Time for Yes Campaign to call off the dogs

Time for Yes Campaign to call off the dogs

by Murdo Fraser
article from Saturday 30, August, 2014

IT IS THURSDAY morning in Cupar, usually a quiet time in North-East Fife’s market town. After a dull start, the sun has come out and the temperature is rising.

The Cross in the centre of town is the venue for the latest speech by Labour MP Jim Murphy, on his “100 Streets in 100 Days” tour of the country, promoting the case for Scotland in the UK. Supported by local Lib Dem worthies Ming Campbell and Willie Rennie, and by myself from the Conservatives, Jim takes to his Irn Bru crate, microphone in hand, to deliver his message. It is good, old-fashioned, street politics of a type that was once common but in recent years seems to have gone out of fashion.

A small crowd forms. Some are Better Together supporters, others are simply interested passers-by. Among the 40 or so people are a few prominently wearing Yes badges, including three quite large men, who plant themselves very close to Murphy’s loudspeaker.

No sooner does Jim start his speech, but the barracking begins. He is constantly shouted at, with question after question hurled at him. One unpleasant individual turns up at the back of the crowd and proceeds to shout obscenities, despite the fact that there are young children present.

Jim’s been at this for long enough to be able to handle it well, with some humour dealing deftly with the questions. But those who have come genuinely interested in the debate are frustrated that the event has been hijacked.

What I witnessed in Cupar on Thursday morning was as nothing compared to what Jim experienced elsewhere. Earlier in the week he faced an angry mob in Dundee, and later on Thursday he faced the same treatment in Kirkcaldy. He has been consistently barracked, spat at, sworn at, and even pelted with eggs. He has been called “Judas”, “traitor” and “scum”.  Its all available online for anyone to see.

This goes beyond simply heckling. It is a clearly orchestrated attempt to close down debate, and silence an alternative voice, by some supporters of the Yes campaign.

The hatred, bile and viciousness we have seen on social media for years now has erupted on to our streets, and it’s not pleasant.

Across Scotland we have seen a systematic programme of destroying and defacing “No Thanks” posters erected in gardens and on private land. Those who have erected these, as they are perfectly entitled to do in a free society, are left feeling intimidated.

Over the past months I have taken part in more than two dozen debates across the country. In some cases these have attracted a gang of vocal, organised, Yes supporters, who attempt to dominate the meeting with their questions. They heckle and shout over the answers. Whilst I am big enough and ugly enough not to be fazed by this behaviour, I know it is extremely off-putting for those who come along to such events to hear the arguments and to help them make up their minds.

And it needn’t be like this. Most of the debates I have participated in have been conducted in a courteous manner with respect to both sides. On Thursday evening, the same day I was in Fife with Jim Murphy, I spoke at a church debate in Newton Mearns with SNP MSP John Mason.

For two hours we were grilled by an engaged and attentive audience of perhaps 150, on issues that mattered to them. There was no shouting, no heckling and no pointing. No one left feeling intimidated. That is the way it should be.

Why do some Yes campaigners feel that they have to behave in the manner witnessed in Cupar and elsewhere? What are they hoping to achieve? Is it the case that they know they are losing the argument, and feel that they can only try and win the day by stifling any alternative opinion?

(Incidentally, let’s dismiss the conceit that “both sides are as bad as each other”. They are not. I am not aware of any event, in the street or in a hall, where Yes campaigners have faced the same level of orchestrated barracking and aggression as we see from their own side.)

Surely the perpetrators of this behaviour from the Yes campaign must see that it is counter-productive. The reaction I have had from many neutral folk, having witnessed this, is that if this is in any way indicative of the new Scotland the separatists wish to create, then they want nothing to do with it.

I ask myself whether senior Nationalists, in their quiet moments, find themselves concerned at the anger and hate that their cause seems to have unleashed across the country? They certainly should be.

When the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland proposed some months ago a Service of Reconciliation for immediately after the 18th of September, I was one of those who scoffed at the idea that we would need reconciling. Now, I am not so sure.

But I wonder if, rather than reconciliation, what we actually need is repentance. And there is no reason why we have to wait until after September 18th for that to happen.

A clear lead from the Yes Scotland leadership to their ground troops about the conduct of the debate at this stage could make a real difference. And would indicate that they really are serious when they say that they want a new Scotland everyone can be a part of.

 

[As of this morning 30th August Jim Murphy has suspended his tour - Ed.]

 

 

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