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One of the factors behind the gains made by the Yes campaign is an energetic and creative push on social media. So far, statistics show the pro-independence lobby is winning online.

Distributing campaign material and rallying support on Facebook and Twitter is particularly important as the Scottish government cut the voting age for the referendum from 18 to 16.

“Young people live their lives on social media, so it’s absolutely vital,” says Gregor Poynton, a digital specialist at Portland Communications. Mr Poynton used to work at Blue State Digital, which led the digital strategy for Better Together and Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns.

The pro-independence Yes Scotland campaign has more than 73,000 followers on Twitter, almost double the number of Better Together, and boasts 40 per cent more Facebook “likes”.

But follower counts only reveal so much. A goal for each campaign is to mobilise online supporters to take action offline, says Mr Poynton. “You need to try and get them to switch off their laptop and get out into the real world to campaign,” he says.

Just as important is getting the message out to swing voters by encouraging supporters to share content with their own networks of friends.

According to Peer Index, a social media analytics company, Yes Scotland’s social media campaign is “well organised and succeeding in capturing the volume of the debate”. But staff and volunteers in Yes Scotland’s headquarters on Glasgow’s Hope Street are only part of a wider and enthusiastic movement.

Autonomous groups such as National Collective, an association of creative types, wage their own multimedia campaign promoted through a Twitter feed with more than 17,000 followers.

Other independence supporters have set up online video operations such as Referendum TV and Bateman Broadcasting

The more top-down No campaign has had a drier tone, though it has benefited from individual interventions such as pro-union tweets from Harry Potter author and Better Together donor J.K. Rowling, who has tweeted repeatedly to her 3.64m followers. "People before flags, answers not slogans, reason not ranting, unity not enmity," Ms Rowling wrote at the weekend.

Each side has sought to rally its supporters on Twitter using hashtags, labels that are used to categorise messages. Over the past month, the top pro-independence hashtag (#Voteyes) received more than five times as many mentions as the top pro-union one (#bettertogether).

Additional reporting by Mure Dickie in Edinburgh

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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