Jill Stephenson: ‘No’ means no, I’m not a traitor to Scotland

No campaigners in the independence referendum celebrate the result at the count at Ingliston. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

No campaigners in the independence referendum celebrate the result at the count at Ingliston. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

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THE indy campaign and the EU referendum both ran on ill will, says Jill Stephenson

I have always been proud of being Scottish. And Scottish is what I am. My parents and grandparents and their parents were all born in Scotland, and all lived their lives in Scotland.

It is, therefore, as unwelcome as it is inaccurate when people tell me that I am not “a true Scot” and that I “hate Scotland” – as cybernats tend to do. This is the sorry pass we have reached in the wake of the 2012-14 referendum campaign.

Those of us who voted No to separation from the UK are tarred as “quislings” and “traitors” because we regard Scotland’s interests as better served within the UK than outside it.

We are told that the referendum campaign in Scotland was an edifying process, conducted in a spirit of goodwill and courtesy – and this is contrasted with the bitterness of the 2016 EU referendum campaign.

I can see little difference between them. In both, there was significant ill will and ill temper. In both, the side aiming to leave the union told barefaced lies.

In both the leave side characterised the remain side as “project fear”. This ignores the fact that there is nothing wrong with being afraid of that which is scary. In fact, harbouring a rational fear of something that appears dangerous and foolhardy is entirely sensible. It is a hallmark of maturity.

For some of us, leaving the relevant union was a prospect filled with uncertainty and disadvantage. I have been told that I was “not prepared to take a risk” in 2014. I cannot argue with that.

Those who were prepared to gamble with Scotland’s future are the ones who should tell us why that is a defensible course.

The two referendums are related, but not in the way assumed by the First Minister. Ms Sturgeon has chosen to portray Remain votes in Scotland as votes for a distinctly Scottish solution. My Remain vote was a vote for the UK to remain in the EU: that was how I answered the only question that was on the ballot paper.

It was not a vote for a second referendum on Scotland’s future – any more than my No vote in September 2014 was a vote for “more powers” for the Scottish parliament. That issue did not figure on that ballot paper.

The main problem with these referendums was that they were a blunt instrument for deciding an issue of major constitutional significance. It is absurd that a very narrow majority vote of 51.9 per cent can have huge constitutional ramifications.

Momentous change requires unequivocal endorsement. The conditions for any future referendum should include the requirement that at least 60 per cent of the vote be cast for major change before it can be contemplated.

General elections are not analogous: they are held at frequent intervals. A once and for all referendum on major constitutional change needs a much more solid endorsement of that change than a mere 50 per cent plus one of the vote.

• Jill Stephenson is Professor Emeritus of History and Honorary Professorial Fellow in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology, University of Edinburgh

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