Willie Rennie vs Tommy Sheridan and an angry mob

I wrote yesterday about my experience at what was for all intents and purposes a taxpayer funded rally for the Yes campaign for independence. The Yes supporters were very nice when they told me that “No” voters were stupid.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie was not so lucky the other night when he turned up to a meeting in Abbeyview, Dunfermline this week to debate the pros and cons of independence with Tommy Sheridan, the former Socialist MSP. All Willie knew from the invitation was that it had been organised as a debate for undecided voters. This is the (imprintless) flyer advertising it:

Abbeyvew indyref meeting

When Willie got there, he discovered that it had been organised by the same people who had featured in the local press opening the Yes campaign shop in Dunfermline.

There was also a 200 strong crowd, packed out with members of the SNP, socialists and other supporters of independence.  Sadly, though, some of the more vociferous Yes supporters wouldn’t let Willie or his fellow speaker on the pro-UK side speak. There is some footage on You Tube here, here and here.  It’s noisy, angry, disrespectful and deeply unpleasant. The footage shows off how dark this debate can get.

Willie tells his story here:

I am not a shrinking violet but being shouted at for 90 minutes was not my idea of democracy. I like a good feisty debate but debate usually involves both sides of an argument being heard.  Whenever Dave and I spoke up for the United Kingdom we were faced with a wall of noise.

There is a very unpleasant underbelly to the independence campaign. It may not be directed from Yes HQ but it has been unleashed by the referendum campaign.  If this is how an independent Scotland would be then I am even more determined for us to stay in the United Kingdom.

I was heartened that a few independence supporters apologised to us after the debate for the behaviour of others. More applauded during the meeting when there were pleas for calm but it was a shameful display by so many others.

Perhaps it was because the meeting was organised by the Yes Campaign, a fact I only discovered when I arrived at the meeting, that it attracted so many hardened yes supporters.

If there were any undecideds in the hall I suspect the noisy part of the audience did my work for me to convince them to vote no.
Despite the dominance of yes voters one first time voter told me she was definitely voting no and is now proudly displaying my “no thanks” badge on her shirt.

You’ve got to hand it to Willie. I’m not sure I’d have been able to keep my head in that environment, but even after an hour and a half’s barracking, he was still making clear, coherent arguments. It’s a pity that some people were determined that these should not be heard.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Trots organised rigged debate, shock!

    Honestly, Caron, what was Rennie thinking turning out at an event whose most prominent speaker is a hard left ideologue without doing due diligence on the organisers?

    If there’s one thing the hard-left are famous for, it’s using proxies and plants to rig debates to imply high support…

  • I’m also appalled at this. Shouting down one side of a public debate is never acceptable.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 28th Jun '14 - 1:13pm


    Rennie was asked to speak at an independence debate in the area he represents in Parliament. Why blame him rather than the people who shouted him down. You think that’s acceptable behaviour?

  • Caron, I don’t think it is acceptable, but it is normal at far-left events.

    And, yes, I think all speakers should do due diligence on any event they are asked to speak at, whatever the subject and if they don’t then they hold some responsibility for whatever happens.

    There are numerous examples of politicians not doing this only to find they’ve associated themselves with supporters of Islamic terrorism, conspiracy theorists or the far-right, and, if they;’re particularly careless, all of those at the same time.

  • Richard Harris 29th Jun '14 - 7:46am

    Just watched the video. Chair was pretty poor. All speakers should have insisted all were heard. In the end those shouting came across more childish than the kids that painted the pictures on the wall at the back of the stage.

  • Having watched at least a chunk of the You Tube video I say this sadly but why on earth did Willie Rennie decide in his opening statement to play the man and not the ball. He had already seen Tommy Sheridan speak and gain tumultuous support from an audience clearly packed with his supporters. The one correct thing Sheridan said was that the referendum was about Scottish independence and not party programmes. (The fact that he then went into an anti-Tory diatribe is neither here nor there). Why didn’t Willie start by warmly agreeing with this definition of the referendum’s purpose and then making salient points to show why the Union benefits Scotland – which in my view it undoubtedly does. Instead he attacked Sheridan as an individual and went on about socialism in a way which I doubt would have impressed the minority in the audience who were open to argument. Yes, a large section of the audience behaved very badly but I’m afraid Willie’s approach exacerbated the situation.

    The case for the Union is strong and needs strongly and positively put.

  • Dear sir
    Okay I watched the debate, as directed. In street parlance, Mr Rennie started it. He was aggressive towards Mr Sheridan, from the start. When the crowd reacted, which I accept, they shouldn’t have done. Mr Rennie milked it with all of his worth. When you start a fight, even a verbal one, you should prepare to lose it. The other alternativeis not to start the fight of course.

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