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Six Lessons From Indyref About Communications and Politics

22/09/2014 11:10 BST | Updated 19/11/2014 10:59 GMT

So the votes are in, and Scotland has chosen to remain part of the UK. The result is being described as 'decisive', but we should bear this in mind -it was only a little while ago that the No camp was twenty points in the lead.

To have won by ten doesn't seem quite so overwhelming from that perspective -our view of the final result is through the prism of Yes leading the polls just a week ago. But nonetheless, a win is a win. Salmond sulks away from his constituency to Edinburgh; Cameron does the statesmanlike Premier speech outside Number Ten (while throwing a hand grenade at Labour in the process); Miliband breathes a sigh of relief he isn't going to lose 40 Scots MPs; Darling goes home for a nice cup of tea. And flag makers curse their missed opportunity.

What lessons can we draw from the campaign about communications and politics? I'd say six:

1. As Cameron discovered in 2010, leader debates matter. The comprehensive trashing Darling received at Salmond's hands in their second faceoff gave Yes a serious boost, and threw No into a panic. For all that tribalism exists in politics, our processes have undoubtedly become more presidential. One person's performance can change the course of events. Salmond shifted it once; arguably Brown did the same towards the death.

2. You can't defeat an emotional argument with an intellectual one. For all that the debate over which currency Scotland would use showed up inconsistencies in the SNP plan, it didn't have the emotional pull of the 'freedom' line.

3. Negative campaigning *does* work, but not on its own. The positive message for staying in the UK that the No team finally deployed was probably decisive in moving votes. 'We want you to stay' is a necessary corollary of 'you'll be sorry if you leave'. Brown's passion was considerably more effective at shifting votes than Darling's bank manager style.

4. The power of the press is small and getting smaller. Scottish newspapers were overwhelmingly and vocally against independence. And their arguments seemed to move few votes. That's important for the 2015 general election. It won't be 'the sun wot won it' ever again (if that was, indeed, ever true).

5. Let's not overstate the power of social media. Okay, the Yes campaign won on social media. But that doesn't matter unless you also win in the polling booth -differential turnout remains the, well, difference, between being the winner and being the loser. And the people most likely to be on social media aren't the people most likely to vote.

6. And finally..... politics doesn't have to be dull. We're not consigned to ever-decreasing turnouts. When voters realise that the power to decide their future does indeed lie in their hands, they get involved with enthusiasm. The exceptional turnout would be a wake-up call to Westminster -there's nothing inherent in voter apathy; politicians are just disillusioning their electorates.