Nobody else is going to do this, so we’ll do it ourselves.
On August 11 last year, this site published a document called The Wee Blue Book. Over 800,000 copies of it were downloaded directly from this site alone in the weeks before the independence referendum, and uncountable numbers from other places. It was converted into all manner of formats, recorded as an audiobook, translated into Gaelic, and made into a website.
More importantly, to get its message to people who wouldn’t normally read a partisan Yes website, we also printed 250,000 paper copies ourselves (paid for through an incredibly successful fundraiser), and over 50,000 were printed by other people.
From the beginning of September an ad-hoc grassroots volunteer team then undertook the ridiculously, madly ambitious logistical task of distributing the books to every last corner of Scotland, from the remotest farm in the Borders to the furthest-flung islands of the north and west, and – despite no experience whatsoever – succeeded.
The Wee Blue Book was sent out into the world with an explicit mission goal of reaching the undecided. Where our volunteers had access to canvass data (which was almost everywhere) they were told to target Don’t Knows only. With demands from campaign groups for five times as many books as were available, wasting precious copies on already-Yes or impossible-No voters was an unaffordable luxury.
But did it achieve anything? All we have to judge that by is polling data. There were 22 opinion polls published after the release of the book. In the rest of 2014 there were another 46, which breaks down conveniently into two groups of 23 each, almost the same size as the post-WBB group for handy comparison purposes.
Taking polls in groups of 22/23 at a time smooths out momentary spikes and troughs, the differing methodologies and sample types of the five main pollsters, and the standard margin of error. So what do the three sets of 2014 opinion polls tell us?
Average Yes vote: 35%
Average No lead: 12.2%
The No camp’s lead in these months varied from a freak high of 25% (Ipsos Mori in late February – the only other lead in the 20s was a 20% from Survation at the end of January) to a low of just 5% in three different Panelbase polls in March and April.
Average Yes vote: 36.3%
Average No lead: 10.9%
This time the gap ranged from a mere 3% (ICM in April and Panelbase in June) up to a peak of 20% (YouGov in early August). But in those four months the Yes campaign nibbled away just 1.3% of the average No lead.
Average Yes vote: 43.3%
Average No lead: 3.7%
In the five weeks after the publication of the WBB, the average Yes vote leapt 7%, and the No lead plunged by 7.2% – more than five-and-a-half times as much as it had dropped in the previous four months, in a quarter of the time.
Interestingly, the gains almost all came from the Don’t Know group that the WBB had directly targeted – the average No vote dropped by just 0.5% (from 47.5% to 47%).
We have no way of knowing how much, if any, of that dramatic narrowing was down to the book. Perhaps it’s entirely coincidental that 300,000 copies of a detailed, sourced case for independence being delivered specifically into the hands of undecided voters saw two-thirds of them switch to Yes.
We also need to note, of course, that when it came to the actual vote No won by over 10%. The late loss of nerve at the ballot box that characterises almost all decisions about massive change took place as expected – the 6.9% movement from Yes to No on polling day very closely resembled the last-minute 7.2% Yes-to-No shift that turned round the second Quebec independence referendum in 1995.
But it was a momentary – albeit crucial – panic. After the vote opinion moved straight back again, and the average No lead in the next 23 polls, spread across a full 12 months, has shrunk further to just 1.6%. Having seen the Unionist parties renege on their promises, we suspect Scots won’t bottle it a second time.
Whenever that day comes round – and we don’t think it’s an “if” – there’ll be an updated edition of the Wee Blue Book in their pockets. We don’t think it’s an accident that the overwhelmingly-Unionist media has determinedly written it out of history. But the people who took it to every part of Scotland remember. Folks, we salute you.