The Real IndyRef Division

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  By Peter Geoghegan
 
The referendum has divided Scotland.  It has been bitter and nasty.  Turned friends into enemies, lovers into fighters.
 
Whatever happens next week Scotland will be a more fractured place for all this unnecessary talk about frivolous things such as politics, and economics, and the future.

  By Peter Geoghegan
 
The referendum has divided Scotland.  It has been bitter and nasty.  Turned friends into enemies, lovers into fighters.
 
Whatever happens next week Scotland will be a more fractured place for all this unnecessary talk about frivolous things such as politics, and economics, and the future.

Say all this often enough and you start to believe it.

Certainly plenty of commentators seem to. The idea that the referendum has been nasty, brutal and nowhere near short enough has become common currency.  A frontpage story in last week’s Herald about how the debate is leading to a surge in relationship break-ups is more rule than exception.

But is any of this true?  Sure, you can point at footage of Jim Murphy covered in egg yolk as evidence that even talking about independence has brought out our collective baser instincts.  And there is definitely a rather odious undertone to some of the comment – online and in person – at the furthest reaches of both campaigns.  But are we a nation divided?
 
The short answer, of course, is ‘no’. All this talk of ‘carnage’ on September 19 is intentionally hyperbolic. (Although I expect every Friday night rammy on Sauchiehall Street – which, of course, only happen when there is a plebiscite – to be held up as evidence of how just debating independence has brought out the inner savage in us all.)

At times it has felt as if social media abuse only happens in Scotland – and only when folk are discussing the referendum.  If only.

Last year when Caroline Criado-Perez launched a campaign to include more women on English banknotes she received such vicious abuse on Twitter that two people were jailed.  Labour MP Stella Creasy, who backed the proposal, suffered similar rank opprobrium.

Proposing to end a 300-year-old union in which many people are personally and politically invested is a much bigger proposition than replacing William Churchill with Mary Wollenscraft on the reverse of a five-pound note.  Hardly surprising then that a few hotheads online – and in person – have become overly excited.

But the point should be made over and over – nobody has died.  Rarely indeed are the fate of small nations been decided by clipboards, pens and shoe leather, rather than bricks, bullets and balaclavas.

Scotland should rightly be proud of the spirit in which this campaign has been conducted.  Sure there have been plenty of idiots spouting bile on Twitter and Facebook, but search #Rangers or #Celtic and you will see as bad, if not worse.

Some have said that the campaign has brought subcutaneous fissures in Scottish society to the surface.  But is talking about who owns land really such a bad thing in a country where three-quarters of all private land is in the hands of less than 2500 people?  Is it a terrible idea to ask whether generations of worklessness in Greater Glasgow are OK?  Is asking if this is the best way to organize our society – socially, economically, and constitutionally – a question best dodged?

These are all difficult questions, but they need to be asked.  And if simply raising the issue of why so many children still grow up in poverty is divisive, well then there is a real problem with Scotland that is better faced now rather that pushed back under the rug.

Having said all that, there is a real spectre of discord looming – just not the division envisaged by those that wring their hands when a troll on Twitter says something offensive or Alex Salmond and Alastair Darling shout over one another live on television.

Something significant happened in Scotland over the past month.  The polls narrowed.  Then they got even closer.  Then some pollsters put yes slightly in the lead; others had it effectively a dead heat.

The response to this has been swift.  Emotional pleas from David Cameron to stay together, a triumvirate of Westminster party leaders eschewing the pleasures of Prime Minister’s Questions for a day trip north.

The London political classes are not the only ones manning the barricades.  Recent days has seen a flurry of business leaders and companies issuing not too veiled warnings about the perils of voting yes.  (As one friend, who used to work in comms at a major Scottish bank told me, “this is exactly what I would do.  Leave it until the last week for maximum effect.”)

Prognositicans of doom from captains of industry swithering voters, reluctantly, back into the Union’s embrace.  But if it Thursday’s vote is won by threats there will be many – rightly – angered.  Not just convinced yes voters, but also those who voted under the duress of future rising mortgage payments and higher shopping bills.

Nobody likes being bullied.  In most cases they will do what the bully tells them to, but they will hate them for it. 

And nothing is more divisive than hatred.