Friday 25 May 2012

Here's the campaign! Where's the debate?

Inverness - October 2011
I write this on the day that sees the launch of the Yes Scotland campaign marking the start of the effort to secure a yes vote in the hard-won referendum to decide Scotland's constitutional future. Like the arrival of the minority SNP government in 2007 and the stunning election victory a little over a year ago, today marks a very real milestone in the history of our nation.

As I write my mind goes back to another significant occasion - the SNP Conference in October 2011 when Alex Salmond declared that the SNP would, "campaign full square for independence in the coming referendum". I knew, of course, that there was going to be a referendum. Among the many things signalled by the result of the May 2011 election was the end of the decades-long Labour/Tory/LibDem fight to deny the people of Scotland a say in the matter of their country's constitutional status. But it was at Inverness last October when the reality of the referendum was truly brought home to me.

My first reaction was to assume that this firming-up of the referendum would prompt a widespread debate around the issue of independence and that there would be some demand for online venues in which such debate might be conducted. So I immediately set up a forum for this purpose. The idea was to keep this forum as open as possible with very light-touch moderation and as few impediments as possible to those who wished to participate or merely observe. The hope was that the site would attract a full range of views on the matter of Scotland's constitution, the referendum and related issues. Having run numerous online forums, and participated in many more, I was not naive enough to imagine that the discussion would always stay at an elevated level. Such topics can be emotive and I was prepared to deal with some "robust" debate. In fact, I was looking forward to it.

To cut a long story short, I abandoned the project after threes months. The site had attracted a reasonable following in that time and the membership was growing. But not even one unionist was prepared to engage in this debate. We'd get the occasional "drive-by" comment from some British nationalist fanatic. Typically nothing more constructive than a bit of infantile name-calling directed at Alex Salmond. But no attempt to make any substantive points in favour of the union, and no effort to rebut any of the arguments advanced by pro-independence contributors.

Looking to encourage wider participation I trawled the web for pro-union websites of a similar nature. I was unable to discover any. All I could find were anti-independence sites where no open discussion was permitted; all comments were pre-moderated; and where any pro-independence comments were generally disallowed and the contributor blocked..

What I learned from this experience was that, for all their talk of the need for "proper debate", unionists were quite evidently entirely unprepared and unwilling to participate in such debate on anything other than terms dictated by themselves. And in the weeks and months that have followed I have seen nothing to indicate that this situation has changed.

Today will see the launch of the campaign for a yes vote in the 2014 referendum. But don't expect it to be the start of an informed, honest and meaningful debate. The unionist/anti-independence lobby still aren't ready for that. And I'm beginning to suspect they never will be.


  1. Thanks, Peter. I agree 100% with your final paragraph, unfortunately, in particular this sentence, "The unionist/anti-independence lobby still aren't ready for that. And I'm beginning to suspect they never will be.'

    I am still waiting for the "positive case for the Union" from ANYBODY. It doesn't have to be a politician, a blogger will do. But all I have seen is a variation on the "too poor, too wee, too stupid" invective, and vague, fluffy "we are stronger together" waffle.

    Will we get a debate? No, I don't think so, because there isn't an argument (a legitimate one, at least) against Independence IMHO. It is the natural state for a country, not this unequal dependency funk that we have been in for 305 years and counting.

    I will continue to live in hope.

    1. Thanks (I think!) for reminding me about that, Rolfe. It occurs to me that the "Orkney & Shetland" thing must be due for another airing about now. There appears to be a cycle of such propaganda drivel, with the same crap being rehashed at more or less regular intervals. Presumably on the basis that the public will have forgotten about all the other times the nonsense has been comprehensively debunked.

      Fair maks ye weary! So it does!

    2. Something very strange, Peter. I refreshed the page and your comment appears as a reply to Tony, and mine has vanished.

    3. That is weird. I have no idea what happened. But I'm definitely not happy with the comment facility on Blogger.

  2. What Peter missed out was the part where a succession of trolls with names like UpHellyAa came to the forum and insisted they as Shetlanders were British not Scottish, had never been Scottish, hated Scotland, and would either declare independence themselves rather than be part of an independent Scotland, or become part of England, or become part of Norway.

    They didn't seem sure which, though these are very very different ambitions. The one thing they were sure about was that Scotland would never see a drop of Shetland's oil.

    I don't believe any of them had even been to Shetland. They were probably all the same person. And they were nasty and rude with it. And they really really didn't like the link to the document about maritime boundaries that explains that Shetland, as an isolated or detached island group, wouldn't get any of the oil fields in any case.