I’m not sure that being told by every political commentator and Sunday newspaper – in suitably sonorous tones, of course – that there are 500 days to go to the referendum is a cause for celebration or to reach for alcoholic anaesthetic. Groan or cheer, there are indeed 500 days to go and we can only hope that things will get better, to coin a phrase.
For the referendum is managing to unite folk in the most curious of ways. I found myself taking part in a Stirling University on-air and on-line debate last Tuesday and nodding vigorously in agreement with Murdo Fraser MSP. Now that doesn’t happen everyday. But asked to comment on the tone and the content of the debate so far, he opined that the current slanging match of “he says, she says” proportions was boring – even he was bored – and it was doing nothing to switch people on. Yep, we are all bored. Bored united that’s us.
That’s because every time one side releases an analysis or an evidence paper on one of the “big” economic issues, the other side whacks it from all sides and declares there is nothing to see here worth discussing. And because it’s all on big, esoteric, intangible economic concepts, given that most of us fail even to apply a degree of rigour to our own daily finances, this is just too scary to pay proper attention to. If we cannot be bothered to reconcile our own household income and expenditure on a monthly basis, then we’re hardly likely to seize upon a paper discussing billions and trillions in its balance sheets. We don’t really understand the currency thing either, other than wishing to be assured that the money we have to spend in real form in our wallets and purses will still be worth something somewhere.
it will be interesting, therefore, to see if either side can get the debate on to issues of daily meaning to us all and in terms which we can grasp. There will be two cheers if forthcoming papers – from either side – on things like mortgages, savings, wages and pensions actually talk in a language which sparks proper scrutiny and interest by the voter at large. I’m not holding my breath though.
So if we’re all bored united, a good number of us are scunnered united too. Apparently, difference is not wanted nor welcome. I listened to a number of young people at Stirling University who felt they had to explain, regularly, that despite an English accent and itinerant childhoods, they considered themselves to be Scottish, having lived here for most of their lives. The fact that they felt the need to lay out their antecedents to justify their involvement and entitlement in this debate shocked me.
Identity is a complex political issue and it’s one which the SNP has worked hard over the years to dispel as a divisive factor in the constitutional debate. Its re-emergence for many who cannot cut themselves metaphorically and show tartan blood flows in their veins is troubling. And it is undoubtedly fuelled by the baiting by supporters on both sides of people’s legitimacy to engage in the debate.
Heaven forfend anyone deemed not to be “Scottish” or to be Scottish but not living here should voice an opinion one way or the other. Worst of all, should anyone try to inject comedy into the proceedings. Susan Calman dared to poke a little fun at her ain country and folk and was roundly abused for her trouble. Behind her quip that at least she hasn’t become Scotland’s Salman Rushdie – yet – lies a dark truth that some who refuse to toe a line, imagined and set by a largely invisible and anonymous group of social media fans, might find themselves being hounded out and hunted down. Shocking.
The other lot can do what they like, though I’d prefer they too behaved themselves. But I care only for a yes vote and to all those independence supporters who spend far too many hours commenting on online news pieces and blog articles, and wading into people’s timelines on twitter and jumping into debates on Facebook pages, think on this.
If Stephen Noon – whose credentials surely need no introduction – is blogging calling on folk to “be respectful of the views expressed by others” and Andrew Wilson – former MSP and all round sharp cookie – uses his Sunday column to affirm that “any independence supporter who engages in destructive abuse of anyone is destroying votes for Yes”, then the game’s up. Both these men are close to the leadership, as they say, and be in no doubt that these messages have the support of the very top in both Yes and the SNP.
We can all think on how we behave online and ensure that we are not being intemperate, intolerant or inappropriate in our discourses – I hold my hands up here as much as the next person for occasional lapses. It’s time for us all to raise our game. And as we enter the next 500 days, let us resolve to make the debate both interesting and pleasant, for those at the heart of it, those on the sidelines and everyone in between. This is a once in a generation opportunity, so let’s deliver the kind of debate the Scottish people deserve and which is worthy of the epithet.