Last year, I voted Labour at the general election. A decade ago that would not have been such a frightening thing to admit. Having voted SNP until 2015, initially drawn to their mid-2000s commitment to reform the unfair and discredited council tax, my enthusiasm for a nation draped almost exclusively in blinding yellow was beginning to dip.
All the things I was told we would talk about “after the referendum” were once again being thrown on ice as the Yes movement appeared to be charging forward with almost no inclination whatsoever to analyse how and why we lost.
My main reason for lending a vote to Labour seemed simple: Corbyn called my bluff. Throughout my life, I’ve made a lot of noise about my desire for more radical policies in several areas like social housing, welfare, healthcare and the general inequalities with which they are associated. When faced with the albeit distant prospect of a left-wing Labour government in Westminster – and despite my continued (albeit less zealous) commitment to Scottish Independence – the apparent pipedream offered by Corbynism became too hard to resist. I completely understand why many disagreed with that decision and why I (and others) were criticised. What many failed to recognise was that we were part of a broader trend of people beginning to tire of Yes movement internal politics.
On a personal level, I was receiving quite a bit of criticism from a section of the Yes movement prior to the election. This ranged from issues with my choosing to write for outlets like STV or The Scotsman, both regarded by some people as anti-indy ‘mainstream media’ outlets – even though this paper has other columnists, like Lesley Riddoch and Kenny MacAskill, who are very much in the Yes camp. But I also received a lot of very personal attacks and accusations.
Then came the slogans. “Stronger for Scotland” and “talking up for Scotland” and “the people of Scotland” which were deployed robotically as by-phrases for “SNP voters”. It frustrated me that nobody in the country’s most powerful party ever seemed capable of speaking in the language of humility and, dare I say it, reconciliation. Yes, the referendum needed to happen. Yes, the result was very close and for me the question is far from settled. But I had been naively waiting for some kind of “good game” moment, where we temporarily set our differences aside and conceded that we lost the referendum before reflecting honestly about why.
But expressing these things publicly would invite the most vociferous online pushback imaginable.
I also found myself increasingly disillusioned by some SNP figures, who seemed unable to grasp that constant adversarial rhetoric directed at No voters may not be the best long-term strategy for achieving independence. On one hand, Sturgeon was urging us to listen and to be respectful. On the other, block-lists were in circulation and elected politicians were stooping to playground level tittle tattle. One influential figure who I found myself particularly frustrated by was a Mr Pete Wishart who, from a distance, appeared to have bought into the rather simplistic idea that in every instance of disagreement between Scotland and Westminster then we in the north were “the good guys” and ‘Wastemonster’ was the bad.
This moral simplicity, while certainly appealing to many, was undermined by his party’s growing tendency to talk up the complexity of the issues they were increasingly becoming responsible for.
So, on one hand, we had to appreciate that the business of governing Scotland was complicated, like reneging on a pledge to abolish council tax or the debate around income tax, but when it came to issues like immigration or nuclear weapons, things were always much more black and white.
If there’s one person in the SNP who came to galvanise and personify this irritating contradiction it was Pete Wishart. But alas, he now finds himself on the receiving end of the angry mob he once inspired for committing the crime of saying something moderately sensible. Perhaps his nail-biting finish at the last election, where he clung to his seat by just over 20 votes, has catalysed some overdue soul-searching?
Suddenly, he is keen to warn the rest of us about something we’ve all known for a long time: the Yes movement has a tolerance problem when it comes to diversity of opinion. The simplistic and vague nationalist rallying cry that nearly got us over the finish line in 2014 has run its course. We need a cleaner, more efficient energy source. People who prefer the more aggressive, gung-ho stuff, noted for lacking nuance and being rooted in horrendously bad faith, should feel free to cater to their own tastes. But those of us that have grown a bit fed up with some of this screeching pish need to show our teeth a bit more. Mute buttons are not enough. The movement needs a new soundtrack.
While I do maintain that the term “cybernat” is not only unhelpful, but wholly unwarranted in many instances in which it’s lazily applied – all communities contain a similarly unpleasant element and this is not exclusive to the Yes movement – I also believe we must confront the fact we never had that much tolerance for alternative points of view in the first place. We simply suffered them, thinking we’d only be excruciated by one another until 2014, when a wonderful utopia would come suddenly into view. Now we are left with the mess created by a movement which relied primarily on moral indignation and blind faith as political propulsion, running aground on the rocky shores of social media; a forum which creates as much conflict and confusion as it was designed to resolve.
What we do about that I’m not sure, but in the interests of comradeship, I would just like to welcome Pete Wishart aboard the ever-crowded train back to some kind of mutually agreed reality.