Today, my twitter timeline is on fire. Because I refused to toe the line and dared to speak my mind.
I had the temerity to suggest that I am not even remotely relaxed by the current storm engulfing the independence referendum campaign. And here’s why.
First, the hacking issue. This is the most serious and deeply troubling issue. If as has been alleged, Yes Scotland’s emails have been hacked, then that has to be fully investigated by the police and done so expeditiously. We all have to await the outcome of that investigation to find out what has gone on and if there has been criminal behaviour then charges must be brought and prosecuted, if the evidence is there to support such action.
This is the bit of the story that has legs. If there is any link to a Scottish newspaper, then frankly that blatt is toast. If hacking has been shown to occur, then we might yet get a McLeveson – and not before time.
If – and it’s a very big if – there is any connection whatsoever to anyone on the pro-union side of the debate, no matter, how tenuous, then that is potentially a game-changer. If those who would seek to preserve the constitutional status quo would stoop so low, would in effect break the law and every unwritten rule of campaigning in order to win, well they’ve lost.
Not just the argument, but potentially the vote too.
Yes supporters are outraged and so am I. But there’s no schadenfreude here. This not only could change the result of the referendum but the nature of political campaigning forever. We will have lost something from our body politic and that could reverberate for years if not decades. The big losers will be the Scottish people, who will feel more disengaged than ever before. Turnouts could plummet as people turn their backs on the democratic process.
And who could blame them? Because their democratic rights have been entrusted to political parties and players – which include the media – and a significant section could well be found wanting. Trust in the process will be gone forever.
But that isn’t the only trust issue, which brings me to the other source of my outrage. That Elliott Bulmer article asked for by Yes Scotland and paid for by it, yet presented when published as being written by an independent constitutional expert. He might well be the latter but on this occasion, this single instance, he cannot claim and should not have allowed himself to be portrayed as the former.
Will the Scottish media ever trust the provenance of any article pitched by Yes Scotland again? Not without forensic examination. Leaving aside how this knowledge got out there, out there it is and it has consequences: Yes Scotland is going to find it very hard in the next few months to get column inches for pro-independence pieces it wants out there, putting the pro-independence campaign at a distinct disadvantage.
Did anyone in Yes Scotland stop to consider the potential consequences of someone finding out that this single article was effectively commissioned? Did they weigh up the gain against the possible loss? Clearly not.
And it is this willingness to play fast and loose with a cause and a campaign entrusted to it that outrages me most. I am indeed a fairly marginal activist these days, but among us, my family has over 100 years’ collective activism – that’s unpaid for time, energy, toil and shoe leather working in support of independence. Doing our bit when this was the least fashionable of political causes – when holding a deposit or winning a council by-election was considered the dizzy height of success. And we are not alone.
Consider the unpaid, voluntary slog of all the SNP’s elected politicians which got them and their party to where they are now. Now consider the sacrifices, physical, emotional and material, which many more have made in their lifetimes to get here.
Then there’s the painstakingly crafted reputation for trust and competence which the SNP has carved out in the hearts and votes of the Scottish people. And the desperate attempts by Labour and Better Together to dismantle it.
And here’s Yes Scotland doing their work for them.
I don’t care that they do this. That this is how it’s aye been. That they mould and manipulate the institutions and structures to keep things as they are. The means do not justify the ends. Not when you call for honesty, integrity and transparency in the campaign. And not when you preach Scottish values that you appear not to wish to bother to practise yourself.
we are not them. We have been trying to persuade the Scottish people that we are different and that if they trust us, their lives could be different too. And when, more than at any other time, we needed to be, to show that we are different, we have been caught with our pants down.
The campaign which is fuelled by our money, which relies on us to give it legs, which we trusted to take us over the finishing line, has let every volunteer activist who ever did anything to get us to this point down. It chose to play the game, for a narrow daily advantage. And at what cost?
Every chip to that notion of competence, every dent in the shield of trust is potentially one persuadable dissuaded. No better than the rest, that’s what some voters will discern from this unseemly spat.
This, unlike the hacking scandal, is a media storm which will no doubt subside in short order but who knows what damage has been done in the meantime. To the campaign’s reserves of energy and resilience too.
The messenger has become the message and the vehicle is now the story. Hope St, you have a problem. And I doubt very much if others are quite so relaxed about it as you claim to be.