A senior Nationalist MP has warned of a “difficulty” in the independence movement and legitimate views being silenced following “extraordinary” abuse he has suffered over his views on a second referendum.
Pete Wishart, the SNP’s longest-serving MP, has now issued a call for respect among independence supporters after being branded an “Etonian boot licker” and having his lifestyle “questioned” over his proposed rethink on the timing of another vote on leaving the UK.
He said he was surprised by the “vehemence” of the attacks on him.
His comments came as a new poll released yesterday indicated backing for independence has slipped, with 43 per cent of Scots saying they would vote Yes, while 57 per cent want to stay in the UK.
The backlash against Mr Wishart, who chairs the House of Commons Scottish affairs select committee, stemmed from an article he wrote last week raising concerns about holding a second referendum prematurely, before a revised case has been put to the Scottish people.
The Perth and North Perthshire MP warned that losing a second vote because Scots were not ready for independence would be a “national tragedy”.
Shouting people down and name-calling will not help anybody. If this happens, people with legitimate views will be silencedPETE WISHART
The response to this was “extraordinary”, he said yesterday.
“I’ve been called a ‘poster boy’ for the ultra unionist group Scotland in Union, I’ve had my commitment to Scottish independence questioned, my ‘lifestyle’ has been disapproved of, I’m apparently ‘settling down’ in Westminster and I’ve even been called an ‘Etonian boot licker’,” Mr Wishart said.
“None of this came from political opponents – all of this is from people who claim to support Scottish independence.”
He indicated that this was part of the reason he pulled out of the SNP deputy leadership contest, as he wanted to avoid the debate descending into such a row.
The abuse was almost exclusively on social media platform Twitter, he added.
“It would be easy to dismiss this as ‘just Twitter’ but I know that environment reasonably well and I have to conclude we might have an issue and difficulty in our movement,” he said.
“We need these debates. Positions have to be challenged and analysed. Evidence has to be presented and judgements have to be made.
“Shouting people down, name-calling and misrepresenting people’s views will not help anybody. If this happens, people with legitimate views will be silenced and discouraged in coming forward with.”
A spokesman for the SNP said: “Freedom of speech is vital in a democracy but abuse, online or otherwise, is not acceptable and we would encourage everyone taking part in public debate to behave with civility and respect to each other whether online or otherwise.”
The weekend opinion poll showed that 58 per cent of those questioned do not want another referendum in the next few years, while 17 per cent want one during Brexit negotiations and 25 per cent when these are finished.
The number of people who expect Scotland to become independent in five to ten years has dropped two points to 27 per cent. The number who do not expect independence in the next few decades has also dropped two points, to 30 per cent.
A total of 19 per cent (down one point) envisage it happening in ten or 15 years, while 11 per cent (plus one) expect it to take 20 or 30 years.
Labour’s Neil Findlay said: “It is no surprise this poll shows opposition to a second independence referendum and independence is as strong as ever.
“The reality is – despite delayed commission reports and fantasy forecasts – the SNP still cannot build an economic case for independence.”
The poll also shows the SNP remains the most popular party in Scotland with 40 per cent, ahead of the Scottish Conservatives in second on 28 per cent.
SNP business convener Derek Mackay said: “After 11 years in government, the SNP still hold a double-digit lead over the nearest opposition party.”
Scottish Conservative chief whip Maurice Golden said: “This poll confirms again we are the best placed party to take on the SNP.”