Speaking up for the neutrals

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Scotland Independence VoteIn the business and third sectors, there are two camps emerging in the face of the referendum, and it’s not yes or no: it’s the vocal and the deathly silent.

If someone were to conduct a poll, you could probably bet that the silent would be a clear majority. There are numerous examples of stories about the impact independence may have for good or ill on certain sectors and sections of society, which are entirely devoid of comment from the usual suspects of representative bodies or concerned organisations.

Many organisations are now sitting back and waiting to see what will happen, and as more and more stories become infused with eau de referendum, is it any surprise? As the CBI issue has shown, taking a view can have very negative consequences.

So how do you say anything interesting without taking a view?

This is becoming an increasingly pressing issue, particularly among organisations with a campaigning remit. A comms strategy of ‘hiding under the duvet until September 19th’ is going to ensure only one thing: failure to influence.

Neutrality and silence are both expected and appropriate in the public sector. But silence and neutrality are not the same thing. You can be neutral AND vocal. Here’s three very different approaches, as examples:

  1. The real issue is: for those still wanting to comment when an area of relevance to them is raised, say what their issue is, how it affects real people (having new data to make it current would be helpful) and why it requires attention in policy and/or funding, regardless of constitutional issues or powers.

  2. We want a guarantee that this funding/policy/place/thing will be protected after 18th September: a bolder move for if your organisation is worried about risk, get the campaigns under pressure to pledge that there will be no risk to that one thing no matter how the vote goes.

  3. These powers should come to Scotland: If there’s something that you think merits a different approach in Scotland to tackle unique situation of those you represent, but it needs further devolution, why not ask? That can then be considered by both sides. This is similar to a tack just taken by Joseph Rowntree Foundation in giving evidence to the Parliament on Scotland’s Economic Future.

These may not suit everyone, and there are of course other approaches your organisation could take. The key is to make it about your issue and keeping that issue firmly on the political agenda.