Skip to Content

Blogs Coffee House

The shocking, secret truth about Scotland’s independence debate: it is civilised.

12 June 2014

3:42 PM

12 June 2014

3:42 PM

BREAKING: The night is dark and full of nutters. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been writing on the internet for nearly a decade now that this neither astonishes nor appals me. After enough time has passed you begin to appreciate that it doesn’t matter. Not really. You learn to ignore the howling.

Sure, it makes for good copy and there’s hardly a hack or a blogger who hasn’t peered beneath the line and despaired of humanity. It’s a swamp, right enough. Sometimes, too, you wonder where all these bampots and zoomers live. Nowhere near you, you hope. But the chances are that some of them do.

It sometimes takes an effort to remember that the fury chimps represent nothing more than their own tiny selves. You comfort yourself with the thought that though they may be like us they are not us. Since they seem to be everywhere it is easy to forget they are not so numerous as they seem. There really is a silent majority that plays by normal, sane, rules.

Which is one reason why I really can’t be bothered with all the nonsense about Cybernats. True, there are plenty of them and true, too, they are both vile and sometimes, albeit tacitly, encouraged by people (especially politicians) who should know better.

But, come on, people, let’s chill. It’s summer, the World Cup is upon us and there are better ways of using your time than being appalled-but-secretly-thrilled by the daftest things your political opponents say.

In any case, it shouldn’t be a surprise that there are plenty of disagreeable crazies out there. There’s scarcely a proposition so ludicrous that it can’t be endorsed by 10 per cent of the population.

This has always been the case and always will be. We’re simply more aware of it these days what with the Facebook and the Twitter and everything else. We see our fellow citizens for the numpties they really are. Some of them anyway.

And it’s not a pretty sight. It is dispiriting. But, again, let’s not wallow in hand-wringing (to the extent such a thing might even be possible) or waste more time tut-tutting than is strictly necessary. Responding to OUTRAGE with your own OUTRAGE is, in the end, a pointlessly unproductive way of carrying on. There’s enough – by which I mean far too much – dreary, whining whataboutery without behaving like that yourself.

The best of us can actually muster all the conviction we need but we’ll likely never match the worst in all their passionate intensity. This need not trouble us for it has always been the case and likely will always remain so.

If Scotland’s independence campaign is notable for anything it is unusual for being remarkably civilised. Violence, generally speaking, has no more than 140 characters. No-one has died. No-one anticipates, I think, civil unrest regardless of the result in September. This may seem a small thing but it is not. Just peer across the North Channel if you doubt this.

As for dirty tricks or rhetorical excess? Well this has nothing on the campaigns of yesteryear. Politics is a tough business but for all that there’s been plenty of playing the man, not the ball in Scotland this year it’s not been an unusually hard or dirty campaign.

Both sides are guilty of scaremongering, both sides are happy to paint pictures of a pestilential, dystopian future should Scotland vote the wrong way. But that’s politics for you. People on all sides have said plenty of silly and stupid things but, hey, that’s people for you.

In general, however, we focus on the bampots and the bigots because a) everyone secretly loves a freak-show and b) precisely because they are not the majority. That’s one reason they’re considered news.

And in general, this has been a commendably restrained campaign. The country is not being torn apart any more than the United States is rent asunder every time a presidential election comes along. Passionate and intense and frequently ridiculous and heid-in-hands stupid? Sure. But not especially ugly or divisive. Not by any standards, whether they’re our own or history’s. Perhaps, of course, this is because while independence might be attractive (your mileage may vary) it offers no necessary relief from oppression

I don’t know. It may be that I’m mistaken. But when I go to public meetings up and down the country I’m struck by how good-natured the debate is. There really is an engagement with politics and with the essential ideas of what a state is actually for that in its own quiet way is quietly impressive. This is true on both sides of the divide.

So, sure, there’s ample reason to find fault with the promises made. Plenty of reason to think that the campaign is not what you might like it to be. But guess what? If you don’t like the way the game is being played right now you could get involved yourself and do your bit to change it.

In the meantimes, there’s something to be said for abiding by the zookeeper’s warning not to feed the fury chimps.

Show comments