Scottish independence: I don’t fear the result of another referendum, I fear the division it would cause – Murdo Fraser MSP

Keeping your eyes on the prize usually means staying focussed on your goal. The goal for nationalists is, of course, to remove our nation from the United Kingdom.

Pro-independence protest outside BBC Scotland in Glasgow over perceived bias ahead of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Pro-independence protest outside BBC Scotland in Glasgow over perceived bias ahead of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Their focus on that is indeed remorseless, and for that they might just congratulate themselves.

But in this case their vision is blurred, the intensity of their gaze often harmful to the real prize – Scotland. The desire for an independent Scotland is a fair one to make. To pursue it should not be damaging to Scotland.

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But the quality of the arguments used to make it – and in turn the methods used to advance them – have proved to be damaging for well over a decade.

The ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to decide Scotland’s future in the referendum of 2014 came up with a decisive, unambiguous result. Scotland was clear in supporting the view of generations of Scots over more than three centuries that we should maintain our place in the United Kingdom.

But what should have been an epoch-making event when Scotland spoke with one clear voice was also scarring and divisive. Indeed, to say ‘scarring’ may be overly generous and foolishly optimistic. Scars are a sign of healing, but some of the wounds left from 2014 remain deep and open.

The memory of a mob of thousands of nationalists marching on BBC Scotland with a banner bearing the image of the corporation’s then political editor, Nick Robinson, in protest at him asking the question “is there a downside to independence?” of their leader Alex Salmond still chills. It was the politics of torches and pitchforks.

Of course, Scotland is not alone in having these spasms of monoptic, muscular politics. Trumpism has engendered in the United States an era of ‘fake news’ and prejudice that turned to violence when the Capitol was stormed last year.

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But what is deeply disturbing is that the BBC’s Sarah Smith welcomed covering politics there as a relief from the land of her birth.

What is sad is that her experience is far from unique. One word critical of the governing party in Scotland leads to a torrent of abuse, often appearing organised. Sarah Smith is one of thousands who have tried to make their voice heard, to tell the truth as they see it, only to face the grinding wrath of nationalists in reply.

This is not debate. It is the formula of the propagandist. Don’t answer the point made, discredit the person making the point.

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This is not just from the nationalist fringe. It comes from the top. Just listen to the First Minister at Question Time in Holyrood. When Douglas Ross asks her a question about the current state of Scotland she rarely answers his point.

His questioning seldom produces an answer, instead it provokes a torrent of belittling bile blaming him for anything from industrial closures that happened before he was born, to parties he has condemned and didn’t attend, to supporting party leaders he has already called on to resign.

It is difficult to ask for Scots to respect their politicians when our most senior one doesn’t respect her peers with a truthful answer.

I thought it a wry, cynical observation when I heard as a young man someone say: “If you tell a lie often enough, people will believe you.” I never thought I would see the day when it became Scottish government policy.

Thus, Nicola Sturgeon, she who succeeded a man she described as not having “a sexist bone in his body”, says that all Scotland’s electricity comes from renewables when it doesn’t – but to point that out is to “talk Scotland down”.

In 2014, the nationalists told us that if we voted to remain in the UK the Scottish NHS would be privatised, but if we voted ‘yes’ the removal of Trident submarines would allow an independent Scotland to exploit secret oil fields under the River Clyde.

Both were not opinions. Not points of view. They were lies manufactured to beguile a Scottish public for whom nationalist high command displays little respect.

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Matters haven’t improved since 2014. Over the past few weeks, we have watched the pro-independence campaign invite ridicule with its shifting stances on the question of who would pay state pensions in a separate Scotland. We even had a Green MSP claiming the payment of Confederate war pensions from the American Civil War provided some sort of model for how these matters would be addressed.

The only thing consistent about the completely contradictory pension policies advocated by Nicola Sturgeon in 2014 – when she said an independent Scotland would pay for them – and the one her SNP colleagues advocate today – that the rest of the UK will pay them – is the contemptuous disdain with which she refutes any criticism of either.

This attitude does not just damage debate, it extinguishes it. Scotland has always been at its best when it relished argument, challenged orthodoxy, and innovated.

The spirit of the Scottish Enlightenment cannot exist with a mendacious government that responds to questioning with the politics of the torch and pitchfork.

I do not fear the result of a second independence referendum. I fear the process of it, and what will be left on a political battlefield that will turn into a quagmire of lies released relentlessly by a nationalist side currently led by people who care only about them winning personally, and not caring if Scotland is lost.

We might have hoped that we would have moved on by now from the bitterness and divisions of 2014. Sadly, they are still with us. Why would anyone who really cared about Scotland choose to put us through all that again?

Murdo Fraser is a Scottish Conservative MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife

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