The 18 September 2014 was an important day for Scotland. It was the date of the Scottish Independence referendum and marked the end of long, passionate and hostile campaigns from both sides. Intimidation and violence were rife in the months prior to the referendum. That can’t happen again. If the people of Scotland decide to hold another referendum, it needs to be different.
Between Catalonia’s independence crisis and growing uncertainty surrounding the UK’s Brexit deal, it’s looking increasingly likely that Scotland will hold another independence referendum: when this will happen, however, is less clear. Speaking to STV News, Nicola Sturgeon – the First Minister of Scotland – said of a future referendum: “I will not consider the timescale until there is greater clarity about the Brexit talks.”
The topic of Scottish Independence is undeniably controversial, with most Scots having a strong opinion about the referendum and its results. The debate significantly increased political participation, as evidenced by the huge turnout of voters: 84.6 per cent. Political engagement is vital and both debate and discussion should be encouraged. However, disagreeing with an individual’s politics is no excuse to threaten or commit a crime against them.
I grew up in a rural village in the North of Scotland and experienced the divisive nature of the referendum first hand. Some families in the village would stop speaking to others, there were multiple physical assaults, and incidents of bullying in our Primary school when a child expressed an unpopular opinion regarding the upcoming vote.
The intimidation was not limited to voters; campaigners, politicians and journalists were all targeted. The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) released a statement condemning the abuse received by their members: “The NUJ has expressed concern at the increase in intimidation and bullying of journalists covering the independence referendum and calls for people on both sides of the campaign to rein in the abuse being directed at our members.”
The NUJ continued by expressing their concern about the impact that the abuse could have on the referendum’s legitimacy. “More widely, the NUJ asks the leadership on both sides to consider carefully the implications of their attacks on journalists for asking challenging questions. If that is to be interpreted as bias, and therefore the journalist is deemed to be open to personal criticism and abuse, then the nature of public debate will be debased, and we will all suffer.”
Intimidating somebody to ensure that they vote a certain way, or keep quiet about an issue they’re passionate about, directly undermines the democratic ideals that were behind the first referendum. For the results to be legitimate, voters need to feel able to participate without fear. Disagreements regarding Scottish Independence are inevitable, but they should be resolved with debate, not violence.
The first Scottish referendum tore Scotland in half and a second has the potential to do the same. We need to ensure that this doesn’t happen. Whether or not Scotland exits the UK, Scots need to remain united.