Well that’s been quite a couple of days…. In the last few days 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’. None of this came from political opponents – all of this is from people who claim to support Scottish independence on Twitter.
Now, I’m a reasonably robust political character, hardened by almost 17 years in Parliament and used to the occasional scrap on Twitter. I was one of 6 MPs who had to put the case for the last referendum in the most hostile environment imaginable when we had to face down 640 unionist MPs at Westminster. I won my seat against all the odds last year when the Tories told me that it was a 99% certainty that they would take it. I am not easily thrown of my stride by criticism or attacks but I was genuinely surprised by the vehemence of people I presumed were political comrades. 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.
My ‘crime’ was to simply express my view that we must be as pragmatic as possible in calling a second referendum on independence. I referred to my experience in the most canvassed constituency in Scotland and I asked legitimate questions about the gap between support for independence and support for ‘an early referendum’. I asked how we may re-engage yes leavers and I, again, put the need for a new case to persuade those amongst our fellow Scots who remain unconvinced about the case for independence. My conclusion was that we simply can not afford to lose another referendum.
People then seemed to somehow presume that by suggesting a pragmatic approach I was ‘calling off’ a second referendum. That I wouldn’t use a ‘hard earned’ mandate that I was being ‘defeatist’ and ‘depressing’ the Yes movement. The thing is I didn’t say anything about when a referendum should be held, I simply put forward my view that it should be held when there was good evidence it could be won. Even the most enthusiastic proponent of an imminent referendum would concede that ‘if’ consecutive opinion polls showed support for independence plummeting to below 30% a degree of caution should be exercised?
This unleashed the most extraordinary response on Twitter (and I have to say exclusively on Twitter) and led me to question how we can proceed with debates such as this – because believe me, 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 their own views. No one in our movement has all the answers and at this juncture in the fight for our nation’s independence we need as much input and ideas as possible.
I withdrew from the Deputy Leadership because I got a little bit of a flavour of this when I was working up a few ideas whilst considering standing. I was concerned that the debate might descend into what I have just experienced and I didn’t want our contest dominated with all of this. I will certainly not be deterred from forcefully speaking my mind and I will not be silenced. I will continue to put forward what I think is right for my country and right for the case in securing our nation’s independence.
I will say this once again. The only thing that matters to me is my country securing its independence and I believe losing again is simply unthinkable. So let’s unite, lets welcome all views with respect, and let’s get out and win…….