“Scotland in a Zoom” Project Published

Our Scottish Future has today published the findings of a ground-breaking new project that brought together scores of Yes and No voters from across Scotland.

“Scotland in a Zoom” encouraged voters on both sides of the constitutional debate to actively listen and positively engage with each other, before seeing where they could find consensus on a path forward for the country.

More than 80 voters from across Scotland took part in the virtual project in February and March this year, in groups of twelve over Zoom.

While participants disagreed on the big question of independence, the conversation events revealed widespread agreement across the constitutional divide.

As part of the session, Yes and No voters were grouped together to set out their priorities over the coming years. The sessions found: 

  • The vast majority of Yes and No supporters agreed investment in the economy, NHS and education were the top priorities for Scotland.
  • Investment in the NHS as it recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic was the top priority overall, agreed by two thirds of the groups.
  • Tackling climate change was also frequently cited, with a third of groups agreeing it should be a priority. 

In the events, equal numbers of Yes and No voters were placed into groups and asked to seek agreement on a constitutional path for Scotland.  

Though a majority did not want a second referendum under the timescale set by the SNP Government, there was widespread agreement that the constitution needed to be discussed over the coming 5 years, and that more opportunities to engage with each other would be beneficial. 

Our Scottish Future has set out a series of recommendations on the back of the report.

We are calling for politicians on all sides to find ways to allow the public to keep talking about the constitution – through Citizens Assemblies.

But key issues such as fixing the NHS, tackling climate change, giving young people hope for the future, and providing better quality housing cannot be put on hold, given people’s shared belief in action now.

It follows the call by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown last week for both the UK and Scottish Governments to do more to cooperate with one another on the key challenges Scotland faces, and on the constitution. 

Our Scottish Future project manager Eddie Barnes said: “Despite the apparent 50-50 division in political debate in Scotland, the project showed that voters from either side of the constitutional divide share many of the same values and hopes for the future – and, crucially, want those values and hopes to be better reflected in our politics.” 

“Participants appreciated the chance to hold a respectful conversation with people they disagree with on independence and the union. We believe the lesson for political leaders is to find more ways to bring people together to talk and listen to one another about these key issues.”

Scotland in a Zoom co-author Andrew Liddle said: “This report found a clear consensus among both Yes and No voters that Scotland must seek to avoid repeating the mistakes of Brexit when addressing its own constitutional future.”

“That means politicians better engaging with voters, but also being patient and not rushing into decisions that risk unnecessarily dividing Scotland.”

A copy of the full report can be found here.

It was compiled by Andrew Liddle, Eddie Barnes, Henry Stannard and Laurence Shorter.

Please see case studies of two participants who took part in the event. 

NO – Chelsea Rocks, 24, from West Dunbartonshire

I am not one of those people who goes around saying how much they love Britain. I just don’t think there is enough evidence that Scotland would be better off independent, and my view is – why would we do something that leaves us worse off? That said, I don’t blame Yes supporters for wanting change – especially when you see the deprivation and inequality around us. If you’ve only got £10 left, then you might well feel it’s worth the gamble – what have you got to lose?

The event provided us with a forum to talk. To begin with, some of the Yes people in the room had quite a lot of misconceptions about the No voters – I think they saw us as Unionist flag wavers. But once we battled past that, we were able to have a back-and-forth conversation and it turned out that there was a lot of agreement. When it comes to the economy, to the heath service, to education, the truth is that we all want the same things,  we just disagree about how we get there.

The format of the event really helped. Even when you’re talking to family members or you’re in the pub, if the subject of the constitution comes up, it can just descend into – well you’re wrong, and I’m right. Spending time looking at what we agree on opens you up to the idea that you might both be right and that leads to a much more mature conversation. It was also an opportunity to us to find out why people think independence is a good idea. You don’t get that in social media or in Holyrood or Westminster where all you get is politicians going back and forth at one another. We need more spend more time focussing on the things we agree on and then look at how we go from there.

YES – Gary Reilly, 38, from Edinburgh

For me, it comes down fundamentally to how we take the country forward. What we’re being offered by Westminster is a politics that’s sliding further to the right at every election. I would argue that this isn’t what Scotland actually votes for, it’s also not what Unionists in Scotland support either.

I thought the 2014 vote would have been enough of a scare for Westminster for them to equip the Scottish Parliament with genuine power but instead we got a bit of tax and tinkering with social security. I just don’t think Westminster is able to offer the kind of change people in Scotland want. 

Scottish politics can be a bit of an echo chamber so it was really nice to have a forum where you could speak to people of a different point of view. There’s also a lot of common ground – when somebody is talking about the NHS and the importance of healthcare, you don’t know whether they are Yes or No. I was paired with a lady who had real concerns about the impact of independence on the economy; she had a valid point. I don’t think it will be easy and there will be tough decisions to take.

One of the things I come away with as someone with a Yes perspective is that you have to stick to the basics. People want to know how they are going to pay for their weekly shopping, for their kids’ schooling and for their families. The basics really matter. Things like the currency arrangement – we need to have a common-sense position that people can understand.

On the referendum, a lot of the concern people had was on the timing of it. We should wait until we are through the worst of Covid. I do feel that we won’t be equipped fully for that until we are independent and have the full scope of powers that independence would bring.

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