The BBC did a pretty long interview with me yesterday. I wanted to express my amazement at how they were covering the breaking story about Labour being caught out trying to pass off a member of their Shadow Cabinet as an ordinary member of the public. I asked if I’d be allowed to get on record criticisms of how Better Together has behaved. They only use a short, anodyne excerpt in the final broadcast. Purely because I have a need to get this off my chest today, this is (more-or-less) the stuff they didn’t use.
The Better Together campaign has been one extended smear operation and the permanent attacks on Yes supporters as abusive and aggressive has been part of that campaign from day one. They have sought to portray the independence debate as a nasty, hostile and scary one because they are actively trying to put people off from getting involved. It is a fundamentally anti-democratic practice and is beneath what is a wonderful and inspiring campaign.
I would defend anyone’s right not to join the Scottish Labour Shadow Cabinet. I would speak out for anyone’s right not to get onto a platform at a national political event and make their children the subject of a political speech. But once you’ve decided that you’re going to do these things then I will defend everyone else’s right to respond – in a civilised way.
It seems to me that Better Together believes that the role of the people of Scotland is to stand aside in silence while they lecture us. This is an amazing conception of democracy and it is remarkable that the people of Better Together think that they are a privileged elite whose right to free speech trumps everyone else’s.
I have been involved in politics in Scotland for over 20 years (longer as a co-opted child) and this campaign is certainly not particularly nasty. I can just remember the Miners’ Strike. I can remember the Poll Tax campaign, the campaign to abolish Clause Four in the Labour Party, the anti-globalisation campaigning of the 2000s and much more. They were all much more hostile than this campaign.
It would be lovely if there were no personalised attacks in politics. I would love it if Johann Lamont didn’t call nationalism a ‘virus’, if she didn’t make jibes about her opponents being childless, if she didn’t call all her opponents liars. I’d love it if Ian Davidson wasn’t threatening to give female politicians “a doing”, if Anas Sarwar wasn’t accusing the Scottish Parliament of being an anti-democratic dictatorship, if Alastair Darling didn’t keep equating support for Scottish independence with fascism. Unfortunately, in politics as in life, people don’t always behave like they should.
Labour behaves as if it has installed a switch in Ms Lally which enables them to switch her on and off as a politician as they see fit – now she’s a politician, now she’s not. Unfortunately, once you’ve appointed someone to your Shadow Cabinet you can’t switch it off again. If Ms Lally is not able to cope with the job she has been given as part of a Shadow Cabinet, if she was not properly told what such a position would entail, then Labour has failed in a duty of care to her. It is nothing whatsoever to do with the Yes campaign. It is worth noting that technically Claire Lally as a member of the Labour Shadow Cabinet is senior to Alastair Darling who is only a backbench MP – such are the ridiculous outcomes of political gimmicks. But shallow, content-free stunts in which you use the mother of a disabled child to give the impression that you’re a party with a strong grass-roots backfires when it amounts to nothing more than the cynical use of a woman as window dressing.
I wish I didn’t get nasty things written about me on the internet and I don’t write abusive things about other people on the internet. But if we are to start a national search for nastiness can we begin with the broad No movement. It contains within it fascist groups like the Scottish Defence League, racists like the British National Party, bigots like the extreme end of the Orange Order, nutters like UKIP and hundreds of individuals who are more than happy to write the most vile things about Yes campaigners. Since the only research done on the campaign so far showed that a big marority of the nasty things written on social media come from the No campaign, why can’t we start by asking Alastiar Darling and Blair McDougall to crack down on that? They might also want to have a word with Tory MSPs who attack pensioners like the Weirs, their rabid media partners who have demonstrated no bounds to their bile and ‘satirists’ on their side who write about the violent deaths of gentle Scottish artists like Alasdair Gray.
Once this campaign is over, each and every one of us will have to answer for what we did and what we said. I am absolutely confident that I will be able to look back at my deeds and words with pride. I can say the same of almost all the people who are campaigning beside me. We have gone door to door, town hall to town hall, and we have told a positive story about Scotland’s future without telling lies about our opponents or trying to scare the people of Scotland with vague threats.
Better Together and their media partners seem to believe they are the Spanish Inquisition, that they alone can determine guilt and innocence, that any base act on their part is simply a necessary evil in a campaign to protect their privilege. I too believe that they have behaved like the Spanish Inquisition. Then again, I was kind of expecting it.