By Alex Robertson
It is a fine thing to engage in debate, especially if it is vigorous and informed on both sides.  I was tutored in the Glasgow University Union among such luminaries as Donald Dewar, John Smith and Ming Campbell.
The debates were fiercely fought, but constrained by conventions of courtesy and respect for the person, no matter how lively, or forceful the arguments posed.  I was struck by a remark made by the Queen in addressing the Scottish Parliament on her last visit. She said “Scottish Politics is not for the fainthearted”. And there’s the rub.

I have no doubt that the debate leading up to the referendum in 2014 will be just as lively and hard-hitting as usual, and sincerely fought on both sides of the question.  But if we are not very careful, we might just end up with a badly divided nation, regardless of what the final outcome of the vote is.

And whatever the outcome of the referendum, a divided Scots nation would be a price far too high to pay for whatever victor emerges. For it is for the Scots nation that we who favour independence struggle.  And I have no doubt whatever that the vast majority of the Scottish pro-Union phalanx hold their views no less sincerely and strongly.

Somehow we have to find ways to conduct our debate with courtesy and respect for those who hold opposing views, to play the wicket and not the man standing in front of it.  It is perfectly possible to do, and the public much prefer it by a long, long way.

Yet the way some of the Labour Party leadership are conducting the ‘NO’ campaign so far is a real danger for our democracy.  From Mr. Davidson’s characterisation in the House of Commons of Scottish Nationalists as neo-fascists to the attacks at First Minister’s Questions by Mrs. Lamont, who repeatedly uses an insulting, disparaging nickname to refer to Mr. Salmond, and bases most of her criticism by personalising all her comments.

This demonisation of the SNP and its leaders is creating an atmosphere of ‘political bigotry’ unseen in my memory, even during some of the most fiercely fought issues in the last fifty years.  As a friend pointed out, there are very real dangers in what Labour and their media friends are doing.

How do you, and how long will it take to rebuild trust and a willingness to collaborate, because the Scots will need our political leaders to do just that in the years to come, whatever crises are flung our way, to find democratic solutions and to work together.

The seeds of a constitutional civil war are being sewn by the top Scots in the Labour Party, and by them more or less alone.  Why this should be so is a matter of conjecture: is it just desperation or fear of losing the debate due to a lack of arguments to deploy?  Or is it some calculated device to, in Goebbels style, plant in Scots’ minds an image of ScotNats as sinister, crooked, undesirable and disreputable and therefore to distrust anything the ‘YES’ campaign says, to take a contrary view somehow in principle?

Either answer is not only shameful; it is dangerous and opens a new and despicable chapter in the book of the art of politics.  Whatever the truth of the matter is, it is an avenue not to be followed, for it represents a frontal assault on values that Scots hold dear: fair play and respect for your opponent – some form of perverted Pavlov-ism?

And that is the key, that and Salmond’s First Law of Politics: “A positive campaign will always win over a negative campaign”, will command far more attention from Scots, and will go a long way to winning their good favour and respect.

Those of us who know in our water that an independent Scotland has much to offer the world would love to see this debate carried on in a way that will show the world what we Scots are capable of.  We have come a long way in this cause, without even the merest shadow of violence or disorder.

Thank God for that! Now is the opportunity to finish the job in a grown-up way where each side seeks to carry the electorate by reason and not dogma or doctrine.  It would be a marvelous second Scottish Enlightenment. More light and less sound.  Those who campaign, on either side, should bear in mind that points will be deducted for unseemly behaviour or conduct likely to bring the Scots nation into disrepute.

So let’s ditch the scares and the smears and the spin, and let’s make this a clean fight.  I know that is what the Scottish people want more than anything.  Then, whatever the verdict delivered by the Scots in the referendum, we can all get on with building a better homeland for the Scots nation.


# Aplinal 2012-06-03 06:56
So let’s ditch the scares and the smears and the spin, and let’s make this a clean fight.

But when you have no real argument? I do believe that the pro-dependency parties attack Alex Salmond and others on a personal level as they simply do not want to engage in a thoughtful, intelligent debate, because then the truth about their history of lying to the Scottish people for 300 years (and most especially since Oil was discovered off our coast) will be exposed.

It take two sides to debate. ALL the media is on one side at the moment and a real debate will only be able to start once the information that does exist, is presented to the Scots in a more balanced way. You know Goebbels' quote, but it IS relevant in today's media environment.

New technology, the internet, twitter, social media etc. is a small help in evening up the balance, but if the polls are correct and that most Scots still see the BBC as a source of objective news (rather than biased opinion) then all the new media will do little than scratch the surface.

I think the pro-dependence campaign are pinning their hopes on the bogey-man approach as this maintains the level of "terror" about the unknown. And let's also recognise the huge step that such a colossal change as Independence will have for many Scots who are now facing uncertain futures about jobs, money etc.

The pro-dependents don't want a debate, they think that in these times the fear will keep the 'proles' in their place. The challenge is to give enough people the vision of a better place, without making it seem like a fantasy nirvana, which the pro-dependents will pounce on. It has to be Independence, warts and all.

The fight is on.

Saor Alba
# Harrbrian 2012-06-03 21:37
I think there are other reasons for any vicious personalisation of the debate.
First, starting in the USA there is a 'the end justifies the means' and 'those who are not with us are against us'
righteousness to modern conservative thinking, which is reducing the quality of political discussion in English.
Second, the unionists know that they probably don't have to take the risk of fact based argument because inertia is on their side: scare stories may suffice.
# RaboRuglen 2012-06-03 07:47
Hi Aplinal,

You've got it in one. The Unionist parties, particularly Labour, are acting like a wounded bear cornered in its den by predators. There is no logical defence of the Union as currently constituted and they don't want any further changes because they have been doing so well out of it for so long

All they have available to them is to attack what they perceive as the source of the pain - the SNP and Alex Salmond. That is much easier that admitting and addressing their own inadequacies and that of their beloved and succouring Union.

The forced resignation of Wendy Alexander stunned them. Up to that point they all thought they were invulnerable. All an individual had to do to prosper was to toe the party line (mostly dictated from London). - and then came the successive election defeats. Absolutely devastating to their political psyche.

No wonder they are angry. They're entitled, in their view, to continue at least 60 years of Unionist hegemony. Why not? Wouldn't you be angry in their position?

The problem for Scotland is that a cornered bear is an exceedingly dangerous animal, capable of wreaking considerable destruction before being brought under control.

Lets do it quickly and decisively.

Vote yes.

# Marian 2012-06-03 08:05
The unionist establishment strategy is clear:-

(1) frighten the undecided voters into voting for the status quo by bombarding them daily with scare stories;

(2) deny the SNP the oxygen of publicity by controlling the political output of the BBC and MSM so that voters cannot get the truth;

(3) vilify the leadership of the SNP and turn them into bogey men that voters fear.

(4) tell lies about the SNP and independence as much as possible without being caught put.
# mudfries 2012-06-03 08:27
Great article Alex, respect for other peoples opinions is very important but the way the unionist partys and their media attack independence supporters is shocking, they are going to have to get their heads around this fact - The Independence movement is not going away, the momentum will continue to grow, it is a mindset of people in Scotland who are saying when they look at their country and its affairs "This is not good enough, people deserve better, we need the power to make it better". It is a desire for self improvement in many ways. The referendum in 2014 should be looked at as a measurement of that momentum at that point in time, but as long as the momentum and desire to make things better grows the Unionist scare storys and fear mongering will weaken.
# Macart 2012-06-03 09:17
A fine article Mr Robertson, wholeheartedly agree. After the dust has settled you don't govern half the people, you govern all the people. Whatever else happens we win this with positivity and respect for the opposing view. The opposition leadership and their methods are beneath contempt, but they represent good people with real concerns. Where we can't win with reasoned debate, we should at least leave a discussion with no ill will or harsh words regardless of provocation.
# clootie 2012-06-03 09:57
Excellent article - very important observations
# amfraeembro 2012-06-03 11:55
Some of Lamont's language at FMQ's is downright unparliamentary . Why's she not pulled up for it?
# alexb 2012-06-03 12:18
Alex, I,ve being saying this for a long time, albeit not usually published except on Newsnet, that the people opposed to independence are using the "Geobbells" formulae, that is, tell a lie,or lies,often enough, and eventually people will start to believe that what they are being told is the truth. This tactic is the only one open to the opposition in Scotland as all the rest of their arguments, not that they choose to advance them very often, are shown to be false. We had better start getting used to this propaganda, as two years is a long time, and as time passes the attacks will become more virulent and hysterical, especially from the unionist lackeys, aided by the state-controlled media. Now why does this remind me of some Orwellian nightmare? it,s not 1984,is it?
# Signal Rock 2012-06-03 13:01
Great article. Just a thought regarding the Queen's remark - could it be a genteel example of 'Gibson's law'? Was her majesty perhaps making a dainty jest? On a serious note, the question of how to reach the people against the juggernaut of the MSM is am urgent concern. I agree with Aplinal - social media is not enough. How about a billboard campaign? These are very visisble to the population. I'm afraid to say that I & other committed nationalists in my family are regularly meeting people who don't support independence, but it's because they are misinformed. For example, a bunch of 6th years my son knows seem to believe that the SNP will introduce student fees, but labour won't. It's crazy. We have so much work to do.
# CharlieObrien 2012-06-03 13:34
Only truth will do.No it wont,what will do is equality of propaganda.
The people must be told what will happen if there is a no vote! Westminster will see that as the OK to walk all over that spineless lot.Then there will be so much discord and we will have a recipe for real aggression and trouble will be everywhere because the Labour lies will be found out,but will the people do anything or just roll over and take it.We must reach a Yes vote the alternative will be disaster surely even those committed to their party will see what will happen.Labour has always put their party before country and the people,the Tories they are worse they will sacrifice they people to balance the books,now the Lib-Dems will just sit in a corner and cry saying sorry they never knew or understood.So far our fight for independence has had no bullets.I do hope it stays this way,but too many lies may make this impossible.That will be because of those who put the party before the people.We can sack the monarch afterwards.
# hiorta 2012-06-03 13:50
If our choice came down to 'a Nation badly divided' or no Nation at all, then there is no choice.
We can sort a 'badly divided Nation' but can do nothing with no Nation at all.

The question Westminster avoids is still there: why is Independence good for Westminster/ England but bad for Scotland?
# Cattanach69 2012-06-03 14:09
There is no danger of the Brit Unionists making a clean fight of it! The evidence of that is here before our eyes and ears on a daily basis.

The smears, the fears and so on. Not to mention the nauseating and grating Olympic and Royalist propaganda and lies that has been flooding the MSM.

Or the deal cutting with and subsidising the likes of the Orange Order.

The MSM Demonisation of the SNP is one issue but when you have an MSM in full attack mode against Scottish Independence and Scottish Institutions generally you have to question if we have anything in common with any other democracy. The answere to that is plainly nothing at all.

The classic example this week was the STV attack on a road and how they attepmted to smear the SNP govt over the state as if it was the state of the SNP Scottish Govt roadsthat causes death and injury on our roads and has obviously nothing at all to do with bad driving!

No there is no danger of the Brit Stateand its stooges playing fair at all. Stick to the wacky baccy if you belive that they will!
# lochside 2012-06-03 21:12
Sorry, but this is a variation on the Lesley Riddoch puff about why can't we discuss things amicably? line. I'm afraid the gloves have been off for quite a while and it's time to fight back, not in a dirty or violent way, I hasten to add, but in a direct and clear way...No more trying to kid on we'll still have the status quo (currency, monarchy, welfare and pensions etc.) but with a Saltire flying over Edinburgh Castle. The non-aligned are being drip-fed a poisonous subliminal (and not so) grotesque fabrication of what Independence and the SNP really are. As others on here for the last two years I've urged a demo at Pacific Quay and with the brave 100-150 souls who ventured out, we can see that there is real momentum available to build on by making the next one bigger and force the BBC to acknowledge their own culpability, but also the whole question of State funded lying concerning the real 'facts' around this debate. Otherwise trying to be 'positive' i.e. passive, will just play into the hands of the insiduous dumbing down and demonisation process presently being conducted by the Unionists.
# brusque 2012-06-04 12:48
In my "later years" I have learned to be pragmatic about issues which used to make me angry; unfairness still being the thing which makes me incandescent!!

I simply do not understand when people can sit back and see how unfair this debate is? I choose not to engage with those whose only response to "what does the Union do for me"? is, "stronger together". That's it! no discussion, no debate, mind made up because Westminster told them so. I see no reason to try to engage these people, I don't think there is any argument which will sway them - unless it came from their London masters.

Those who actually seek debate, and are undecided, are a different prospect. It is possible to attempt to show them that there are other possibilities, and in some cases probabilities for Scots.

The "NO" campaign, or the "Naysayers" as I think of them, will continue to twist, accuse, insult and provoke - for all the world to see. It will not be a pretty sight, and it will not be well received by many in the Political World outside of London and Edinburgh. That is the reason the Unionist's No Campaign is going to prove difficult; they don't want to appear too negative, but they just can't stop themselves reverting to type.

Johann Lamont wants to know why Scotland would compete with our neighbours across the border.

I want to know why not?
# Rafiki 2012-06-04 13:56
Re Cattanach69's comment on roads; one fact never mentioned is that in 2007 the SNP had the dualling of the A9 in their manifesto. Funding for this would be provided by cancelling the Edinburgh Trams and using the £500 million for the A9.
The Unionist Parties forced through the Trams - they had a majority, so would teach the SNP a lesson. So we have had 5 years of traffic shambles in Edinburgh, at VAST public expense, while the Unionist parties bleat about the A9 - and blame the SNP!
You couldn't make it up.
# Clydebuilt 2012-06-05 22:04

Great point......It's up to SNP ministers to get this point and similar over during interviews....

There's been a lot of very good points made here. At last it's dawning on Nats that we haven't won the referendum. and unless we get the finger out we won't win.

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