Rennie: Stand up to the nationalist thugs

Yesterday, Labour MP Jim Murphy was egged in Kirkcaldy as he was speaking there as part of his 100 towns in 100 days tour. He travels the country with 2 Irn Bru crates to stand on and speaks and meets people around the country.

Twice in the last week, there have been really ugly scenes as he was surrounded by Yes campaigners who did their best to shout him down. Last week the same thing happened in Motherwell. Now, I don’t much care for Murphy’s politics, but he has the right to express himself without facing intimidation.

I’ve been chased down streets by Labour thugs before. They didn’t like being beaten with the regularity we managed it in Chesterfield in the 90s. I remember copping a mouthful of abuse from some scary Labour men in a quiet street during the Littleborough and Saddleworth by-election back in 1995. I remember It’s really unpleasant and not how politics should ever be conducted. Since I’ve been back in Scotland, bar the odd skirmish at counts between Labour and the SNP, things have been pretty civilised in comparison. Until the last few months.

As the temperature rises, the cybernats have come out from behind their keyboards and on to the streets. Posters are being vandalised and anyone who disagrees with them abused. And it is one sided. Yes speakers tend to be left to make their points in peace. They don’t get surrounded by mobs.

“The names of the traitors have been duly noted”

I wrote a post yesterday on my Facebook about why I’d voted No.

Just completed my postal vote. I resisted the temptation to write Thanks beside the No. It does feel strange not to be voting for change. In many ways it’s counter-intuitive for a liberal because there is so much we want to change about the world. For me, the priority is a liberal, compassionate, caring society and that’s what I’ll continue to fight for whatever the result on 19th September. What’s on offer from the Yes campaign puts so much of what we rely on, a stable currency being the most obvious thing, in jeopardy without offering a realistic chance of creating that fairer society. Those who would suffer most if it all goes wrong are the most vulnerable. Staying in the UK offers the further enrichment of our vibrant democracy in Scotland with more powers whilst spreading the risk in these globally turbulent times. One of the real tragedies of the last 7 years since the SNP have been in Government is that they have not used the powers they’ve got to anything like their potential. They’ve just moaned that they don’t have enough powers. During the first 8 years, the Lib Dem/Labour coalition showed off what they could do and brought in some revolutionary stuff, free personal care, PR for local government, the smoking ban, free eye and dental checks. We need to get back to that sort of reforming state of mind and make things happen.

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.

Willie Rennie agrees and addresses this point in a speech he’ll be giving tonight in Inverness. He’ll say:

I have met thousands of people in recent weeks and have been concerned about the increasing levels of fear I have witnessed in supporters of the United Kingdom.

Thuggish nationalists used to only intimidate on the internet but now they are shouting down people in public meetings and on the streets. They are ripping down posters from fields and adorning buildings with graffiti.

The result is that supporters of the United Kingdom are reluctant to display posters or wear a badge for fear that their property will be damaged or they will be accosted by angry nationalists on the high street.

I faced it myself in a public meeting in Dunfermline, in the middle of Cupar with Jim Murphy and whilst campaigning across the country. I have witnessed damaged posters and graffiti around every corner.

Whilst I am no supporter of Nigel Farage the treatment he received in Edinburgh was not something most people would expect in a democratic society. But it was part of a growing trend of intolerance of other views. The nationalist thugs tell us they are tolerant as long as you agree with them.

Of course far from every nationalist is a thug but far too many are and it is becoming a problem.

My plea to Alex Salmond is to speak out now and instruct his supporters to end the campaign of intimidation.

My advice to supporters is to stand up to the bullies. If everyone who wants to stay in the UK sticks a poster in their window and pins a badge on their lapel then the nationalist thugs will get the message. They will understand that we are no longer cowed by their actions. This is the time to stand up not back down.

For the sake of balance, I have to add in that a couple of pro-independence friends, whom I absolutely trust, have had damage to their property as well which has really distressed them. It goes without saying that this sort of behaviour is inexcusable. However, it does seem to be primarily nationalists whose behaviour is causing a problem. It does make you wonder what sort of Scotland those wreckers want to see. Brutish bullying must never be allowed to prevail.

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

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  • paul barker 29th Aug '14 - 6:43pm

    Am I right in thinking that the Result will be announced late on the Night, after people have had time to down a few drinkss ? Theres potential for trouble, particularly if the result is unexpected. One effect of the febrile atmosphere may have been to distort the Polling meaning the result could come as a nasty shock to one side or the other.

  • @Paul barker

    That seems unlikely given the logistical issues in the islands which mean they do not normally declare election results until Friday. I believe the Chief Returning Officer has declined to say when a result will be declared. Still nice attempt to tar Scotland with a drunken brush.

  • Richard Dean 29th Aug '14 - 9:22pm

    I couldn’t interpret the sound on the video, but it didn’t look like intimidation to me. Are you seriously suggesting that those gentle men and women are “thugs”? What a rose-tinted world you must live in!

    It looked like a crowd expressing their opinion strongly, and a speaker failing to respond well. If you stand on a soapbox and shout at a crowd, why should the crowd not have the right to shout back?

    There are plenty of places in the UK, including Scotland, where thugs really do roam. This wasn’t one of them.

  • I’m English though I’ve lived in Scotland most of my life. I might have been persuaded by a positive unionist campaign. But as a middle=aged man I can honestly say I’ve never seen such a negative, dishonest , and cynical political campaign as that waged by ‘Better Together’. I’m sorry people like Caron are voting No. I think she’ll regret it. I think in time she’ll realise that she voted against the only real chance she’ll ever have to live in the kind of society that she wants. I’m tired of being told to be afraid. I’m voting Yes.

  • Denis Mollison 29th Aug '14 - 10:28pm

    Richard – I agree. An unedifying meeting – I coud hardly make out a word on either side – but talking about “mobs” and “thugs” is ridiculous. As Andrew Page reminds us, Labour supporters heckled John Major similarly when he did his soap-box tour in 1992. I don’t condone it at all, but I agree with Andrew when he goes on to suggest that Jim Murphy is playing to the gallery in cancelling his tour. It’s not a great loss to the debate: standing on a soapbox with a megaphone is not a very promising way of engaging with undecided voters!

  • One egg doesn’t make a pudding.

    Painting your opponents as thugs does you no credit.

  • Andrew Page, the Yes camp are doing plenty to discredit themselves by turning concern about the nasty side of the debate, which is very real, into a cheap point scoring opportunity.

    Have you not stopped to wonder why, despite being safely ahead in the polls, there are little public declarations of support for ‘No’ from the public? Could it be because there is a minority of Yes voters who make life very difficult for No voters by being abusive and shouting them down?

    Sensible Yes folk should be condemning this, not trying to pretend it’s happening on both sides, and isn’t that much to worry about.

    People are being silenced over the most important question put to the Scottish electorate in a generation.

  • Bullying and intimidation should have no place in society or political campaigning. Although I do find it ironic Jim Murphy is complaining of this as my only memories if him are his bullying and intimidation of my student Union delegation at NUS Conferences.

  • Andrew Page

    Only yesterday, a court convicted a man for tweeting that he wished to assassinate Alex Salmond. This is not isolated. Sadly, this referendum has brought out the very worst Scottish politics has to offer, and often the very worst of political activists.

    As it happens, I think that’s a shocking affront to free speech and was clearly not intended seriously. And it’s no worse than SNP MP, Pete Wishart’s, tweets in the run up to the first Salmond/Darling debate. But it’s a good opportunity to discuss the nationalists on social media calling people ‘scum’ and ‘traitors’ for supporting Better Together. Why is nobody on the Yes side trying to rein in these unpleasant voices?

  • Andrewe Page, I’m not suggesting it is only the ‘Yes’ vote, what I am suggesting is that only the ‘Yes’ vote are sabotaging public debate by hounding ‘No’ campaigners in person to prevent them presenting their arguments and that nobody prominent from the ‘Yes’ side is trying to rein in unpleasantness from their support.

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 30th Aug '14 - 12:28pm

    Unfortunately I had to turn off the televised [so-called] debate as there was no listening other than for a trip word which could lead to more heckling. The debate seems to have degenerated to a lower standard than Scotland has seen for decades. It would be great to see a return to the standards we Scots are famous for, namely well-educated discussion and cultured friendship. There is time for reason to prevail and good argument heard on such a vital issue – for the whole of UK I should add – as the result will determine the future of us all.

  • Alex Dingwall 1st Sep '14 - 1:47am

    Sorry but vile comments calling for the death if the First Minister’s father, death threats to the Deputy First Minister and assaults on yes campaigners but you still peddle the line that the problem lies only with the Yes campaign?

    Both campaigns have unfortunately attracted people that they disavow and it is shameful that Willie should seek to point the finger in only one direction. Surely we are better than this.

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