Jardine: As nationalist anger overflows, old fears return

The 2014 campaign for Scottish independence was grim in so many ways. One of the most awful was the febrile atmosphere and the friendships and families torn apart. Some of those rifts have never been healed.

A few weeks out from the poll, I wrote about how worrying and awful it was at the time.  This is what happened when I put up a pretty benign Facebook post:

A friendly and thoughtful discussion ensued on it and then a real life friend who isn’t a party political activist but who supports independence commented that the “names of the traitors have been duly noted.” Because I know hime well, I knew he was trying to be funny, but in the current febrile atmosphere, his words may appear threatening to some. I felt it necessary to tell everyone that he was a nice guy and not a nasty cybernat but is that the sort of language we should be using at all?

I’ve been talking to people who are ardent “No” voters who are scared to stick their heads above the parapet and display any sign of their allegiance because they are scared of attracting unwelcome attention from the more excitable nationalists.

This atmosphere is horrible and we need to find some ways of  making things better because we can’t go on allowing our politics to be conducted by abuse and intimidation.

With the Scottish Government’s stated intention to hold a second referendum year certain to be denied by the UK Government who have the power in this matter, Christine Jardine uses this week’s Scotsman column to look at what that might mean.

She wrote it just after the disgraceful scenes in Perth last week outside the Conservative hustings where nationalist supporters threw abuse, eggs and had a right go at BBC journalist James Cook who was just doing his job. Again that “traitor” word was used.

Christine recalls some frightening moments during the 2014 referendum:

Anecdotally I’ve heard of a comedian at the Fringe describe 2014 as a friendly affair.

They must have been in a different referendum from me because my experience was certainly not that, but was instead a constant barrage of bitter divisive comments and actions.

I was one of many campaigners followed by nationalists who photographed us or posted horrible tweets about us.

On one occasion, on the eve of the vote itself, I found myself surrounded by a crowd or around 100 Yes campaigners waving flags and shouting.

The group I was with was engulfed and pushed towards the edge of a pavement alongside a busy main road. It was alarming.

The scenes in Perth make her worry about what might happen if nationalist anger erupts again:

I realised my fear was of impending loss of family, of friends and of the divisiveness we have survived once, but may be forced to endure again.

It will not, however, persuade me to be bullied or silenced in my pursuit of what I believe is best for me, my family and my compatriots.

And neither will it persuade me to join in the shouting and jeering.

When the dust settles on the United Kingdom, as I sincerely hope it remains to be, I intend to be able to look both my colleagues and my opponents in the eye, confident that I have made my argument with respect and dignity.

Maybe everyone needs to follow the example of that day in Dunfermline, when Shirley Williams went out of her way to find common cause with a Yes supporter. That is the spirit we need.

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

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7 Comments

  • George Thomas 23rd Aug '22 - 1:24pm

    I don’t ever want to suggest that abuse is acceptable, it’s not, but I think there is usually such an imbalance of who has the power to define what abuse is and what being a “total pro” is.

    For example, if I am shouted at and called “tory scum” but then go into a closed room meeting and directly contribute to political policies which push more and more people into food banks, is it okay that I as an MP get to go onto friendly national media and say I have been victim of abuse? Sure you can vote me out but I’m friends with the Prime Minister so I end up in House of Lords (paid as a Lord) and back in the cabinet anyway. Meanwhile the people shouting at me get painted as being abusive, a statement repeated endlessly for at least a week, and no one asks for their response in the same sympathetic manner I got from the press. I might even end up with a statue protected by the police and some of those shouting at me end up dying much earlier than they should have because of my choices.

    It’s not that I disagree with the post here – I certainly don’t want abuse in politics. After all we have been through at least a decade of highly angry politics and seen the worst because of that. No one wants a repeat of that and therefore we do need to act with respect at all times.

  • The crowd at the Perth husitngs also included the Socialist Workers Party and various other anti-Tory campaign groups who are not involved in the independence movement so I wonder why Jardine only singles out “nationalists” for condemnation?

  • James Dapre 24th Aug '22 - 9:42am

    Why do the nationalists want independence? Is it largely to escape from Tory governments? That could be achieved by ousting this Tory government at the next GE and changing the voting system to a PR system. Do that first. Independence might then not be so attractive once majority Tory governments become almost impossible.

  • Paul Barker 25th Aug '22 - 5:16pm

    Can I throw a curveball in here ?
    We know The SNP will use the next Scottish Assembly Election as a stand-in for a Referendum – suppose we get to year before & they still look like winning – what do we do?
    My suggestion is that we start now to campaign for a Preferendum where Voters place a number of options in their preferred order. The options would include The Status Quo & Independence but also levels of Federation & Confederation.
    We have to break away from a situation where half the population are going to get something they hate.

  • Peter Watson 25th Aug '22 - 5:41pm

    @expats “In 2019 this party first campaigned for another EU referendum then wanted to cancel the result of the one held just three years before…It seems that consistency is rather lacking..”
    Some might even remember the party calling for an In/Out EU referendum … 😉

  • Peter Hirst 28th Aug '22 - 5:48pm

    It’s not easy to solve the problem you articulate Caron. The genie will take some putting back in the bottle. The best we can hope for is a civilised second referendum that is roundly defeated and puts the issue to rest.

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