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Culture

Published on September 5th, 2014 | by Lorna Carnegie
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Referendum Debate Turns Ugly

The referendum debate on Scottish independence is beginning to reach its climax as the last few weeks countdown to voting day. However the debate seems to have soured somewhat in recent weeks as people become more passionate and the realisation that we could be about to change our country so drastically but cannot guarantee doing so is for the better. We have seen abuse hurled at supporters and advocates of Better Together in the street and many No Thanks posters have been vandalised, defaced or simply torn down.

While Mr. Darling did not behave without fault in the last referendum debate, one must admit he was undoubtedly the smaller of the two characters on stage and was, therefore, on several occasions shouted down, interrupted and laughed at by Mr. Salmond who succeeded in turning a democratic debate in to an embarrassing rami and barrage of finger pointing. Is it then any real surprise when Mr. Salmond’s disciples take to the streets and behave in a similar way, destroying any hope of a civilised and democratic end to the debate on independence? Mr. Salmond has in essence destroyed his own claim of a truly peaceful and democratic debate. The Right Reverend John Chalmers who moderated the debate between John Swinney and Lord Wallace on Wednesday told the BBC that he fears “something ugly may be beginning to permeate the debate” and he highlighted the fact that as a country- albeit a firmly divided one at present- we must still “behave as though we are paving the way for working together whatever the outcome.” This abusive rotten behaviour must be stopped otherwise it will be very difficult to rebuild our nation from this divided state whatever the outcome of the 18th.

Mr. Salmond has reportedly received several death threats over the course of the debate, however the organised and increasingly aggressive behaviour of the Yes campaigners during Jim Murphy’s tour is a far more real threat to people’s immediate safety than some deluded idiot mouthing off because he doesn’t like the First Minister. More concerning are threats such as that made to Marie Penman of racial ignorance. She claimed that a Better Together supporter went into the Yes Kirkcaldy office and accused her of “not being from here” and went on to say that an independent Scotland would soon be “ruled by Muslims”.

While acts of racial abuse and death threats cannot and will not be tolerated it must be highlighted that these acts are done by single individuals, they are not organised, planned attacks on public campaigns. No harm or disrupt has come to the First Minister as he has appeared in many cities, yet it follows Jim Murphy like a bad smell. Derek Bateman, a commentator on the referendum, posted a blog recently about the attacks on Jim Murphy and seemed to be claiming that he deserved the abuse, saying that “the qualification should be added that a man with a microphone shouting at passers-by on the street – and the filmed evidence is of Murphy really shouting and firing up spectators – is itself provocative. It’s meant to be…” Well of course he is provocative, and he is of course trying to stir up passion, but the responses he is getting are not just spontaneous thoughts of passers-by but the anger and abuse of coordinated thugs, who are organising and planning attacks under the noses of the Yes campaign authority. The abuse Mr Murphy is experiencing is also often nothing to do with independence; it is not logical counter arguments but basic, aggressive, unsubstantiated abuse. He has been called a terrorist, a traitor and even a paedophile. Not exactly what I’d call a well-calculated reason for voting for independence.

Charles Maclean wrote an article for politics.co.uk which emphasized how the behaviour of intolerance, which is now felt on the streets of Scotland, is in fact modelled on the behaviour which we are seeing from the Scottish government. In any debate or interview where someone makes a point, however valid or fair, against independence the representative from the SNP merely interrupts or talks over the point so as it is lost, often not actually countering the point, just drowning it out. On other, more impassioned occasions this intolerance can lead to people being branded as traitors. There are several examples of the First Minister behaving not unlike a bully and acting in this ridiculous fashion, not least in the latest debate with Alistair Darling, but even when pressed for answers by a junior journalist the First Minister, rather than admit he had no answers, began offering him a pack of sweets condescending and patronising him in front of other professionals and journalists.

But what then happens if we get independence and post-separation dreams turn sour? A recent poll done by the Times found 49% of Scots fear some form of continued division post referendum, and 57% of those born in the rest of the UK anticipate some form of backlash. Of course that is not to say that all Yes voters are trouble makers and all No voters are victims of their abuse, there is only a minority of abuse and intolerance and it is on both sides. The point is that leaders of both campaigns must find a way to reach out to voters and bridge this ever growing gap in our country. For once the vote is cast we all must learn to live with it and therefore a no tolerance approach to intolerance must be adopted pre and post vote.

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