Scottish referendum: we won’t need your peacekeepers after the vote
The Observer, By Kevin McKenna
Scotland is a grown-up nation enjoying a political renaissance and calls for ‘reconciliation’ after the vote are misplaced.
The big lie of the independence referendum has already been cooked and now people are accepting it as fact. The campaign on either side, it is claimed, has been so bitter in character and rebarbative in tone that a long period of truth and reconciliation must ensue following 18 September, if Scotland is not to descend into a state of civil war. According to many, the situation is so grim that I’m sure a UN peacekeeping detachment is preparing to move into Scotland in the days following the 18th. Bill Clinton must surely have been asked to keep his diary free.
The Church of Scotland is concerned too. So much so that it will hold a service of reconciliation in Edinburgh’s St Giles’ Cathedral on 21 September. The Rev John Chalmers, who will be the next moderator of the general assembly of the Church of Scotland, said: "If we don’t keep the level of this debate down to a respectful place, where we listen to one another, where we don’t try to score points by name-calling, where the language doesn’t get too emotive and sticks to substance, then the business of healing will be a lot harder afterwards." I know Chalmers means well, but he is simply facilitating a myth and I hope that most other churches will politely ignore his empty entreaties.
The referendum campaign has not been unpleasant and nor are the lower orders and hoi polloi about to be overcome by their unkempt passions. This fiction has been propagated by business types and the chattering classes who have nothing better to say about the referendum.
Here is the reality. Scotland is experiencing a renaissance of its imagination where ideas, which didn’t previously dare speak their names, are being brought into the light and disseminated. The land is awake and the possibilities are endless. A renewal is taking place across the country. The turnout on 18 September is expected to be between 80% and 90%, perhaps the biggest for a democratic plebiscite in recent European history. In my lifetime, I have never known so many Scots to be as politically engaged.
Either the political classes are too stupid to recognise it or have chosen, instead, to deploy cynical means to deny it or to defame it. And this is why we are getting this sophistry about passions running too high and the people being told how to be nice to each other after the vote.
You can reach out and touch the condescension: "Now, Lucy, I want you to go and play with Tom and be nice to him even though he was behaving like a vile cybernat. We’re all friends now and Tom has promised to behave himself." Those who have taken it upon themselves to organise and order the way the country is run have never been comfortable about the prospect of the multitudes being politicised.
This is why they resisted universal suffrage until 86 years ago when all women over the age of 21 were granted the right to vote.
They are always pleased and relieved following elections when enough of us vote to make them valid, but not so many of us as to scare the horses. Average and low turnouts mean that the people are taking their medicine and then turning over and going back to sleep.
A couple of months ago, I shared a platform at a public meeting on issues surrounding independence with a former Labour MSP. This man expressed the hope that the result of the referendum would be decisive, perhaps 65/35, so that we would never have this situation again. "Anything closer," he said, "means that we would have a ‘never-endum’."
I replied that I would gladly do all this again after 18 September because we were living in interesting times and that it was exciting to be Scottish at a time like this. Scots have never before been more informed and intensely engaged in ideas about the future of their country.
According to those who organise politics in this country, though, that amount of knowledge in the hands of so many can lead to all sorts of foul and beastly behaviour such as revolts and strikes if it’s not properly controlled.
Those who insist on telling us that we had all better watch our language and stop being unpleasant to each other cite the internet and social media as evidence of what could happen in the days following 18 September.
Although nationalists are deemed to have more unruly supporters in this area than unionists, the truth is that the ordure has been spread about pretty evenly. And much of it, I have to admit, has been entertaining, if not edifying.
It’s not the nastiness and the bad language that they fear, it’s the fact that they can’t control it. For be assured that no one does nastiness and unpleasantness better than the British state when it deems the realm to be in any kind of danger.
The Scottish and British political establishments have been trying to suck all the blood out of the referendum contest since day one. According to them, this ought to be a campaign free of emotion and passion: the head must always rule the heart, they insist. But no revolution has ever occurred and no real political change has ever been achieved without emotion and passion. The British elite has always managed successfully to remove passion from our politics and this is why, unlike the US and many of our European partners, there has never been a proper revolution here.
In a Glasgow city centre pub last Friday night, I witnessed a wave of discussion about the referendum move quickly across the bar area.
What had started as a chat among three friends quickly encompassed a group of about 15, both yes and no. There was passion, humour and a serious quantum of profane language. It was a microcosm of the national debate. Afterwards, drinks were exchanged and we got back to talking about football and tax avoidance. There was no violence or aggravation and there won’t be after 18 September.