Andrew Wilson: Debate on independence being muddied by unkind and unwise words

Alasdair Gray's controversial remarks provoked a flurry of online discussions
Alasdair Gray's controversial remarks provoked a flurry of online discussions
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IT HAS been a deeply unedifying week for anyone who cares for Scotland. I just don’t recognise the country that is being described at times.

It is frankly a crying shame that a genius and artist of the stature of Alasdair Gray has allowed his reputation to be diminished by a use of language that echoes from ­another time and doesn’t fit with now.

I have read and re-read his book chapter Settlers And Colonists, trying to find the better heart of it. It’s in there as you may expect but is wholly obscured by very odd use of those title terms. They are words that are unnecessary, ungenerous and unkind and I just can’t understand why.

I don’t see any existential threat to Scotland and its culture any more. The need for a national chip on the shoulder is long gone.

In a shifting world we have to be a ­welcome home to passers-by whether they put down roots or skate on to what is next. Life is far too short for us to build walls. We’ve plenty of sons and daughters ­making a living around the world who eventually want to return home. The world has an itinerant workforce. So what?

Anyone in any position of leadership needs to take great care to avoid even an iota of legitimacy being given to arguments of intolerance and bigotry. It may not be their original intent but care must be taken to consider the implications down the line for what one word here can mean for pain there.

Careless talk literally can and does cost lives. Having said all that, the ensuing furore exposed an ugly self-loathing that simmers under the surface of Scotland’s “self-talk” and we all have to grow out of this stuff, and fast. We are world class at making ourselves feel and look bad.

The story emerged along with misreported statistics on racist incidents affecting English people in Scotland. The cocktail allowed an irresponsible misrepresentation of both Scotland and its political traditions.

A whole cadre of the commentating elite who are probably feeling very comfortable on their high horses this week should actually be examining their consciences and hanging their heads.

The statistics were reported as an increase in anti-English racist incidents. Commentators lined up to report this as a shame on the country and casually attempted to align the blame to a nationalist government and a referendum campaign.

The story resonated south of the Border and conspired to make Scotland seem a hostile, unpleasant place. It’s not the country I live in or recognise. When I looked at the facts it turned out it was based on a fallacy.

When the actual statistics are broken down we find that racist incidents involving white English people in Scotland where the police could accurately detail it actually fell by 17 per cent in the last year. Even one incident is shaming, wrong and unacceptable. But so is spreading damaging fiction about our society.

So while vile bigotry is always to be vilified so too is the casual flinging of muck to try and besmirch political opponents and arguments for reform. That lazy, casual abuse diminishes all. Not just the sinners gleefully casting the stones and, undoubtedly, the people they seek to strike. But the culture and wellbeing of the society we all inhabit.

Good people can disagree about the choices we must make as a country. But it leaves little space for true condemnation when it is needed if civic democrats are defamed in a sad attempt to score a cheap, cheap point.

Too many bigots and idiots bully and abuse on social media. It’s a phenomenon we must tackle and the police are doing a good job of trying. The abuse flows in all directions from all corners and is about sad people’s lives, not about any one strand of thought.

Very senior politicians have long attempted to suggest the Scottish form of civic nationalism was somehow darker, more prejudiced and vile against all ­evidence to the contrary. Shameless.

Cheap insinuation and attempts to ­besmirch mainstream civic politics should cease and be reserved for targets that ­deserve it; there are plenty of them. If you can’t win clean you will be found out.

And any nationalist who thinks the argument can be won by polarising the country and abusing the doubters is ­killing their own cause.

Politics must be about gentle persuasion and about unifying the country behind progress. It is time for us to flip the awful phrase of John Major on its head and become a society where we “condemn a little less and understand a little more”.

So let’s all of us put a bad week behind us and think of ways to lift ourselves up. Too many people are hurting and worrying about real things to have imagined problems added to the mix.

And those with the ability to shape the public mood need to step up to their responsibility to help heal wounds rather than try to open them. «

Twitter: @AndrewWilsonAJW