IN the first of a two-part article, STUART TOOLEY encourages us to think about how we frame the independence debate.

George Lakoff, author of ‘Don’t Think of an Elephant”, has a theory on ‘framing’ which  is basically a way of shaping the debate in America. Essentially there are two main frames in American politics:

    1.  The Republican Frame – based on a strong paternal relationship; believes the world is a dangerous place; therefore aims to protect the family from a dangerous world, support the family in the dangerous world; teach children right from wrong; it is moral to pursue your own interests etc.
    2. The Democratic Frame – based on a nurturant parent family; gender neutral; based on empathy and responsibility; protection of children from bad things; a responsibility to make people happy etc

These two extended metaphors work very well as two frames for the main divisions in U.S. Politics. But the reason I have highlighted this is because I believe we now need to think about the main division in Scottish Politics – Scottish Independence – through frames. There are currently two frames for either side in the independence debate: the independence frame and the separation frame.

The independence frame is designed to make you think of a person in their late teens. Independence is a process that is inevitable. One day, when the time is right, everyone becomes independent of their parents, and begins to make their own way in the world. It is inherently positive. The opposite, dependence, stirs up negative connotations of reliance on others, a burden on the other person in the relationship. This is how the SNP would have us see Scotland’s relationship with the rest of the UK.

The separation frame is designed to make you think of a happily married couple. Separation is the result of the failure of the relationship. Relationships that work last a lifetime, are ‘until death do us part’.  Separation is inherently negative. The opposite, marriage, has positive connotations of a mutual loving relationships which benefits both parties. This is how Labour and the other unionist parties would have us see Scotland’s relationship with the rest of the UK.

So which is right? Well, neither of course – they are metaphors, haven’t you been listening?

Just to prove my point, how many times have Labour and the SNP used the words separation and independence on their websites?

Labour SNP
Independence 741 127
Separation 504 0

You will never find the SNP saying separation, when they could say independence. Labour are less disciplined, or don’t know that they are reinforcing the SNP’s frame every time they use the word independence. See for example this, on the edge of the Scottish Parliament election.

I’m not saying that this is a sure-fire science, but every time Labour use the word independence, they reinforce the inevitability of separation. Every time we use separation we reinforce a negative connotation, a process of failure, and a frame that increases the chance that Scotland and the rest of the UK remain married.

 Stuart Tooley is a member of the Labour Party in Edinburgh and works for a Labour MSP in the Scottish Parliament.