In­sults are made to rile us. Don’t fall for it, Scot­land

Sunday Herald - - 19.03.17 WEEK IN PERSPECTIVE - An­gela Hag­gerty An­gela Hag­gerty is edi­tor of the Com­monS­pace on­line news and views web­site, which you can find at­mons­

WE may all want dis­cus­sions about Scot­land’s con­sti­tu­tional fu­ture to be ma­ture, civil and re­spect­ful but it’s un­likely to hap­pen and here’s why. While we hear a nev­erend­ing ren­di­tion from fig­ures like Scot­tish Tory and Labour lead­ers Ruth David­son and Kezia Dug­dale about divi­sion, divi­sion, divi­sion, when­ever any­one brings up Scot­land’s right, God for­bid, to make the big decisions about its own fu­ture, we’re si­mul­ta­ne­ously show­ered with de­plorable language from com­men­ta­tors who reckon Scot­land should get back in its box. The mes­sage is clear: any dis­cus­sion about self-de­ter­mi­na­tion will be de­nounced as di­vi­sive, and there’s a line of public fig­ures on­side with the union pre­pared to drive it down that road. Last week, within days of Ni­cola Stur­geon an­nounc­ing her in­ten­tion to pro­ceed with a sec­ond in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum, we had two clas­sic ex­am­ples. First up was the bas­tion of moral­ity that is the Daily Mail. Writer Leo McKinstry em­barked on a tirade against Scot­land’s “vic­tim­hood”. Ni­cola Stur­geon be­came public en­emy num­ber one. He de­scribed the First Min­is­ter as “ooz­ing ... petu­lant griev­ance and sep­a­ratist men­ace” be­fore a con­de­scend­ing rant about how too wee, poor and stupid Scot­land is to make its own decisions. The ar­ti­cle was help­fully bro­ken up by sec­tions subti­tled “de­pen­dency” and “freeloader”, be­fore con­clud­ing the case for the UK was – with­out a hint of irony – bet­ter than “Ni­cola Stur­geon’s di­vi­sive rhetoric”. This is the Ni­cola Stur­geon who was demo­crat­i­cally elected to lead Scot­land on a man­date which stated, as clear as day, that Scot­land be­ing taken out of the EU against its will would pro­vide grounds for a sec­ond in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum. Then we had an ap­palling Daily Tele­graph ar­ti­cle by Al­li­son Pear­son, ti­tled on­line “Ni­cola Stur­geon is a liar and a traitor – off with her head!” – less than a year af­ter MP Jo Cox was mur­dered in broad day­light.

You could be for­given for think­ing that a ter­ri­ble de­ci­sion had been taken by a head­line-writer and that Pear­son her­self may have been hor­ri­fied by the language, but a quick glance at her Twit­ter feed put such no­tions to bed.

The day the ar­ti­cle was pub­lished, she wrote: “I sus­pect more Scots will vote Stay this time round and Stur­geon has signed her own death war­rant.” So while Dug­dale and David­son par­rot the same lines about na­tion­al­ist divi­sion, the UK press churns out violent language to­wards na­tion­al­ists.

The truth is that the first Scot­tish in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum was con­ducted with re­mark­able ci­vil­ity for such a press­ing na­tional ques­tion. Any skir­mishes that oc­curred on the very tiny fringes of a vi­brant na­tional de­bate amounted to no more than we might ex­pect at sports games or fes­ti­vals.

The most se­ri­ous event oc­curred af­ter the vote had taken place, on the evening of Septem­ber 19, 2014, when a num­ber of rowdy No vot­ers de­scended on a peace­ful gath­er­ing of Yessers at Ge­orge Square and nearly sparked a riot. And no, point­ing that out is not di­vi­sive, it’s sim­ply what hap­pened.

The language used in the papers will have a knock-on ef­fect, and it’s rep­re­hen­si­ble that ar­ti­cles writ­ten in such tones passed ed­i­tors when the Sun­day Her­ald re­ported only last week that po­lice are in­ves­ti­gat­ing death threats against Stur­geon.

Those with thoughts of vi­o­lence in their minds are, I’m sure, a tiny mi­nor­ity drowned out by a far more civil ma­jor­ity in Scot­land – on all sides of the de­bate – but their po­ten­tial to cause harm must be taken se­ri­ously.

David­son and Dug­dale may find the language of divi­sion po­lit­i­cally use­ful, but they risk creat­ing the prob­lem they claim they don’t want for the sake of land­ing a few blows on the SNP. They should think se­ri­ously about the ex­am­ple they could be set­ting.

As for Yes cam­paign­ers, my ad­vice is sim­ple for all of those who can see this ma­nip­u­la­tion as plain as day and feel the frus­tra­tion: don’t feed it with en­ergy on so­cial me­dia, don’t al­low it to awaken your tem­per. That’s ex­actly what it’s de­signed to do. Don’t fall for it, Scot­land. Stay fo­cused on the pos­i­tive vi­sion.

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