In an episode of the West Wing, President Bartlett spoke of how 2000 years ago a Roman citizen could walk the Earth free of molestation armed only with the words “Civis Romanus”, a declaration of their protection by the law of, and fear of retribution from, the entire Roman empire. His point was that if we are not allowed to retaliate with overwhelming force when attacked then what is the point of having such power? What is the virtue in a proportional response? When it comes to the independence debate in Scotland and specifically independence supporters feeling attacked and traduced what is to be considered a proportionate response?
Acting out of anger and emotion is all too easy when we have been hurt, all the more so when we are hurt by someone we trusted or believed in. This is what happened when Cat Boyd said on national television that she had voted Labour. Here was someone who had been a prominent voice in the independence movement, however accidental her initial involvement may have been, telling everyone watching that voting for a party who had said no second referendum should ever take place was a good idea. When Claire Huechan wrote that all independence supporters were racists and Angela Haggerty and Cat Boyd both wrote in defence of her, that too left many feeling let down.
Time and again we have seen voices from “high up” in the independence supporting community decry their fellow independence supporters as “zoomers”, “cybernats” and “a danger to the Yes movement”. Robin McAlpine, Jordan Daily, Angela Haggerty, all from Common Space have written controversial pieces which have led to vociferous reactions further poisoning the well. The latest unedifying examples of in-fighting have come from the Green party in the shape of Patrick Harvey and Ross Greer with yet more accusations of the Unionist media being regurgitated from the mouths of people who hold power at the behest of the very people they traduce.
Of course there are people on Twitter who will say things which embarrass or upset you, which are contrary to socially acceptable views, which are offensive, bigoted, small-minded, arrogant, even criminal. But they are every bit as likely to have a union flag on their profile and exclaim that independence supporters are Nazis and scum as they are to have a Yes badge and call the other group Yoons. Effie Deans, Brian Spanner, Keith Steele, Jill Stephenson (aka History Woman), Neil Lovatt and the Scotland in Union tribe, AgentP, the hangers on who stalk, swarm and insult anyone who posts an independence supporting view.
Where are the articles from Alex Massie, David Torrance, David Leask, Davie Clegg, Cat Boyd, Angela Haggerty, Patrick Harvey, Ross Greer or any mainstream voice calling out their behaviour? With all the journalists and unionist MPs and MSPs who follow Effie Deans and the Brian Spanner account one would think that at least one of them would “out” or call out the bigotry and hatred they display. But instead Ruth Davidson retweets and endorses Effie Deans and still no mention of it on Reporting Scotland.
There are more clicks to be had in writing about how once again the “zoomers” are taking over Twitter and making it impossible for anyone with a regular column in a national newspaper, or editor of an independence supporting site, to post an article about how bad they all are without getting some robust feedback. Independence supporters will read it to be annoyed by it and unionists will read it to have their worst opinions confirmed.
The independence debate in Scotland is not split down just “unionist” and “separatist”, it is overwhelmingly left vs right with the left believing they are the sole arbiters of Scotland’s destiny and alienating half the country in the process. I asked the question on Twitter; “If you KNEW that the first government of an independent Scotland would be Scottish Tory, would you still vote Yes”. The obvious answer was yes because that would be a government chosen by the 5 million or so who make up the people of Scotland.
This shows independence supporters understand that it is independence itself and not your version of it that is the key aim. But those right leaning independence supporting voters are currently excluded from the independence debate because they’re labelled Tories, Red Tories and Yellow Tories. They just want numbers Mrs Landingham, show them numbers.
Left wing politics is usually about a large state looking after its citizens, but it is also more emotional, more revolutionary and more vocal about what is and is not acceptable in terms of language and actions. The right wing in Scotland tends to be about small government, incremental and non disruptive change, and personal responsibility. It also tends to give less of a care towards whether you are offended by their opinion or position.
The vision of independence put forward in the debate of 2014 through the Scottish Government’s White Paper was unashamedly left wing, though shy of the socialist utopia called for by those in RISE. Such a vision was just as anathema to the right leaning fiscally and socially “small c” conservative voters in Scotland as was the idea of breaking 300 years of union to achieve it. There is no voice in the mainstream of politics for the right leaning independence supporter in Scotland but one thing that is certain to put them off is the idea that speaking in contrary to the accepted dogma of a socialist independent Scotland being the only one on offer will see them castigated or declared “zoomers” and “dangers to the Yes movement”.
You don’t get to say that someone isn’t allowed to support independence because they said something you find offensive or hold a view contrary to yours. You don’t get to say that someone is less Scottish because they don’t agree with your vision of a socialist state where nobody ever offends anyone and people are nice to each other all the time. You don’t get to call someone a “zoomer” or a “Natzi” because they swear or use what Spock described as “colourful metaphors”. You don't get to pretend that some angry keyboard warriors on a Twitter community numbering in the small thousands represent the whole of Scotland. And you don’t get to tell people they are a danger to the Yes movement while slating Yes supporters in a national newspaper.
As Brexit looms large over the future of Scotland and our voice in the process becomes quieter and quieter, as our trade relations, farming, fishing, human rights, EU citizenship rights and protection for our whisky industry are traded away by a Conservative government in Westminster, now more than ever we in the independence supporting community must be inclusive, not exclusive. We must be telling people that an independent Scotland will be a land of free speech and free elections where every citizen’s view will be respected and any flavour of government is possible, not telling anyone in advance what to think and what an independent Scotland is. Civis Caledonius Sum, I am a citizen of Scotland, as is everyone who is born here, lives here and makes their home here. As we move into these critical years of leaving the EU against our will it is the citizens of Scotland who will decide what happens to our country. The only way people will vote Yes is if they are persuaded their voice matters, telling them to shut the f*** up isn’t the best way to achieve that.