Yes or No: the visual battleground in Scotland’s referendum

In the run up to Scotland’s referendum both the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ campaigns have unleashed a groundswell of support that has seen posters, signs and graphics taking over the country in an act of political engagement not seen for some years. With voting finally taking place tomorrow, we look at the significance of the visual imagery that has represented the two campaigns

Handmade ‘Yes’ sign, via Bruce Paterson (@sheepshagger81) and @YesWindaes

In the run up to Scotland’s referendum both the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ campaigns have unleashed a groundswell of support that has seen posters, signs and graphics taking over the country in an act of political engagement not seen for some years. With voting finally taking place tomorrow, we look at the significance of the visual imagery that has represented the two campaigns…

As Thursday’s vote concerns a referendum for independence rather than an election, the most prevalent images have been based around the choice that will be on offer on the ballot paper: a ‘Yes’ for independence or a ‘No’ for retaining the union with the UK. These simple words have become the shorthand for the two campaigns and ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ graphics are at the very centre of official – and unofficial – communications.

It’s a decision about nationhood so flags are naturally abundant, too: the Scottish Saltire adopted by the independence camp; the UK flag by the pro-union Better Together movement. This distinction has at times been muddied, however: Better Together supporters have understandably flown both flags together in unity, for example, while Number 10’s appeal for the rest of the UK to show its support for the union was conveyed by hoisting the Saltire over Downing Street (or rather, failing to do so on the first attempt).

 

Official ‘Fluttering Saltire’ graphic from Yes Scotland’s image resources webpage

 

While the UK newspapers have overwhelmingly come out in favour of the ‘No’ vote (with the exception of The Sunday Herald and a handful of individual columnists such as George Monbiot in the Guardian), the story on social media is a little different.

According to the Financial Times, Facebook’s recent analysis of more than 8.5m posts and comments made in August that related to the referendum found that pro-independence was the subject of 2.05m interactions, while the pro-union vote was the subject of some 1.96m – not much in it. Suggesting more of a difference between the two camps, the ‘Yes’ campaign currently has over 258,000 ‘likes’ while the No has just over 192,000 (over the same period).

But it’s on Twitter that the ‘Yes’ campaign has flourished and has managed to combine both traditional aspects of electioneering – posters, window stickers etc – with the reach that social media provides. (@YesScotland has 96k followers; @UK_Together 41k.)

The ‘Yes’ images shown below (and at the top of the post) are from the collection assembled at @YesWindaes. There are plenty of images on Twitter from the ‘No’ side show assembled groups of people holding signs, but, it seems, far less photographs of the signs displayed on their own.

The ‘Yes’ signs are frequently hand-made, or make use of the word within another context – “Yes. Yes! Oh God Yes!” running across three window panes, being a standout. In recent posts, ‘Yes’ has also appeared in fields, on the rockface beneath Edinburgh Castle, and spelled out by cameraphones.

 

‘Yes’ sign in window in East Lothian, via John Johnston @JohnPJohnston67

Och Aye, via María Isabel @Fairysoprano

Oh God Yes!, via Lisa Sangster @lisa_sangster

Joint effort in Edinburgh, via Phil Wells @phillywells

The people at @BigYesTee admit “it’s no in a windae, but it’s next to a windae”

‘Yes’ sign placed on the rockface beneath Edinburgh Castle, via Mark Newton @CutbackMark

 

Thousands of supporters from both sides have also added a ‘Yes’ or ‘No Thanks’ badge to their Twitter avatar (it’s officially known as a ‘Twibbon’) – see below:

 

How to create a ‘No’ vote ‘Twibbon’, via bettertogether.net

 

Yet the difference between the graphics – effectively digital posters – distributed by both official Twitter feeds is striking. Better Together favours statistics and lengthy quotes in rather serious-looking layouts (see first three images below), while the ‘Yes’ campaign taps into more emotive language – and also serves up some decent illustration along with it.


“Alex Salmond’s response to NHS experts in Scotland is always the same”, via @UK_Together

Author JK Rowling adds her support to Better Together, via @UK_Together

Rather misleadingly, the tweet accompanying this image featuring quotes by CEOs of various supermarkets read: “Supermarket bosses have made clear that leaving the UK would push up costs for families in Scotland”. Via @UK_Together

Three recent tweets from @YesScotland – handmade aesthetic in evidence

 

The official websites to both campaigns (bettertogether.net and yesscotland.net) feature ‘resources’ pages where infographics, logos, posters and the like can be downloaded to help campaigners on the ground.

But here, too, it’s all to clear that the ‘Yes’ camp has the edge when it comes to its branding and identity design. The ‘No Thanks’ logo looks fussily apologetic against the stridency of the ‘Yes’.

When seen from a distance the legibility of the ‘Yes’ makes for a powerful graphic – and, as can be seen from the above self-initiated examples – it can be more easily adapted than its ‘No Thanks’ rival.

 

 

The two campaign logos

 

Finally, compare the films that play on the yesscotland.net website, to the infamous Better Together spot, The Woman Who Made Up Her Mind. The latter hoped to appeal to women voters who were undecided, but missed the mark so spectacularly as to spawn its own meme within hours of airing. #PatronisingBTLady – and the associated jpgs – became more fuel for the ‘Yes’ fire.

From this

… to this:

Via @YesIndyref

Via @YesWithDex

Setting the huge implications of tomorrow’s vote aside for a moment, in a purely semantic sense the messages consist of a positive versus a negative.

Imagine the difference if they were reversed: if ‘No Thanks’ was in favour of ditching the United Kingdom, and a ‘Yes’ was for staying in it? Suddenly the pro-union campaign sounds a lot more emotive, more inclusive.

On purely visual terms, to me ‘Yes’ has always looked stronger, is more suggestive of positivity and, as independence voters would no doubt suggest, progression. There’s not long to wait to see what does happen – but by Friday morning, yes or no, a hugely significant decision will have been made.

 

‘Yes’ sign viewed from a plane, via @NotoriousYesVan

‘Fireworks Yes’ graphic from Yes Scotland’s image resources webpage

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