by Kevin Williamson
As our beautiful democratising Independence referendum swings into September and the last fortnight, and with the Yes campaign brimming full of the confidence that visible momentum inevitably brings with it, the best and worst of this campaign has surfaced. The best is highlighted in the other story posted on Bella today Yes Fife In The Sun. This is the side of the referendum that most of us recognise like we see in the photo above from Moray yesterday. A flowering of imagination, talent, optimism and a desire for a better and fairer Scotland.
A darker side, a more worrying side, is also emerging, which may need some good old fashioned common sense to deal with over next 17 days. This comes mainly from an extreme Loyalist fringe who have little or no connection with the official No campaign.
Up until the second debate between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling most on the No side privately believed the result was a foregone conclusion. They accepted the findings of opinion polls and didn’t even entertain the possibility that Yes could win. This complacency, born out of arrogance or entitlement amongst some, or out of a misplaced sense of unchanging permanence among others, is now over. No supporters are having to face up to the fact that this could be close and Yes have every chance of winning.
99% of No campaigners, like those on the Yes side, will be arguing their case democratically and peacefully. And so they should. Respecting the ideas and legitimacy of opponents you don’t agree with is what a mature democracy is all about. It needs to be re-stated too that despite all the passions aroused this has been one of the most civilised and democratic Independence campaigns in history. This aspect of the referendum has been a credit to the whole of Scotland – Yes, No or Undecided.
However, we also have to face up to a less pleasant facet of Scottish reality. Scotland is not The Apocryphal Land of Kumbaya. There are many who live here who engage in violent criminal activity and politically point-blank refuse to engage in any form of democratic discourse or debate. These are the fringe loons of the Britannica Party, the BNP, the SDL and perhaps more worryingly: the sectarian bigots of the Orange Order.
These are not just a small handful of extremists. They number in their thousands and there are worrying signs they could intervene in our wonderful referendum in the last two weeks with violent unprovoked attacks on peaceful Yes campaigners.
Reports on Saturday say a pregnant woman at a Yes stall in Glasgow was kicked in the stomach by a well-known member of the UK far right. It was a barbaric and cowardly act and thankfully the alleged perpetrator has been arrested by police.
Today’s Edinburgh Evening News describes of how a group of Rule Britannia singing Unionists abused and attacked a Yes stall outside Hearts football ground at the weekend. This is despicable behaviour.
Also last week a fire was set off outside a Yes shop in Midlothian. It was a clear attempt to intimidate. Other incidents of anonymous threats and actual attacks against Yes supporters have made the pages of the press. Most haven’t.
As Yes momentum builds, and No flounders, Loyalist & far right attacks on Yes supporters may increase in certain areas of central Scotland. Some of these Loyalists will feel threatened by Yes. These folk will have no enthusiasm for democracy, they can’t deal with the prospect of Independence psychologically, and they may act like wounded animals as a result.
We need to be aware of this and do everything we can do to keep the peace and minimise any chance of provocation.
Unfortunately the disgraceful, dishonest and hypocritical smears of Jim Murphy these last few days – a man steeped in facilitating violence in the Middle East against Palestinians and Iraqis – have given these loons all the excuse they need to try and undermine the peaceful process of our referendum. The Unionist media, echoing Murphy’s ludicrous and deceitful claims about “organised Yes mobs” also bear part responsibility for inadvertently whipping up fringe Loyalist extremists. This is totally inexcusable and irresponsible on their part.
With Farage’s UKIP and the sectarian Orange Order both due to publicly demonstrate in favour of the Union in the next fortnight I’d like to make an appeal to every Yes groups and every Yes supporter to please, please, please, do not go within a mile of either event. Counter-protests, even holding up Yes banners, may only antagonise these extremists. The world’s media will be arriving soon and despite what No says (or hopes for) the world will be watching us in the last few days.
There is absolutely nothing to gain and everything to lose by going near these extremists. Who knows what lengths a provocateur hiding inside a counter-protest could get up, to try and sully the good name of our referendum. If the police had any sense they’d see what was happening and ban the Orange Order march as a section of these Loyalist thugs, once they’re tanked up on beer and Buckfast in pubs, could run riot in Edinburgh afterwards.
In these last crucial days its up to to Yes supporters everywhere to be aware of the dangers – without unduly exaggerating them – stay positive, keep our sense of humour and perspective, but also use common sense to minimise the chances of Loyalists bigots bringing shame to our exemplary democratic process.