Scottish independence: 1997 devolution campaigner says 'weak' vote is key

Nigel Smith Nigel Smith, now, and addressing a Scotland FORward meeting in August 1997

A campaign boss from the 1997 devolution referendum believes up to 30% of those eligible to vote in September are open to switching sides.

Businessman Nigel Smith chaired the successful cross-party "Yes/Yes" group.

He told the BBC that the two campaigns needed to "energise" support because this "battle" was about winning over "weak voters, weak yes, weak no".

Both sides were positive about the comments, reminding voters of the key reasons behind choosing "Yes" or "No".

Scotland FORward - the campaign group Mr Smith headed - won 74.3% of the vote in the 1997 referendum to create the Scottish Parliament.

He said there was still much to play for ahead of the historic vote on 18 September.

Bullet points on the referendum

Mr Smith explained: "This battle is about the weak voters, weak yes, weak no - maybe having second thoughts, and that group is maybe 30%.

"For them, some may never make up their minds and they'll probably react by not voting.

"But others will come down on one side, and for them it can't be a boredom factor, because they know how important this is. Everybody knows that. And that is the great merit of a referendum. It energises people.

"What their criticism of British politics is at the moment is 'it doesn't make any difference, what I think'. Here it makes a difference. And that is a very crucial democratic aspect of the referendum."

Nigel Smith on.....
  • Overall strategies: "What we had to do was reassure the voters, and get them to come out on the day. This is very different. So, ours was reassurance, here it's winning some part of these arguments among some part of the electorate."
  • Campaign intensity: "The intensity of the campaign is non-stop. I mean it will be now, but come the last four or five weeks it will be unbelievable. Really unbelievable. And I think for that reason exhaustion for the two sides will be an issue. In that they've been doing this for two years, or they will have been by then."
  • Social media: "That didn't exist [in 1997] and what we've created is a space where public opinion can swarm."

On the 1997 campaign, Mr Smith called it "a referendum that had been decided before it started".

He said: "We'd won at the outset. That's not the case here, the status quo is still alive here, the referendum is still open, and in that sense there is a real decision to be made by the voters.

"I think the biggest problem for the 'Yes' side is people having second thoughts. And I think the biggest problem for the 'No' side is not being able to engender sufficient excitement for their No voters to come out and vote."

Mr Smith, 73, runs Voxscot, a website focusing on the practicalities of referendums, and he also travels the world offering his view on the subject.

He believes the "Yes" campaign is behind in the polls because "all they can state is their negotiating position".

Mr Smith explained: "They cannot give an answer on the pound, Nato, all of these issues. It's not to say that the public won't accept it, but it's a lot harder than saying 'this will happen, this will happen and this will happen'."

Lib Dem Jim Wallace, Labour's Donald Dewar and the SNP's Alex Salmond cut Yes/Yes cake United - Lib Dem Jim Wallace, Labour's Donald Dewar and the SNP's Alex Salmond
Campaign material Campaign material from 1997's referendum is on show at the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum
Posters There were two questions put to voters in 1997, which explains these posters

He added that Better Together would be "morally irresponsible" if it did not point out the negatives.

Mr Smith said: "It's felt a bit more positive just lately, but the basic thing of a no change campaign is that they have to own up to the risks. That's their bread and butter.

"And people take that as negative, but actually you'd be very unhappy if you had no pension and you suddenly discovered it and nobody had told you."

Mr Smith also told the BBC:

  • He predicted turnout would be between 74% to 78%.
  • The degree of co-operation between parties was not as good as it was in 1997.
  • And that people would make their minds up based on the arguments - not the people involved.
Did you know?
Ice cream

During the 1997 devolution campaign, "Referendum ice cream" was created by the East Ayrshire group of Scotland FORward.


The head of the Yes Scotland campaign, Blair Jenkins, said it was important to highlight that Scotland had a choice between two futures.

He explained: "We can either continue with the uncertainty of Westminster with continued cuts to our public services; or we can protect the gains of devolution - such as no prescription charges and free personal care for the elderly - and chart a different political and economic course from Westminster.

"A 'Yes' vote puts Scotland's future in Scotland's hands and ensures that we always get the governments we vote for.

"A 'No' vote threatens more cuts to Scotland's budget, risks us being pulled out of the European Union against our will, and means another generation of Trident nuclear weapons on the Clyde."

No Thanks slogan No Thanks is the Better Together campaign slogan
Yes slogan A big blue Yes sign is the recognisable slogan of the official Yes Scotland campaign

A spokesman for the pro-Union Better Together campaign said Mr Smith was right to point out that it had a responsibility to highlight the "huge risks of separation".

He added: "We also have a very positive case to make, which is that by pooling and sharing our resources across the whole of the UK we can improve the lives of Scottish families.

"This is the most important decision we will ever take in the history of our country. Everybody who believes we are stronger and better together as part of the UK needs to do their bit.

"As part of the UK we can have the best of both worlds for Scotland. We can have a strong Scottish Parliament, with the guarantee of more powers for Scotland, backed up by the strength, security and stability of being part of the larger UK."

More on This Story

More Scotland politics stories


Scotland Live

    Fatal accident on A801 15:25:

    Emergency services are attending a fatal road accident involving a lorry and a car on the A801 near Polmont.

    The crash happened at about 14:40 near to the Lathallan roundabout.


    A police statement said that there was a number of fatalities within the car involved in the crash.

    The A801 between Lathallan and Bowhouse is currently closed and there are diversions in place.

    Magic moments 15:14:

    For the past 40 days, the Queen's Baton has travelled to every corner of Scotland as part of the countdown to Glasgow 2014.

    baton bearer

    From St Kilda to the Kelpies, Coldstream to Coatbridge, it was welcomed by communities across the country as the 4,000 baton bearers were celebrated for their achievements.

    BBC Scotland's Graham Fraser compiled the highlights.

    Festival atmosphere 15:06: Christopher Blanchett BBC Weather presenter

    tweets: Great atmosphere down at @bbcthequay today! Sunshine helping too!

    BBC at the Quay
    PM in Glasgow 14:58: Via Twitter James Cook Scotland Correspondent, BBC News

    tweets: David Cameron hails investment in Glasgow, Grangemouth, broadband, oil and renewables as enticing for foreign investors. #Glasgowbiz2014

    Swiss here to meet Saints 14:51:

    FC Lucerne, the Europa League qualifying opponents of Scottish Cup holders St Johnstone, have just tweeted a picture of them arriving at Edinburgh airport.

    FC Lucerne arrive at Edinburgh airport

    They go head-to-head at McDiarmid Park on Thursday night with the tie poised at 1-1 after the first leg.

    Our top stories 14:45: Marianne Taylor BBC Scotland news

    Which stories are getting the most hits on the BBC News Scotland website? Here's how it currently stands:

    1. Man falls 50ft at Arthur's Seat
    2. Glasgow ready for Games opening
    3. Man jailed for bin lorry rampage
    BBC News website screenshot
    Watch out for pufflings... 14:38:

    Coastal residents are being urged to look out for surprise garden guests over the next few weeks.

    The Scottish Seabird Centre has appealed for people in East Lothian to be on the lookout for young puffins, known as pufflings, as they begin to leave their burrows on islands in the Firth of Forth.


    Pufflings have been known to hide under cars after becoming disorientated by lights on the mainland while heading out to sea.

    The seabird centre has already rescued its first puffling, which was released back into the wild after it was discovered struggling on the beach at North Berwick.

    Man jailed for bin lorry rampage 14:27:

    A man who went on the rampage in a stolen bin lorry, trying to ram police cars and crashing into a bridge, has been jailed for four months.

    David Russell led officers on a 30-mile chase after stealing the vehicle from a Stirling Council compound.

    The 25-year-old admitted what a sheriff called "an extraordinary sequence of dangerous driving" on 7 June.

    Cricket at the Games? 14:22: Via Twitter Team Scotland

    tweets: Cricket on Scotland Street has become the normal evening activity here in the Village. #GoScotland

    Team Scotland playing cricket
    Man falls off Arthur's Seat 14:14:

    A man is in hospital with head and neck injuries after falling 50ft from Salisbury Crags in Edinburgh.

    Arthur's Seat

    Emergency services were called at 21:30 on Tuesday to Radical Road below the huge cliff. The Scottish Fire and rescue Service used a line rescue and carried the man to an ambulance in the park.

    The name's Bond... 14:05: Via Twitter James Shaw BBC Radio 5 live Scotland correspondent

    tweets: 007 meets 005. Sir Roger talking to our own Pete Allen. On Drive later.

    Roger Moore and Peter Allen
    Dons depart for Netherlands 13:58:

    Three of Scotland's football teams are in Europa League qualifying action tomorrow night - Aberdeen, Motherwell and St Johnstone.

    Aberdeen captain Russell Anderson

    BBC Scotland's Liam McLeod caught up with the Aberdeen squad as they left the city's airport, bound for the Netherlands and the second leg of their match versus Groningen.

    Dons' captain Russell Anderson insists there's more pressure on the Dutch side following their 0-0 draw at Pittodrie in the first leg.

    The winners face Real Sociedad of Spain.

    13:53: Via Twitter James Cook Scotland Correspondent, BBC News

    tweets: Bank of England governor Mark Carney engaging in flattery at @GlasgowUni, praising Hume and Smith. #glasgow2014biz

    Mark Carney
    Flagging up the Games 13:44:

    Obviously we expect to see Saltires galore during the Games, as well as the flags of the 70 other countries competing at Glasgow 2014.

    Saltire flag

    But what other flags should we look out for? BBC Scotland's Martin Currie finds out.

    13:36: Via Twitter Team Scotland swimmer Michael Jamieson

    tweets: Right, time to go. Heat swim is tomorrow at 12.37pm! Appreciate all the good luck notes - keep em coming!! #GoScotland

    Reporting Scotland - BBC One Scotland 13:33:

    Reporting Scotland with Sally McNair has just started on BBC One Scotland.

    Tune in for the latest on the build-up to the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony tonight.

    310 of the best 13:25:

    We mentioned earlier today that there are 310 athletes in total competing for Team Scotland at Glasgow 2014.

    That number is made up of 168 men and 142 women.

    Here, BBC Scotland's Keir Murray ensures we all know who's doing what.

    Sri Lankan wrong turn 13:16: Via Twitter Team England triathlete Jonathan Brownlee

    tweets: Just seen the Sri Lankan cycling team on the M74. Suppose it is a nice wide road!!

    Sri Lanka on M74
    Weather update 13:12: Judith Ralston BBC Weather presenter

    This afternoon will be very warm with temperatures possibly hitting 28C in some inland areas. A cool easterly breeze will see Edinburgh and Dundee slightly cooler with a high of 21C.

    The high temperatures may well trigger off an isolated shower across the north west Highlands in the early evening, with an odd one possible over the high ground of central and southern Scotland.

    You can watch a full weather forecast here.

    Can we keep the Faith? 13:00:

    Singer Paloma Faith proved to be another big hit with the crowds when she played BBC at the Quay.

    The singer played a couple of numbers for the Ken Bruce show, filmed in front of a live studio audience.

    Paloma Faith At BBC PQ

    You can find out more about the festival and watch a live stream of the events on the BBC at the Quay website.

    12:48: Edinburgh Evening News

    tweets: Police appeal for witnesses after man assaulted in Morningside in broad daylight.

    Read the full story here.

    Warriors snap up de Klerk 12:44:

    Rugby sevens is one of 17 sports at Glasgow 2014, with action there beginning on Saturday at Ibrox stadium.

    However, in the 15-a-side game, the Pro12 side Glasgow Warriors have added South African prop Rossouw de Klerk to their ranks.

    Rossouw de Klerk

    The 24-year-old joins Warriors on a two-year contract from Super 15 team Cheetahs.

    He's their fifth signing ahead of the 2014-15 season.

    Google's Games crazy 12:37:

    Okay, admit it, sometimes you just log onto Google to check what their animation is for the day, correct?

    Well, today you'll see clearly that they, too, are in Commonwealth Games mode.

    The Scottish designer who came up with the idea is originally from Stirling, trained in Dundee and now lives in Edinburgh.

    Cycling for success 12:34: Laura Bicker Scotland Correspondent, BBC News

    tweets: Team Scotland having a wee cycle through Merchant City #Glasgow2014

    Team Scotland in Merchant City
    Glasgow tower reopens after fire 12:27:

    Glasgow Science Centre tower has opened as normal after fire crews were called last night to tackle a smoking cable.

    Fire at Glasgow Science Centre tower

    A member of the public spotted smoke coming from the lift motor room after the tower had closed.

    The crew of HMS Bangor, which is moored nearby, extinguished the smoke before the fire service arrived. The Science Centre said the short-circuited cable had been repaired overnight and the tower was operating as normal.

    Police release rape data 12:24:

    More rapes were reported in West Fife than any other area in Scotland between April 2013 and May this year, according to data obtained by BBC Scotland.

    Figures from Police Scotland reveal that the command area - which includes Dunfermline and Cowdenbeath - received 102 reports over the 14-month period.

    You can explore the data for your own Police Scotland here.

    United reject Robertson bid 12:12:

    BBC Scotland's Jim Spence has confirmed Dundee United have rejected an increased offer from Hull City for Scotland left-back Andrew Robertson.

    The Humberside club's approach was worth £2m plus add-ons for the 20-year-old.

    Dundee United's Andrew Robertson

    A United source told BBC Scotland that approaches from West Ham United had also been knocked back.

    Building up... 12:04: John Beattie BBC Scotland

    Join me on BBC Radio Scotland where we'll be bringing you all the build-up ahead of tonight's opening ceremony.

    I'll be asking how well Team Scotland can expect to do, and will flag up the athletes to watch.

    We'll also be looking back at Manchester's Games in 2002 and discussing the legacy.

    Record catch? 11:59:

    An angler from Whitby has landed what could be the largest fish ever caught off Britain's shores while on the Isle of Skye.

    Dan Bennett took an hour to land the 208lb (94kg) common skate in Kilmalaug Bay.

    Dan Bennett skater image

    The fish was 88.25in (224.15cm) long and 66.75in (169.54cm) wide. Because it was not weighed at the scene it is likely to be listed as an unofficial British record.

    The fish was returned to sea alive.

    Scots athletes welcome baton 11:56: Via Twitter Team Scotland

    tweets: The @Batonrelay2014 stops by Scotland Street. Real buzz in the air today... no prizes for guessing why! #GoScotland

    Queen's baton
    Cancer charity investigated 11:44:

    A cancer charity that helped fly a terminally ill Aberdeenshire girl home from Mexico is to be investigated.

    Families Against Neuroblastoma led a £150,000 appeal for Olivia Downie, from Fraserburgh. The seven-year-old died days after flying home in June 2012.

    It is understood Olivia's parents complained to the Charity Commission.

    Snooker ace embraces Games 11:38: Via Twitter Alan McManus

    tweets: "Welcome to the Glasgow Games everyone. Enjoy the sport...and the sunshine. It's scorchio by the way."

    Snooker player Tony Hall
    Your photos 11:32:

    David Blunt sent us this stunning image of the shimmering sands at the beach at Hosta on North Uist.

    Hosta beach

    Send us your own photos via email or twitter using #ScotlandLive.

    Wildcat haven 11:23:

    The Scottish wildcat is on the brink of extinction, say conservationists, with some warning that numbers of pure-bred cats have fallen to just 35 individuals.


    In an effort to bolster numbers experts have set-up a special haven for the species on the remote Ardnamurchan peninsula in the north west Highlands.

    Read more about the project here.

    Which sport are you made for? 11:00:

    Take 30 seconds to dash through the 13 quick questions in our sports quiz and we'll have our best stab at suggesting which events from the Commonwealth Games could match your physical and mental abilities.

    Sports graphic
    Jags sign Osman 10:52:

    Amidst all the excitement around Glasgow 2014, Partick Thistle are doing their best to remind everyone that football exists!

    Partick Thistle midfielder Abdul Osman

    They've made a signing this morning and it's 27-year-old Ghanaian midfielder Abdul Osman.

    The former Gretna man played in a friendly against Dumbarton on Saturday and signs a one-year contract.

    On the Waterfront 10:40:

    It was an early start for the BBC At The Quay festival this morning with a special broadcast of Radio 2's Ken Bruce breakfast programme in front of a packed studio audience.

    Our colleagues at BBC Scotland tweeted this great picture of Simple Minds frontman Jim Kerr performing for the show.

    Simple Minds at the BBC

    You can find out more about the BBC At The Quay festival and watch a live stream of the events here.

    Edinburgh river body identified 10:32:

    A man whose body was recovered from the Water of Leith in Edinburgh has been identified.

    The body of Henry Archibald, 40, was discovered near the Stenhouse Industrial Estate at about 09:30 on Monday.

    Police officers generic

    A bike, thought to belong to Mr Archibald, was found nearby. Police say there are no suspicious circumstances surrounding the death.

    Miley's Twitter sabbatical 10:24:

    Competitive action at Glasgow 2014 is now less than 24 hours away, with Team Scotland comprising 310 athletes - 168 men and 142 women.

    Hannah Miley

    Swimmer Hannah Miley is first-up for Team Scotland tomorrow at 10:30 in the women's 400m individual medley.

    Miley, from Inverurie, tweeted last night: "Right guys I'm going into social media lock down as of tomorrow [Wednesday] morning so no twitter and facebook for me until I've finished racing!! Hope you enjoy watching the Commonwealth games! Remember to support your team :-)"

    Flybe expands Aberdeen flights 10:16:

    Flybe has announced it will take over the service between Aberdeen and London City airport.

    British Airways said last month it was pulling out of the route in October.

    Flybe aircraft

    Flybe will operate twice daily flights, by 78-seat Bombardier Q400 aircraft, starting on 27 October.

    Tigers chase Robertson 10:08:

    Dundee United have rejected an improved £2m-plus offer from Hull City for highly-rated Scotland defender Andrew Robertson. However, Tigers manager Steve Bruce is expected to come back with another offer to secure the 20-year-old's signature.

    Andrew Robertson in action for Dundee united

    Elsewhere, English Premiership side Southampton are set to make an improved second bid for Celtic's Fraser Forster after the first was described as "well below" the Parkhead club's valuation of the English international.

    Read more footie gossip here.

    Clydeside expressway 10:00: Games travel 2014

    tweets: #GRG driving in Glasgow this morning? No access to Clydeside Expressway from Finnieston Street. Please use alternative routes.

    Glasgow 2014 - your views 09:52: Via SMS

    Pauline: You'll need to look far and wide for a moanie minnie this day Kay. 15,000 volunteers believe in the Games!

    Willie in Wick: Bring on the Games. I'll be glued to the TV coverage every day and night. The world will be watching not only the Commonwealth, so come on Scotland, you can do it.

    Anonymous: What a waste of money, we can't repair the holes in roads.

    See the sights... 09:44:

    With Games fever taking hold, unusual sights - and sites - have been popping up all over Glasgow. BBC Scotland's Louise Andrews and Laura Pettigrew have been out and about charting them.


    Read all about it here.

    Deila maintains 100% record 09:37:

    It's not been too shabby a start for new Celtic manager Ronny Deila, whose team cruised past Icelandic side KR Reykjavik and into the third qualifying round of the Champions League last night.

    Celtic manager Ronny Deila

    Doubles from Dutch defender Virgil Van Dijk and Finnish forward Teemu Pukki gave Celtic a 4-0 win on the night, 5-0 on aggregate.

    They'll face the winners of the tie between Irish team St Patrick's and Polish side Legia Warsaw, who meet tonight.

    So, two wins, two clean-sheets and five goals for Deila... happy, Celtic fans? Let us know using #ScotlandLive on Twitter, or by emailing here.

    Making the news 09:29:

    The opening of Glasgow's Commonwealth Games dominates the front of all Scotland's newspapers.

    Newspapers 23 July

    Each carries its own message of support. "The sun rises on Glasgow's golden Games" is the Herald's headline, while the Daily Record proclaims "Bring it on" next to a striking image of a child with a Saltire painted on her face.

    Read more in our daily newspaper review.

    Glasgow hotspots 09:22:

    BBC Newsbeat got a tour of Glasgow's hotspots from Games volunteer Katie Kinloch, 19.

    Clydesider 19-year-old Katie Kinloch

    The 15,000 Clyde-siders, as they are known, are key to the success of the Games, helping athletes, officials and visitors make the best of their time in Glasgow.

    Watch Katie's video here.

    Morning Call 09:08: BBC Radio Scotland

    After seven years of preparation, the moment is finally here as the Commonwealth Games kick off in Glasgow tonight.

    Presenter Kaye Adams asks: Are you excited or can you see it far enough? We also want to hear about the furthest travelled visitor to the Games - how far have you come to get here?

    Lines are open now. Call 0500 92 95 00, text 80295 or email

    You can listen live to the debate here.

    Today's weather 09:03: Judith Ralston BBC Weather presenter

    The recent dry and warm weather will continue across the country. Any morning mist and fog will burn back towards the east coast, where some patches of haar will linger for much of the day, particularly over Orkney and the east of Shetland.

    It'll be another very warm day with temperatures reaching 25C to 27C for many inland areas, with light breezes cooling Dundee and Edinburgh to a high of around 22C.

    The high temperatures may trigger off a few showers late this afternoon and into the early evening, mainly across the northwest Highlands, with possibly the odd one developing over the high ground of central and southern Scotland.

    Latest updates
    Good morning 08:58: Marianne Taylor BBC Scotland news

    Good morning, and welcome to BBC Scotland Live. We'll be here till 17:00, bringing you the latest news, sport, weather and travel from across the country.

    It's a big day for Glasgow and Scotland, with the opening of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park just hours away. We'll have all the build-up throughout the day.

    Stay in touch and send us your pictures using Twitter #ScotlandLive, email us at or text to 80295.



Elsewhere on the BBC

  • SleepSleep on it

    Is it possible to strengthen your brain's synapses while you slumber?


  • A man holds a sign which reads Bring Back Our GirlsHARDtalk Watch

    Why there is still hope and optimism for the rescue of Nigeria’s kidnapped schoolgirls

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.