By Alex Robertson
The news reported in Newsnet Scotland that Mr. Peter de Vink has been deselected as a Tory councillor, punished, because he hosted a lunch for the First Minister, and in the invitation described independence as an attractive option for Scotland, is a wake-up call for those who campaign for a YES vote in the upcoming referendum.
It has always been true, just mostly ignored, that supporters of parties other than the SNP may support independence and are focusing on the post-referendum political map. And they are right to.
It would be gross negligence on their part to not think about what their party should do if Scotland does become independent.
Of course, the party leaders say baldly that there will be no such outcome, and privately most probably believe that it is a bridge they will cross if it ever does come to be.
Well, it is fine for the leaders to think like that and to rally their troops round a single banner saying “VOTE NO”. But those of us who want a Scotland united behind the idea of independence cannot be content to let that pass. And supporters of Unionist political parties should not be content either. Let there be a debate, and let all the options be open to analysis and tested in debate.
The main lesson for the independence campaign is to pay attention to the supporters of Unionist parties and not assume they are lost causes. There must be a place for right and left wing politics in the new independent Scotland, and we should be concerned to gather support from all parts of the political spectrum.
It will be difficult, but not impossible, for the SNP to appeal to supporters of opponent political parties to ask for their vote in the referendum. And the fact that it is the SNP, the political foe, who is doing the asking will no doubt deter many prospective YES supporters from complying with the appeal.
More and more, it becomes apparent that there must be an acceptable ‘home’ for such supporters of Unionist parties. And the need now is for an umbrella pro-independence campaign to provide the space to debate and analyse in safety without making participants feel they are somehow betraying their normal political position.
There are many ways this can be done: referendum forum groups in each municipal area for example, free from any political party. It would cost very little, being voluntary, and make no claims to political loyalty, but merely exist to inform and provide a safe place to examine experts and discuss the possibilities independence would offer Scots, all Scots.
Let Mr. de Vink be an alarm bell for all of us. Discussion and debate must flourish and be encouraged, not punished and participants persecuted.