To argue is natural; to debate is human.
Debating is the art of structuring an argument in a way to ensure that the audience will agree with you, and therefore that you will win. I learned when I had a brief experience with debating in secondary school that there are three specific forms of argument that can be used when debating, known as modes of persuasion.
The first is ethos. Ethos is the Greek for character, and this part of debating is an appeal to the audience’s morals; trying to persuade them that you are qualified and authoritative in the debate, what you are arguing for is the right thing to do, and consequently the other side of the argument is wrong.
The second is logos. Logos is the Greek for reason, and this form of debating is an appeal to the audience’s logic; persuading them that what you are arguing for is the sensible and logical course of action, and therefore the other side of the argument is irrational and illogical.
The third and final part of debating is pathos. Pathos is the Greek for suffering, and this form of debating is an appeal to the audience’s emotions; creating an emotional connection between them and your argument that persuades them that you are right and the other side is wrong.
Notice that pathos is the only facet of debating where the person making the argument is not persuading the audience, but encouraging them to persuade themselves. This makes it the most powerful form of argument.
The largest debate in Scottish politics at the moment is of course over the country’s independence referendum. The moral argument and logical argument are receiving heavy emphasis from both camps. The Yes campaign are trying to convince the Scottish public that Scotland can succeed as an independent country by looking at figures and quoting our oil and renewable energy potential and how Scotland pays more than its’ fair share of taxes. The No campaign are trying to show how Scotland benefits from UK “membership”, such as being part of the UN Security Council, NATO and a powerful member of the EU and keeping the pound, and casting doubt on whether Scotland can be as successful if it were independent of the UK. Both arguments, however, are skirting around the most powerful form of argument – going after people’s emotions – in their attempts to win the debate.
The emotional argument will surely have come up in strategy meetings for both camps. The politicians involved are some of the brightest debating minds in the country, and to ignore the traditional structures of argument would be ludicrous. I presume that the reason that neither campaign is tugging on the heartstrings of the nation is because they are afraid of appearing more interested in the style of the debate rather than the substance. It is a valid point – the debate is largely substantive, and with its’ immense consequences the focus of the campaign should be on issues rather than simply politics. But with a number of undecided voters, between 15 and 20 percent in most opinion polls, I think that both campaigns should be looking to engage the public on an emotional level to win people’s minds over to their side.
The Yes campaign has a massive untapped potential to invigorate a sense of Scottish-ness in the public to earn votes. In the 2011 census, 62% of Scotland’s population considered themselves Scottish only and not British compared to just 8% who felt British only. A total of 83% felt that on some level they had some Scottish identity. These figures show the level of support that Scotland has as a nation, and by appealing to people’s emotional connection with their nation in a stronger way, the Yes campaign could convert these people to supporting a Scottish state. Of course there is also the old nationalist sentiment of “being a nation again”, to quote “Flower of Scotland”. As that song rings out around our national stadiums for sporting events, it’s hard to quantify the feeling of Scottishness in the place – for a moment everyone is caught up in the feeling that this separatist song conveys. Maybe being as heart-on-the-sleeve as that may not be the best tactic, using some of the historical cases for independence may help the Yes campaign garner a few extra votes.
The No campaign’s job could be slightly harder to emotionally tie people to the UK considering those figures, but it can still be done. In the last three centuries, Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom have been joined together strongly in so many ways, both politically and culturally. Around 800,000 Scottish-born people live in England, the equivalent of 15% of the population of Scotland, showing how interconnected we are. This large group of people will all have families and friends in Scotland. In the 2001 census, 9% of Scotland’s population were born in another part of the UK – and will also share the same types of cross-border ties. The No campaign can appeal to these people, and those who will sympathise with them, with the point that splitting up families and friendships with a state border is not a good thing to do. There are many Scottish people who identify with English places and values and vice versa. It is these arguments that Prime Minister David Cameron spoke about a few weeks ago in a speech in London’s Olympic Park. Although many Scots may not accept the tenacity of his stated beliefs of keeping the UK together; if the No campaign can make this argument strongly enough, then perhaps it will be enough to succeed in the referendum.
The debate in the independence referendum has been widely considered as dry so far. There has been, as comedian Rory Bremner said in an interview in November, a distinct lack of humour in the campaigns – something which he says is “a very healthy thing in a democracy”. I agree with him to an extent, humour is a strong emotional force, but I understand politicians’ solemnity towards the potential divorce of the UK. Although humour may not be the way to do it, there certainly needs to be more personality in the debate to bring it to the level of the individuals who can’t decide based on facts and figures alone. Whether this is the place of head-to-head debates, like those that STV’s Scotland Tonight have been running (such as the upcoming debate between Nicola Sturgeon and Johann Lamont on February 25th) is contentious. More high profile debates between the likes of Blair Jenkins and Alistair Darling, or less realistically Alex Salmond and David Cameron, might make the independence debate more about personality than principles – but it would certainly take people off the fence.
The key players of the independence referendum campaigns will surely ramp up the rhetoric in the months between now and the referendum in mid-September. It’s a close contest at the moment, but with months left for each campaign to capture the hearts and minds of the public, I believe that if either can make a better connection with the Scottish people’s emotions, then they will be on the path to victory.