Any impending national vote is likely to be somewhat divisive. Whether it’s Labour supporters opposing Conservatives or UKIP opposing the Green Party, there is always conflict. However, on such a big issue, with such wide interest and with only two polarised options, the split of the country into two passionate camps was completely unavoidable. What wasn’t unavoidable though, was the ill nature of that division.
The bad side of the debate over Scottish independence has taken two very distinct shapes. The first comes in the form of insults and abuse. Both sides have a small but nasty minority who exude vitriol and do their best to turn the debate into a bar brawl. Ask any member of either campaign and they’ll be able to recall countless times where they have been verbally assaulted because of their views.
What is far more disappointing is the behaviour of a large group of otherwise respectful and intelligent people, who have taken to the subtle yet disturbing tactic of turning into political spin-doctors. Politicians talk endlessly about how wonderful it is that regular Scots are getting involved in political debate, and they’re right. However, the quality of that debate has too often been reduced to disingenuous rhetoric and mind numbing platitudes. In addition, most of that false rhetoric has been extremely negative from both sides. ‘Yes’ supporters consistently repeat lines about the NHS coming under threat from privatisation in the rest of the UK despite health being completely devolved to the Scottish Parliament. ‘No’ voters do the same when claiming that Scotland can never join the EU when the only question up for debate is the speediness of the application. In a debate on the University of Edinburgh’s radio station, Fresh Air, a speaker from the ‘Yes’ side claimed that voting ‘No’ is saying that you’re happy with child poverty. Some ‘No’ campaigners have said that Scotland would be a Third World country after independence. These claims are not only ridiculous, but also defamatory to those on the other side of the debate.
The scary thing is that the majority of people who are making completely false claims are doing so deliberately. Most that speak extensively in favour of either side of the argument are incredibly well informed. They know all of the arguments, counter-arguments, facts, and figures that there are to know. As a result, a big positive from this debate is that most young Scots are now aware of a wide range of economic indicators. The negative though, is that supporters of both of the campaigns have become completely robotic. They respond to key triggers in sentences with phrases from their mental repertoire of the party line. The referendum hasn’t just turned people nasty, it has turned people into finely tuned political machines.
The Scots to empathise with are the undecided voters, who turn up to debate after debate and hear the same old unthinking, unfeeling rhetoric that has horribly divided this country. It is so tiring for people to turn up to debate after debate and never hear anything new or anything that sounds remotely genuine. We can keep telling them to go to debates that aren’t between politicians and feature real people, but the trouble with that is, we all sound like politicians now.