RES: Tweeting the revolution?

A fascinating time to be Scottish, whether one was in favour or against independence in the referendum.  I was impressed that 45% of Scots were in favour of independence.  Considering  the concerted attack by the financial sector, big oil, industrial interests and mainstream parties. Forty-five percent is not a mean feat when the consensus was that independence implied job insecurity, higher inflation rates, lower pensions and a drying-up to mortgages and personal loans.  And that was just the effect predicted for Scotland.  Maybe the SNP failed to carry the day because they fudged addressing currency insecurities.  My guess is they would have won if they had managed to come to an understanding that guaranteed currency stability (any deal would have been adequate) with the Treasury and the Bank of England.  Apparently intransigent English institutions might have been amenable to a deal that would have retained the status quo, if that was framed in UK economic stability language.  In the early phase of the independence debate such a settlement was possible as independence was a highly unlikely outcome and in the latter stages it became a politically loaded question that everyone recognised as a potential game changer. In hindsight a deal on a referendum without a deal on the “terms of a divorce” seems hurried. Gaining independence cannot be a goal in itself.  The aftermath of a political and economic divorce is bound to be dramatic.  Considering what is at stake counting on a ‘no fault’ Las Vegas divorce can only be wishful thinking.

At the same time there is no cast-iron rule that political and economic independence have to happen at the same time.  Political independence and economic autonomy can follow one another.  Furthermore, the concept of economic autonomy is a chimera, Scotland cannot afford to sever its economic ties to the UK. For a student of public policy it is also difficult to see how the myriad of economic and welfare agencies of the British state could be regionally disentangled.  The independence rhetoric captured the heart of the Scots but was also caught up in its own self-referential dynamic. Taking a leap of faith cannot be a serious policy argument.  Maybe I am too cynical, but politicians preaching uncertain change remind me of bankers advising risky investments with other people’s money. A side effect of the referendum outcome seems to be a reduction in the appetite for independence in the rest of the UK but an increase in the political influence of the SNP in its drive for Home Rule.  To that end I cannot understand the decision of Alex Salmond to fall on his sword.  He fought a brilliant campaign and is easily the most formidable politician in the Scottish Parliament to lead the Scots to further devolution.

As for polling, my impression is that pollsters focused on classic attributes such as gender and age but ignored strength of ethnic identity and socio-economic background of those that declared being undecided.  In conversation with “new Scots” (those born outside the UK) during my visit to Scotland in early September, I found them to be strongly against independence.  Pollsters, furthermore, treated polls on this referendum as they would electoral polls.  The difference is fundamental.  Former voting preference is strongly correlated to future ones in national elections, while no such associations can be inferred on a single issue referendum.  UK pollsters should have taken a leaf out of the Swiss referendum polls with their high margins of error.

And on to tweeting the revolution: To gauge the intensity of the political discourse I looked at the #indyref distribution on the 22nd


and 25th of September


and compared it to another issue with a political hue, the case of the British Prime Minister taped in a conversation with the former mayor of NY claiming the ‘Queen was purring down the phone after the positive result‘.  Predictably, this caused a media maelstrom.

queen purr

These graphs represent temporal tweeter activity and demonstrate an obvious variation in the political discourse, reflecting on aspects of the referendum a few days after the result.  Beyond the obvious drop in graph density from .07 to .005 there is a shift in the way independence is debated and the replication process of this debate.  The number of connected components increases from 5 to 45.  In other words the debate has become more fragmented with time.  Assuming the “purring Queen” is typical of political media discourse (density .002 with 71 components), the independence debate seems to follow a “normalisation” trajectory. This indicates that at this point there is no unifying frame of reference and therefore momentum has been lost in the independence discourse. A colleague has produced an interesting map of online media around the referendum.  I am enticed to conduct a more comprehensive analysis of media content around the Scottish Referendum on an academic paper on the impact of social media in politics. To be continued….

PS.  #scottishindependence between 27-29th of September (density 0.004; 74 components and reciprocity at 0.10) and between 29th September and 1st of October (density 0.004; 66 components and reciprocity at 0.013). It should be pointed out that the network size has decreased from 222 to 136, so the statistics on density are not strictly comparable.  Nodes/tweets with highest betweenness centrality have larger circumference.  Their increased number across time indicates an increased fragmentation in the discourse.



PS2. And looking at individual components from over a week of tweets (25Sep to 3Oct).  The top ten components by size debated: a. rumours of electoral fraud, b. will Cameron keep his promise?, c. second referendum is likely soon, d. join SNP and e. independence without a referendum.  There were no pro-Union debates associated to the popular debates within this hashtag.  Interesting, that the opposing rhetoric can remain separate within SM. (700 tweets, 593 unique nodes, 239 components, 0.001 density).


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