Nicola Sturgeon’s speech today is a textbook example of how to frame a strategic argument. It is very tightly scripted, cutting through complexities in simple language, dealing with positive and negative points in quick succession, with a big argument running consistently through it.
Here are some notes I have just been making for use in lecturing and writing about political communication.
‘For better or worse – depending on your point of view – the future of the UK looks very different today than it did two years ago.’
[Justifies calling a refendum, having said 2014 was once in a generation]
‘As a result of the Brexit vote we face a future, not just outside the EU, but also outside the world’s biggest single market.’
[Sets the single market as the benchmark, Sturgeon having suggested before that she would not call a referendum if Theresa May kept the UK in the single market]
‘In addition, the collapse of the Labour Party means that we face a prolonged period of uninterrupted and unchecked Conservative government at Westminster. Some predict that the Tories could be in power now at Westminster until 2030 or beyond.’
[Widens the argument beyond Europe, appealing to Scotland’s long-standing anti-Tory majority within a Tory-governed Union.]
‘……. massive implications for Scotland.
It has implications for our economy: for jobs, opportunities, public spending, and living standards – and for our ability to protect and advance our vital day to day priorities in education, health and business.’ [She will have to win the argument about whether Scotland would be economically stronger inside the UK but outside the single market, or outside the UK but inside the EU & single market]
‘It has implications for our society – how open, welcoming, diverse and fair we will be in future?’ [Opens another front in the argument: immigration, and with it, an idea of Scottishness to be contrasted with anti-immigration Englishness]
‘And it has implications for our democracy – to what extent will we be able to determine our own direction of travel, rather than having it decided for us?’ [Rooting the argument in the basic SNP value, independence]
‘In short, it is not just our relationship with Europe that is at stake.
What is at stake is the kind of country we will become.’
[Wrapping the micro messages up in a macro message]
‘…. At times like these, it is more important than ever to have a clear plan for the way ahead – to try, as far as is possible, to be in control of events and not just at the mercy of them.’ [Trying to turn around the fear of risk argument that will be a problem for her]
‘…. The Scottish Government’s paper, Scotland’s Place in Europe, was published in good faith. Our proposals represent significant compromise on the part of the Scottish Government. We accepted that Scotland would leave the EU – despite the 62% vote to remain – but argued that the UK should either stay in the single market or seek an outcome that would allow Scotland to do so. [More detail on the single market benchmark, casting herself as the one who tried to compromise]
‘…. but the UK government has not moved even an inch in pursuit of compromise and agreement. Our efforts at compromise have instead been met with a brick wall of intransigence….. The language of partnership has gone, completely.’
[Casting May as inflexible, leaving Sturgeon no choice, which helps answer the ‘why now?’ question as well as portraying herself as the reasonable party]
‘And there should be little doubt about this – if Scotland can be ignored on an issue as important as our membership of the EU and the single market, then it is clear that our voice and our interests can be ignored at any time and on any issue.’
[Setting the broad strategic context – this is more than an immediate difficulty, but flows from the strategic problem the SNP was set up to solve – all arguments lead back into the strategic goal of independence]
‘….. I am not turning my back on further discussions should the UK government change its mind and decide it is willing to agree to our compromise proposals’ [Again portraying herself as reasonable, giving a possible way out]
‘… I want the UK to get a good deal from the EU negotiations. That is clearly in Scotland’s interests as well as in the interests of our friends in other parts of the UK. But I am far from alone in fearing a bad deal or no deal.’
[She doesn’t want to be accused of talking Britain down, or wishing for a bad outcome for her own narrow purposes. And this gives her some room for manoeuvre during May’s EU talks]
Whatever path we take, it should be one decided by us, not for us. [Soundbite/campaign slogan – complexity reduced to memorable simplicity]
‘….A choice of whether to follow the UK to a hard Brexit – or to become an independent country, able to secure a real partnership of equals with the rest of the UK and our own relationship with Europe.’ [Frames the choice – hard Brexit or independent Scotland]
‘… it is important that Scotland is able to exercise the right to choose our own future at a time when the options are clearer than they are now – but before it is too late to decide on our own path.’ [Major tactical argument on the timing of the referendum, locking it to the rhythm of events]
‘If the UK leaves the EU without Scotland indicating beforehand…. That could make the task of negotiating a different future much more difficult.’
[Another major tactical point, that she wants Scotland negotiating its EU future from within, not after Britain has taken Scotland out.]
‘…….if Scotland is to have a real choice – when the terms of Brexit are known, but before it is too late to choose our own course – then that choice should be offered between the autumn of next year, 2018, and the spring of 2019.’ [A specific timeframe rather than a general intention to hold a referendum, putting pressure on May and focusing Scottish minds on a real decision soon to come.]
‘It will be Scotland’s choice.’
[Concluding with the meta message, expressing a strategy based on her and her government’s values]