IT WAS the great American political theorist Joseph P. Overton who first described as a narrow “window” the range of ideas that the public would accept. An idea would move from being unthinkable to radical, to acceptable to sensible to popular to finally, becoming policy.
I think about Overton a lot as we head towards Scotland’s day of destiny, September 18th 2014.
The climate is changing. Less than two years ago I was amongst farmers (and their wives) at dinner when the question of independence came up (The Edinburgh agreement had just been signed). I remember there being a cosy assumption that everyone round the table thought it was a really bad idea, and remember the stunned silence when I suggested that I thought it was an excellent proposal.There are no stunned silences now, which must be progress. There’s a general acceptance, I think, that the issue is at least worth exploring.Farmers (particularly in more marginal areas) are generally willing to discuss the issue. Specifically, and the issues are a) EU membership, b) SFP.My own feeling is that farmers accept that Mr Lochhead and his team are doing a good job. My starting point is that the biggest threat to EU membership is a No vote followed by a withdrawal following a UK in/out vote in 2017. It looks as if entry into the EU is likely to be a lot smoother than the No campaign would have us believe (no surprise there) but what my customers want is a clear roadmap (I hate that word) to EU membership / SFP continuation. The feeling I’m getting is “you get this right and I’ll look after my business”. It’s only a financial consideration in terms of EU support – they’re not greedy, they just want to know that they’re being properly represented and that they get what is due to them.White Paper aside, concentrate on this, provide the information and you’ll convert a lot of don’t knows. Whatever the future holds, the guys need to know that a vote for Yes means a robust, honest and conscientious representation for Scottish farmers in Brussels.Using the Overton method, we’re probably somewhere between “sensible” and “popular”. I’m more confident as time goes on that it will become policy. As time moves forward, and in the absence of any vision from the No campaign of what a post No Scotland would feel like, people have had time to get used to thinking about independence and the burden of proof has changed from “why?” to “why not?”.Momentum is with Yes. Although it’s always worth reminding ourselves that constitutional change is cross party, fundamental issue, but remember who’s heading the campaign. Alex Salmond. The same Alex Salmond who turned a fifteen point deficit in the 2011 Scottish elections into a stunning majority victory. What’s more, the polls are in our favour. More and more people are being won over, and the No campaign is aware that once people decide to become Yes voters it’s nearly impossible to win them back.When I think back to that dinner party, the idea of independence probably scored a “radical”on the Overton scale. Little by little it’s getting close to “popular”. And from there it’s only a short leap to “policy”.