative.

How many times have you changed something as significant as your vote because the side that wants it has insulted you and told you that you’re stupid?

If indyref 2 is in our near future, now might be a good time to take stock and refine our strategy. Let’s save the congratulatory rallies for when we have something to celebrate. Let’s keep the heed, practice what we preach and focus on the kind of society we want to live in in the future.

At the end of it all, we will have to come together. There will be no Yes and No; yoon and cybernat, traitors or separatists. We are and will be one Scotland, moving forward together. 

We’ve got the energy, numbers and enthusiasm; let’s start applying it effectively.

Picture courtesy of Kyoshi Masamune

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