Next time, the Yes campaign needs to know its values and frame the debate

Yes supporters marching before the pandemic.     Photo Colin Mearns
Image: Colin Mearns

By stewartb

Reader ArtyHetty writes in response to ‘Stop sweating the small stuff and keep our eyes on the prize’.. ‘last time the ‘YES’ movement were often cornered by questions ..

Thinking about this reminds me of the revealing book – ‘Don’t Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate’ by George Lakoff.

What follows are extracts from blog posts written by Lakoff in 2018, firstly from one entitled ‘A Modest Proposal: #ProtectTheTruth’ (See: georgelakoff.com/blog/ ) The blog is written in the context of US politics and Trumpian/Republican Party campaigning but seems to have wider relevance:

Lakoff’s underlying thesis: ‘… repetition strengthens the synapses in the neural circuits that people use to think. First, repetition strengthens the synapses in the brain’s circuitry. Second, “framing first” provides an advantage. Third, negating a frame by saying it’s “not” true activates and strengthens the frame. That’s just how our brains work.’

Arguably, the corporate media and BBC Scotland still have advantages here – through volume and reach of their repeated outputs – in delivering on the first two of these factors. This is especially so when it comes to a substantial proportion of older Scottish voters still uncertain about or presently opposed to independence.

Lakoff adds: ‘Unfortunately, many intelligent people — including Democrats and journalists — ignore the findings of the cognitive and brain sciences. They put their faith in the outdated idea of Enlightenment Reason, which dates back to the 1650s.

‘As a result, they miss the often-implicit frames, metaphors and narratives that structure morally important truths. They wrongly believe that bare facts and logic alone win the moral debates.’

Lakoff offers some insights on how to address this: ‘.. work together to redirect the energy, counteract rather than react, and reframe the conversation. …. : rather than argue against (him) directly or waste time refuting (his) attacks, let’s ignore (his) antics and make a positive, proactive argument.’

“the key is to direct a ‘stream’ of pro-active, accurate messaging at the targeted audience. In other words, reframe to undermine the opposition’s frame, and repeat.’

In January 2018, Lakoff wrote a piece on his blog called ‘The Power of Positive Persistence’. In this he noted: ‘.. the general concept here is more important than any specific tactic. This is about framing, and our need to get a better grasp on how framing works in politics and the media.

‘Framing is about reclaiming our power to decide what’s important. Framing is about making sure WE set the terms of the debate, using our language and our ideas. Conservatives have beaten progressives at this for decades. It’s time for a change.’

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