THE tribal nature of the independence debate has frozen out “ordinary people” and is “not worthy” of such a historic choice, Scotland’s third-sector leaders have warned.
The Yes and No campaigns are seen as “dishonest” by the public, according to the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO), which warned there must be less pressure on bodies getting involved to “take sides”.
Both camps have traded insults in recent months amid claims that Alex Salmond is not being straight with Scots over issues like keeping the pound and EU membership, while the No campaign has been accused of scaremongering and “talking down” Scotland.
It follows criticism of the campaign from entrepreneur Sir Tom Hunter earlier this month, who accused both sides of failing to provide answers to the key questions to enable voters to decide.
The chairman of Yes Scotland, Dennis Canavan and Better Together chief executive Blair McDougall are to appear next week before MSPs at Holyrood who are gathering evidence on the referendum.
The referendum committee will also hear from John Downie from the SCVO, the umbrella body representing Scotland’s voluntary sector. A submission from the organisation voices concern about the quality of the debate so far.
“The campaigns have tended to polarise the debate and have failed to give clear answers to important issues, leading to a perception of campaign dishonesty in the eyes of many ordinary people,” it states.
“There has also been a pressure on people engaging in the debate publicly to declare which ‘side’ they are on, which has led to a lack of nuanced debate that is worthy of such a momentous decision as deciding on the constitutional future of Scotland.
“The campaigns and parties must work harder to engage ordinary people.”
All sides of the debate are being urged to “find a way to open up the space for nuanced, thought-provoking, honest campaigning”.
Martin Sime, chief executive of the SCVO, found himself dragged into a spat with Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie last year, amid claims that the voluntary sector chief was too close to the SNP and supportive of a “more powers” option to be included in the referendum. This was dismissed by the SCVO.
Both official campaigns agreed yesterday that Scots from all walks of life should feel free to get involved in the campaign.
A spokesman for the pro-union Better Together campaign said: “This is the most important decision in Scotland’s history.
“It’s important that anyone who wants to contribute should be able to contribute and when people feel that questions need to be asked, they should feel comfortable that they can do so.”
A spokesman for Yes Scotland added: “We agree that the debate in much of the media has sought to polarise the issues, but we are working hard through our website and in face-to-face conversations to engage constructively with people and to create a space for genuine discussion about the benefits of a Yes in 2014.
“When we talk to people about our vision for a better Scotland we always make the point that we do not need them, nor expect them, to make up their minds at this stage.”