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