Imagine, for a moment, this scenario: a canvasser comes to your door and identifies themselves explicitly as a member of the Yes or No campaign on Scottish independence. This gives you pause for thought. You may, or may not, vote regularly. You may not even be registered to vote. What you are is interested in the future of our country.
For many years you may have been sceptical about voting. You may have voted in elections, you might not have. At the back of your mind lurks the thought, “what difference does it make, politicians are all the same?” I’d pause around to discuss this with you for a while and maybe remonstrate a bit that some politicians – across the political spectrum – really do care, but that isn’t the issue at hand here.
The vote on Scottish independence transcends party politics. Heck, it transcends politicians. That is a good and necessary thing.
Of course, it is inevitable that it is politicians who shape the narrative of the debate about our constitutional future, but make no mistake; this is our vote and our future. Party policies should go on a hiatus between the independence referendum and the elections for the first Scottish parliament in 2016 whilst we wrangle out a settlement from the UK and perhaps, discuss what we would like to see in a written constitution; shaping the framework for a new country based on the principles and ideals of our country and the people who live here.
Or maybe – heaven forefend – we get a no vote and we have to take a serious look at how we are governed presently, and make changes. For, let’s be emphatic and clear, the status quo does not work, and an absolute majority of Scots – pro-independence or not – want to see a huge transfer of powers from Westminster.
The most consistent polling – whilst I don’t really put much stock in polling data – show a dissatisfaction with the status quo and a demand for more powers which is not even remotely satisfied by the Calman Commission. The Calman Commission, in my opinion, is barely worth the paper it is written – at length – on. It may be a sop to some political parties, but it doesn’t address the inequities of the status quo or any of the real requirements of the public
So, the public should be at the forefront of any campaign for the future of our country. The public should shape the future that we conclude. The public should be canvassed with no agenda beyond that of discussing our constitutional future. If you turn up on the public’s doorstep and tell them that is what you are doing, then that is what you should do.
If the SNP arrive mob-handed on your doorstep canvassing data for the independence referendum, it is fairly obvious that your details will be stored by the SNP. Similarly if the campaigner is in any other political party arguing any other constitutional future and identifies as such, it is inevitable your details will be stored by them.
However, when a representative of the respective Yes or No campaigns arrives on your doorstep, you are entitled to believe you are entering a discussion which transcends party politics. Perhaps you don’t really like discussing your political ideology, and after all, why should your political views form part of a discussion about your voting intentions or thoughts about the referendum?
Why would the Yes or no campaign collect data which refers to your previous or future party political voting? The Yes and no campaigns have a shelf life. They don’t need this data to progress. They will be extinct, come what may, on the nineteenth of September 2014.
So, why then is Better Together actively asking folk about their voting intentions? Why does it form part of their canvass data and canvass cards? And why are they passing this information on to third parties, namely their political party partners? Are you happy to have your voting intentions passed to the Conservatives, say, when you wouldn’t give that information to an acknowledged Conservative campaigner on your doorstep? Would you disclose this information if you knew where it would end up?
I appreciate there may be small print on the polling cards which discloses where your data might end up, but is this sufficient? If the information is filled in for you by a campaigner, and you never see the polling card, is it disclosed to you by the person on your doorstep?
Moreover, why does Better Together want this information? And how do they justify collecting it?
A Better Together spokesperson said,
“We are content that everything that we do in terms of data collection is in accordance with the relevant legislation”.
I am sure that is absolutely the case, but it still doesn’t justify the collection in the first place. And it only counts as within data protection legislation if the caveat is made available to, or disclosed to the person who supplies the data. Surely it is disingenuous to masquerade as one thing whilst collecting data for another; however legally it is framed. Honesty and openness is an entirely different framework.
Something doesn’t stack up.
So, the lesson is always to check the small print. Clearly Better Together is the political equivalent of an online marketer who passes on your details to a third party resulting in unsolicited correspondence. And indeed, Better Together have been known to utilise these third party marketers themselves to legally purchase telephone data for their much derided and unsolicited text message campaign.
We need openness and transparency in this debate. That goes for campaign techniques as well as messaging.