It’s the start of a new month as we count down to voting day. I’m inundated with invitations from all corners of the Yes campaign to take part in everything from a mass canvas, speaking events and plans for the future of Yes after September to a new media for Scotland, crowd-funding for activist groups, for films and plays and last night I watched the latest documentary film made about the campaign. The Yes community is alive with activity and possibilities. (I’ve just taken a call from Business for Scotland with an invite to yet another event)
This week I interviewed for batemanbroadcasting – itself a spin-off project from the referendum – the land rights champion Andy Wightman, a gentle and studious man who is deadly earnest in his aim of democratising land, and the voluble and passionate Julie Webster who has turned the Maryhill Food Bank from a support service into a national cause celebre to excoriate our treatment of the dispossessed. http://batemanbroadcasting.com/episode-9-current-scottish-landscape/ They are both caring people in the sense that they see injustice and have identified ways to change our approach to help others. To the No campaign, they and anyone else with an emotional desire driving their ambition for their fellow man, are swivel-eyed bigots.
When Bella Caledonia and Scottish PEN, the worldwide organisation of writers committed to freedom of expression, organise a conference on a public press and how we might get a better media, it is sniped at as a joke by the No trolls. ‘Who cares…’
And indeed that probably is the question to ask at this late stage of the campaign that became a national conversation. Who does care…for the Maryhill Food Bank customers, about aristocratic mass land ownership, about a lazy, one-sided media or, for that matter, about the dissipation of the wealth of the nation?
What has emerged since May 2011 isn’t just two sides of a political question but two attitudes to our society. One wants – craves – debate and engagement in halls, bars, streets and media. The other runs away. It pretends to debate then fails to turn up. It buses in activists, relies on phone centres, taxpayer-funded leafleting and centrally-controlled, paid-for messages all designed to demean and belittle.
Its champion won’t debate with his opponent. When his lieutenant turns up to instruct the Scots on their currency, he dives from podium to taxi to airport ignoring the media.
The producers turn up at the Better Together offices to grab a word with Alistair Darling, the socialist Labour MP and democrat who runs the No side but he brushes them aside just like Osborne. This is a tight-faced, top-down project team. They could be corporate lawyers taking down the boardroom rebels before asset-stripping the corpse of a company.
The contrast with the glorious democracy of Yes is striking – the ebullient Cat Boyd, the humanely insightful Lesley Riddoch and the intellectual Robin McAlpine and a jumble of other voices and personalities striving for social improvement.
The contrast endures. When I write something which hits their argument in the solar plexus, as it were, I don’t receive a counter critique – I receive abuse. I look in vain for the No equivalent of myself who blogs passionately about how well the Union serves us, how it enhances our life experience, makes us wealthier, happier and gives us control. There are online midges who buzz around when I have produced a punchy piece, commended by Yes readers. But their effort is derisory, lacking in evidence, argument or logic and almost always little more than personal insult. None of them as far as I can see post their own analysis or reveal their own feelings about their country and their people. Why don’t Unionists blog?
One of the most virulent is a Labour loyalist who is unmoved by the party’s involvement in the atrocity of the Iraq War, likes being funded by the man who heads the world’s dirtiest company, now revealed to be serial tax dodgers, and thinks it’s OK for a Labour MP to be trousering quarter of a million in outside earnings while the country sinks in working class poverty. He has a blog page that has been empty for two years. And yet is unquestioningly loyal to the party and system.
The difference between that unyielding nothing-must-change mentality and the open, all embracing optimism of Yes is yawning. But then No is about the opposite of optimism. The best that can be said is that it entrenches the position of those who already do well out of it so I understand the middle class rejection of any threat to their status. But it does involve saying ‘To hell with the workers and I don’t care about my country’.
The trolling is always in direct proportion to the degree of strength contained in my last post so whenever it happens they are informing me I scored a direct hit. It is, as they say, a dead giveaway.
I used to plead on the blog for intelligent Unionists to engage and inform us but I realise that is useless. There is no argument that anyone articulates beyond it being somehow safer to remain in the UK.
I could actually make a reasonable case for the Union myself. Not that I’m minded to. I can’t help feeling the astringent, lugubrious Darling has cast a pall over the entire debate and stifled anything that hints at optimism, happiness and hope. Is there fun in their dormant campaign? Is there wit? The ones who creep after me think ‘swivel-eyed bigot’ is a punchline. We have Frankie Boyle. They have John Barrowman.
They do also have the media. I re-read for laughs this week a so-called story in the Times of London, fast descending to the same level as the Telegraph, which suggested there had been no uplift for Yes, or as the Times reports it, for Alex Salmond, from the Commonwealth Games. Which polling company had deduced this? Why Betfair of course, the latest source of political evidence used by the Times and possibly the source of their Usain Bolt story. The betting firm hadn’t had any additional bets on Yes during the Games and therefore the odds hadn’t changed and therefore – you’ve guessed it – no improvement in Yes prospects. The Times!? Bloody hell. Quality journalism from the paper that starts every story with ‘In another setback for Alex Salmond….’ If there is a Yes in September the political editor will need a computer refit to prevent her repeating the mantra.
Meanwhile the Unionist disease is catching….another leading commentator is causing some of us get a bit squeamish with his Tweets. Ian Smart is alarming even those of us who know him and don’t blanche at robust language. Despising Salmond is one thing but references to racism, the Nazis and the Malaysian Airline crash belong in the world of the nutters who abuse me, not in the mouth of a TV pundit and former president of the Law Society. Time for Ian’s friends to have a word? Where are your buddies Jack McConnell and John Boothman when you need them?
From this side, Yes is clean and in rude good health. The contrast with No couldn’t be sharper.
I wrote the other day that Yes is coming and I was interviewed by another filmmaker this week and said I thought it was winnable. Really and seriously winnable. And what if it wasn’t done this time…in September? Well, suppose Cameron wins the British election as seems likely and the UK votes to leave the EU…would Scotland acquiesce? Or would Scots demand to stay and choose European union for themselves over British union…and do so in a referendum?