I have a long standing policy of refraining from attacking other people in the Yes movement. If we are to win Scotland’s independence, we can only do that with a broad based movement which encompasses a wide range of opinions, and a diversity of viewpoints. We need to attract those who disagree with us, and we can only do that if we contain within our ranks people whom those wavering No voter can identify with. That means that, by definition, our movement will contain voices which I individually don’t agree with. After all, if the Yes movement only contained people who agreed with me, it wouldn’t be a very broad based mass grass roots movement, it would be a fan club.
In this blog post I’m about to do something I never do – criticise certain parts of the Yes movement. I love this movement. I am committed to the cause of independence. I want us to win and to succeed. So when I make a criticism I hope that it will be received in the same spirit in which it’s given, a spirit of constructiveness. I say this because I want us to be stronger, and because I want us to achieve a better Scotland, an independent Scotland.
The harsh reality is that there is a double standard in the Scottish media. That’s the Scotland we currently inhabit. We all know that mad zoomer abuse from Unionists is overlooked and ignored. We all know that the Scottish Unionist media vehemently rejects any insinuation that the abuse from the sectarian and far right fringe of Unionism is in any way reflective of Unionism as a whole. In fact it’s pretty near impossible to get them to acknowledge that Unionists are ever guilty of abuse on social media. For independence supporters, it’s the other way about. The Unionist media revels in highlighting abusive behaviour from independence supporters, and it has no hesitation in using that abuse to characterise the Yes movement as a whole.
That makes it all the more important that when bad behaviour happens within our own ranks, we call it out, we condemn it, and we disassociate ourselves from it. It’s only by doing that that we have the moral authority to call out and condemn abuse from Unionists. To be a Yes supporter means to occupy the moral high ground, but we can only continue to occupy the moral high ground by being moral.
There will always be tensions within the Yes movement. There is a spectrum of pro-independence views, some of us believe in independence for its own sake, others believe in independence as a means to an end. Most of us are somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, but it is alarming and saddening that certain voices on the extreme end of the independence for its own sake end of the spectrum attack and name call people on the other end of that same spectrum. That happened last weekend, when Cat Boyd went on TV and said that even though she’s a well known independence campaigner, and even though she still believes in independence, she was sufficiently persuaded by the message of Jeremy Corbyn that she voted Labour in the General Election.
I’m not about to defend Cat’s position. She’s perfectly capable of doing that herself. Personally I don’t believe that voting Labour is at all useful to the Yes movement, but I do understand where Cat is coming from. She wants independence because she believes that independence provides the potential to implement much needed social and political changes in Scotland. She voted for Labour, mistakenly in my view, because she sees that as a way to implement those same social and political changes. It’s a perfectly consistent position for her to take, even if many other people in the Yes movement disagree with her. The fact is we will only win independence by winning over Labour voters.
I’m not saying that Cat’s position should be immune from criticism. What I do take issue with is the way that certain of the more fundamentalist indy supporters criticised her. It is not acceptable, nor is it helpful to the Yes movement, to name-call and insult Cat for her views. It is not acceptable – and forgive the sexist language – to call her a “stupid cow”. It is not acceptable to tell her that she is “a waste of oxygen” or to call her a “traitor bastard”. It is not acceptable to tell her that she’s an egoist who’s desperate for publicity. When you get hundreds, if not thousands, of people piling into your Twitter feed to disagree with you, many of whom have been using language like I’ve illustrated here, that feels pretty damn abusive. It feels like bullying. And it doesn’t help the Yes movement one jot.
John McHarg of Yes 2 works his socks off for the Yes movement. The fact that we still have a grassroots Yes movement after the defeat of September 2014 is in no small measure down to the hard work of John. He has done sterling work in supporting local groups and ensuring that they have the resources to continue campaigning, and he’s done it all without seeking public recognition. Yet a week ago he felt so threatened and so besieged that he closed down the aYe Scotland facebook page and was on the verge of giving up campaigning. John and his wife both felt vulnerable and threatened because someone who describes himself as a Yes supporter has issues with Yes 2, and decided that the way to air their grievances was by threatening John and his family and publishing their home address online. I’ve advised John to go to the police about this, and by the time this blog article is published he will have. John and his family have my absolute support. I trust they will receive yours too.
What this so called independence supporter has done is illegal. I know who this individual is. And now so do the police. There is absolutely no excuse or justification for their threatening and abusive behaviour. They are not assisting the Yes movement in any shape or form. To tell John that he is a “traitor”, that he’s “Unionist scum”, that it’s just a matter of time before he “will be gone” is neither constructive nor helpful to the wider Yes movement. It’s simply an angry little person lashing out. It’s fine to disagree with people. It is not fine to threaten them. It is most certainly not fine to make their families feel unsafe in their own home. As an independence campaigner I disavow these individuals. They do not represent me, they do not represent our movement, they do not represent Scotland.
A movement which attacks those within its own ranks with whom they disagree is not a movement that exudes strength and confidence. It’s not a movement that’s going to attract undecideds. It’s not a movement that looks like a welcoming home to those who have doubts. A strong and confident movement is one which celebrates difference, which is accepting of other points of view, which can discuss differences in tactics in a calm and rational manner. I want this movement to be strong. I want this movement to be confident. I want this movement to win.
The way we conduct this campaign will determine the shape of the independent Scotland we win. If we are suspicious of one another, if we are closed minded, if we are intolerant of those with different views and different tactics, that’s the kind of Scotland we’ll end up with. That’s not the kind of Scotland I want. It’s not the kind of Scotland I’m campaigning for. All of us involved in this campaign have a responsibility to one another, to our fellow Scots, and to Scotland. If we’re going to win, and we will win, we need to be self-disciplined, we need to be focussed, we need to keep our eye on the prize.
The best way to disagree with another Yes campaigner is to put forward your own views, not to threaten and name call. Don’t lash out in anger, and if you do see an independence supporter name calling and abusing another Yesser, call them out for it. Make them know that they are letting our movement down, letting us all down, letting Scotland down. Let’s save the name calling for the Tories. Let’s be better than them. Let’s be united in our differences. Let’s celebrate our diversity. And then we will win.
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