In one month the voters of Scotland will go to the polls to answer the question:
“Should Scotland be an independent country?”
The campaign, which is the longest ever seen in British politics, is picking up pace as it heads into the final stretch. Over these past years Yes Scotland and Better Together have fought it out in Scotland’s TV newsrooms, column inch by column inch, on the doorsteps and high streets, and ever more so via social media.
Both campaigns have invested in a strong digital and social media presence as they know that traditional media, on its own, is no longer enough to land their messages – today’s political communications canvas consists of search and social media, as well as print and TV.
The issues, the main players and campaign’s reputations are increasingly shaped by social, and then being fed back into the discussion in traditional media.
The internet and social media has given people all over Scotland the chance and tools to hold campaign leaders to account, debate and find out information on their own terms about how they will decide to vote on 18th September 2014.
To investigate how the debate has raged online Portland analysed the hashtags: #indyref (the non-partisan hashtag for anyone to get involved in the conversation); #YesScotland and #VoteYes (the Yes campaign’s primary hashtags); and #BetterTogether and #NoThanks (the No side’s hashtags).
Our animated map illustrates geo-located tweets from 17th July 2014 to 15th August 2014 containing those hashtags:
Unsurprisingly, the biggest spike in tweets during this period happened on 5 August when Alex Salmond (@AlexSalmond) and Alistair Darling (@TogetherDarling) clashed for the first time in a debate live on STV – with #ScotDecides the official hashtag. STV’s Digital News Editor (@mattjroper) tracked the conversation using Reverb which recorded the velocity of tweets and pulled out the five key tweets which echoed around Twitter during the debate.
To dig deeper on what issues are driving the conversation we analysed the most popular words used in the 613,203 tweets containing #indyref in that same period and here’s what we found:
The names of the campaigns feature heavily alongside the key issues of the NHS, currency, oil and powers. But there are other key words which are perhaps more unexpected such as Boris and BBC, which have flared up as the campaign has progressed.
The social exchange hasn’t been restricted to the cities with a fair spread of tweets emanating from all part of the country with this map visualising the density of tweets:
The tempo of the conversation is continuing to increase with an average of almost 37,000 tweets per day at the end of our study compared to around 14,000 at the beginning using the hashtag #indyref.
From now until the close of polls the campaigns will be under permanent scrutiny and pressure to communicate and explain their positions via social media. With hundreds of thousands of voters still undecided, how they react to that demand may yet make or break their campaigns.
Portland will be publishing more analysis of how social media is shaping the political debate in the lead up to the General Election in May 2015. Follow us on Twitter to keep up to date with the latest from our team.
Explore the Road to the Manifestos – our guide to the people, processes and policies that matter in the lead up to the 2015 General Election.
Measurement and evaluation