The Blame Game / Confusion Theory and our own culpability


Commentary by Carolyn McCole

Apparently it was a “General Election”.

This is the third act twist which nobody saw coming.

Some people thought it was a re-run of the Indy Ref. Some confused the poll with a ‘Corbyn for President’ election. Some considered it another EU referendum. Others thought it a poll on how solid our Brexit should be (Hard? Soft?  Medium density fibreboard?)

Some even thought they were voting for a strong and stable leader – granted that was only Teresa and Phil, but still those votes were cast in good faith.


Many profiteered from this carefully cultivated confusion. For Ruth Davidson it distracted voters from her Westminster Government’s record and right-wing diktat of doom. It allowed Kezia Dugdale to portray Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity as her own. For the Lib Dems, it gave them a fleeting reason to exist.

Your Leader… for now

Consequently, the results of this messy ballot are just as untidy. Now the country sits swivel eyed, looking for someone to blame…..

Of course it’s easy to chastise Theresa May. It was selfish to call an unnecessary election and left the other parties with little time to fund or consider their campaigns.

Sure, we could point the finger at campaign teams. Some were more focused on tactical voting than issues of reserved policy.

Yes we could blame the media, who discussed devolved matters and often held the wrong government to account.

But aren’t we forgetting another significant player?


I’m now going to say the thing you’re never supposed to say. Isn’t it time the electorate took its share of responsibility for the circumstances in which we find ourselves? Yes it is up to the campaign teams to communicate their message and the media to examine the issues in a balanced manner, but it’s also up to the voters to educate themselves on the realities at hand. The only antidote to ‘Confusion Theory’, being clarity.

Maybe people grew disengaged with politics when they forgot that by casting their vote – or not – they are responsible for the results.

Teresa May is forming a Government. She has the blank cheque she asked for – because we gave her it. She has commenced Brexit negotiations because the people of the UK voted for it. Scotland could still be dragged out of Europe because we voted to stay part of that UK.

Yes this is democratically dubious, but Scotland rubber stamped that dubiety on the September 18 2014. In the space of a week we retreated from holding the entire British establishment in the palm of our hands to wilfully climbing back into our box, confirming we were cool with whatever. Whether Brexit will be hard or soft, open or closed, is no longer within our control. The people of Scotland should recognise these embarrassing realities before we cast another ballot. We as the UK, as the ‘One Nation’ we voted to be, have agreed to everything already and it’s too late now to ask what that means. Confusion won.

That’s the thing about democracy –  sometimes you get what you voted for. As far as I can tell, the electorate has received exactly what it requested. Maybe we all need to accept some share of the blame.


You might think this point is applicable to everyone else. But I voted yes too and I include myself in the shared culpability. Did I personally do enough to expose the confused arguments with which we were bombarded? Did I talk to enough voters? Or perhaps more accurately, did I make it easy for them to talk to me? Did all of us in the Yes camp accommodate strategic confusion by allowing our opponents to dictate the boundaries of debate?

We need to collectively recognise our mistakes, at every level, in order to avoid making them again should we ever have the chance. The 2014 campaign was an inspiring display of hope, creativity and momentum – but ultimately it failed. In order to win, we must build on the successes of 2014 and reflect honestly on our weaknesses.

Let’s not forget, this second chance is still only a possibility. Since Brexit, many in Scotland have referenced Indy Ref 2 as though it is a certainty, rather than a potential lifeline we’ll be lucky to secure. If we’ve learned anything this year, it’s that nothing is certain. Not everyone gets the chance to re-sit a failure and if we do, it’s an opportunity that cannot be wasted with repeat mistakes. The first being for anyone to take it’s inevitability for granted. The second being to indulge confusion.


If we want a referendum then we have to build the appetite for independence first. This doesn’t materialise by setting a date, or reconciling the legal minutia of Section 30, though both those aspects are important. It’s a desire that’s cultivated by offering a clear and imaginative vision of what an alternative future could be. With no confusion. No mess. A timely escape route from little Brexit Britain. A recognition that we are all responsible for whatever choice is made.

A lack of solid Westminster Government combined with the unfolding shambles of Brexit negotiations, provides the Yes movement a chance to create an offer of stability where there is none. The stability that people thought they were voting for in 2014. It is an opportunity for the Yes movement to profiteer from carefully cultivated clarity and choice, in contrast to the established confusion. Otherwise, we only have ourselves to blame.


  1. Unfortunately, I find this article rather vacuous. It is based on reifying entities like ‘THE ELECTORATE’ and ‘SCOTLAND’, asserting that these entities made decisions as one and have to accept collective responsibility.

    The electorate and Scotland contain millions of individuals who choose to make individual decisions – including not voting – based on personal circumstances, values, aspirations, motives and so on. Some people were very active in espousing their cases and some of them ended up on the losing side of votes. Each of us – including me (YES, REMAIN) – has to reappraise the situation, and we are in a very fluid and dynamic one, and make whatever decisions we have the opportunity to make or which are within our powers to make.

    Mrs May has not been given a ‘blank cheque’. She is not in a position to negotiate what she wants. Probably, she will not be in office for very long. We are in uncertain times and outcomes will depend to a fair extent on the interactions of a wide range of politicians in Westminster, the Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh, in Councils, in campaigning groups, in ‘street politics’ (which is beginning to emerge in response to The Grenfell Tower tragedy).

    Please, Ms McCole, do not traduce millions of people who, mostly, are trying to make the best of uncertain times.

  2. Mr MacDonald, thank you for taking time to read the article and leaving an honest appraisal. I would both agree and disagree with some of what you’ve said (I won’t be so rude as to say your thoughts are vacuous – I’m sure they’re not and neither are mine).

    The point of the article is not to ‘traduce millions of people’ quite the opposite, it’s to suggest that it’s not as simple as pointing the finger of blame at those who voted no. We need to take those people with us if we want to win next time. So how can we reach out to them in an ultimately more effective way than last time? We have to therefore recognise what didn’t work before it can be improved. If we each see ourselves as irreproachable then what will change?

    Of course electorate is made up of millions of people with as many reasons for the decisions each makes, but an election or referendum result simply is a collective decision that we all have to live with.

    • Carolyn,

      Thank you for the prompt reply. I pondered some time before I used the word ‘vacuous’, because it is, indeed, rude. I apologise, please forgive me.

      However, as I indicated, the use of the word was intentional. Sometimes one has to express something sharply to cause others to take note. It is a risky strategy and can repel as many as it attracts.

      I agree that you make some trenchant points in your piece and you have amplified these in your reply.

      I think that the structure of your piece is wrong. By opening with this generalised attack on the ‘electorate’ and on ‘Scotland’ you are tarring everyone with the same brush. The reality is substantially different. The electorate and Scotland are pretty evenly split on the big issues of the moment. Indeed, there are probably two groups at the ‘extremes’ who are unequivocally for one position or the other and almost always will be. But there is a larger group in the middle who are sincerely swithering; trying to make decisions based on a wide range of ever-changing (mis)information and reasonably well-established facts.

      So, had you structured your article differently and omitted the reification, you would probably have evoked a better response ( Of course, the same could be said about my response!)

      I am pretty strongly convinced about Scottish independence and about remaining in the EU. However, I do have some doubts, which I think are outweighed by what I see as benefits. There is always an element of unpredictability in politics, often a big bit. In the end, it comes down to a preparedness to take risks, to be creative.

      All the best.

      I would like Scotland to be independent and I would like to remain a

      • Thanks Alasdair. Apology accepted and appreciated! (Though I think our discussion demonstrates the points are far from vacuous!)

        I will respond to your structural suggestion with your own words –
        sometimes one has to express things sharply in order to cause others to take note!

        But my point about the ‘electorate’ is absolutely not to tar everyone with the same brush, again the opposite. It’s to highlight that it’s the collective result which matters most and we all play an individual role in securing that result. As the individuals you have described. The ‘mis-information’ you correctly recognise equates to the ‘cultivated confusion’ which I have argued we should more forcefully reject in order to convince those wavering in the middle ground.

        I think Alasdair, we might be saying the same thing!

        Thank you again for your thoughts and considered responses . I think we’ve challenged each other and that’s what good debate is about after all!

        All the best to you too!

  3. “A timely escape route from little Brexit Britain”

    The most timely “escape route” would be for all the indy MP’s and MSP’s democratically elected majorities in Scotland to jointly give notice to end the union of parliaments as far as Scotland is concerned, within a set period. Depending on another ‘open franchise’ referendum, if permitted, is destined to fail due to constant replenishment of No voters coming from rest-UK into Scotland, and the msm unionist propaganda machine. If Westminster tries to block such a notice then Scotland’s elected majorities will just have to do as many other colonies have done, i.e. take matters to the UN General Assembly who have already declared that member states should seek to end the “scourge of colonization”.

  4. Maybe we really are “Too Wee, Poor and Stupid” – this Edinburgh ex-pat is finding it more difficult to offer any sort of reasonable explanation, and defend why we freely gave up our own natural resources so that our neighbour could continue their vanity projects (Nuclear Weapons/Channel Tunnel/Olympic Games) instead of social provision for ALL Scottish residents – right now my knitting is well and truly ripped 🙁

    Need a wee lie down, cup of tea and a few Drams to settle the nerves 😉

  5. The overall point about “voter confusion” is a strong one. In my opinion, completely unsubstantiated, the confused voter tends to opt for the status quo. Carolyn`s article , however, does hint at something that will be essential in the next stage of the independence journey. The YES side must engender “voices of authority” to back its case. In the 2014 campaign, from the electorate`s point of view, all these “voices”eg the BBC,Westminster politicians, the press,the commentariat and even Mister Barrosso were backing up what the NO side was saying. For those of us on the street, in public discussions etc it was hard to cut through this perceived level of expertise;they were always deemed to have the superior weight in any argument. In short, we have to find our own “voices of authority” which can be the trump cards in any debate. This does mean that, instead of accusing the media et al of bias, we have to work hard to get them on to our side. The 2014 campaign has shown us that we cannot convince the soft middle of the Scottish electorate unless there is a critical mass of expertise/media/commentariat backing up the arguments that we are putting across at the grassroots.

  6. I said this again and again throughout the various Refs and elections, and if you don’t vote you get what others vote for.


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