Andrew Wilson: Independence debate cheap shots

A farrago of spluttering flowed from Salmond's interview in GQ. Picture: Contributed
A farrago of spluttering flowed from Salmond's interview in GQ. Picture: Contributed
Share this article
Have your say

We must rise above cheap shots that drag the Scottish independence debate into the gutter says Andrew Wilson

I haven’t met everyone in the country but I have met quite a lot of them. And most of the people I meet want to be taken seriously and treated well. It’s in our nature as human beings. We want to feel that our life has purpose and, as social animals, that others see value in us.

We may not all be the brains of Britain or completely up to speed on affairs of state. But we like to think that, on the whole, we take an interest when it counts and our views should be considered by the elites that rule us all.

We want our politicians and our media to engage us in the debates that count. We want to be educated, informed and stimulated by the issues and the personalities that bring them to us. Yes, we like some knockabout and a bit of a laugh but the idea we thirst for tall poppies to be scythed is a myth.

We want to hear debates where ­ideas and points are listened to and teased out not shouted down before they are even born.

And above all else we don’t want to be treated like idiots. And treating us like idiots at the extreme means lying to us and expecting us to believe it.

But along the spectrum it also means creating false anger and pretending to be outraged to score a cheap point. It means taking words out of context and pretending they mean the speaker said something they didn’t, stands for something they don’t or has done something they just haven’t. It’s even worse when parties conspire with each other to diminish the very democratic institutions we rely on by doing all this in Parliament. We thirst for politics to be adult again. We love the good argument and the fight but, for crying out loud, keep it respectful and grown up and proper.

I am referring, but of course, to the completely invented farrago of spluttering that flowed from the First Minister’s interview in GQ magazine. Written by Alastair Campbell, it was excellent and one of the best and most interesting interviews with Alex Salmond that I have read.

To read the manufactured outrage, you would be forgiven for thinking that Salmond had called for Vladimir Putin to be given the Nobel Peace Prize.

In fact, he praised Germany’s Angela Merkel as the leader he admired most. On Putin he said first that he disapproved of a range of Russian actions. He could see that Putin was effective, but there was much that was difficult to admire. It was a balanced view and completely inoffensive to the reasoned reader.

But no. Politicians who had previously had literally nothing to say about the crisis in Ukraine saw it as a cheap opportunity to attack the man they obsess about and use the agonies millions of people face as a tool in their deeply negative referendum fight. It was another low point in an era of low points in Scottish politics.

Will it change a single vote? No it won’t. Did it waste an awful lot of airtime? Yes it did. Will Salmond wish it hadn’t happened? Certainly. Any time spent on demeaning, puerile discourse is wasted breath in a short life. And you know what? Every person I know has had their fill of this aspect of our political culture.

But, as I have argued before, to produce the change we need we must start with ourselves. So for the people on my side of the argument we need to consider our own approach in similar moments where words are handpicked, accentuated, taken out of context and thrown back at the speaker unfairly.

What feels like a clever short-term tactic can fundamentally diminish the longer-term campaign and reform imperative. The days when such tactics worked are done and gone.

My view is that we should march on to the moral high ground, make our camp there and put down roots.

So, whisper it, what about when Lord Robertson made his controversial Washington speech? Take him on on the content of the argument. Whatever his colourful language and metaphor there was a point being made that was worthy of addressing. Controversial view I know, but this is the way we have to start thinking.

Progressives have to be better than everyone else all of the time because we want the world to change for the better. That is the only way to create the political culture that will build a new country that can restore the faith and belief in its politics, in public service and in the people who put themselves forward to serve.

I disagree, heart and soul, with what many politicians across the parties say and stand for. But I salute the fact that they give their lives to try and make their country better.

We simply have to end the juvenility on every level, and to achieve this means calling it out on our own side first. That is the only way to produce the change we need. Start it with our own conduct.

The debate we are having is a hugely exciting opportunity for us all. We should think of its outcome in “era” not in “year”. This country needs a massive overdose of generosity of spirit. Starting now. «

Twitter: @AndrewWilsonAJW