I’m feeling tired by the referendum. I feel like I should be excited – now is the moment, the final countdown – in a few days we will choose what country we want to live in. It’s an exciting time – a triumph of democracy, with unprecedented numbers feeling engaged in politics. It’s replaced weather as the number one topic of conversation. People are sharing their thoughts on matters from the economy to oil revenues to the NHS. We’re sussing out our collective priorities. Campaigners on both sides are giving up their time to chat to one another, share debates, inform undecided voters. Yeses and Nos bedeck windows, cars, lampposts and people.
It should be exhilarating.
But I’m tired. I’m tired of negativity, of sniping belittlements, of personal attacks. Neither the Yes or the No side have been blameless – people, online and in person, can be unpleasant and unfounded in their accusations. Nobody – on either side – is a traitor, for working to create the country they believe in. And whether you were born in Scotland, live here now, or simply care about the country and its people, you have a right to speak. Whether you have faith in the UK or in an independent Scotland, you’ll have your arguments. I won’t agree with them all – but I’ll disagree politely, or I’ll shrug and smile and wish you a pleasant day. I’ve seen a lot of that – online, at stalls, door-to-door. In fact, the majority of the political dialogue I have seen has been of this kind.
Yet I constantly see the Yes campaign – which I personally support, and of which I am a member– represented as a collection of malicious CyberNats and bullies at worst and idealistic naïve dreamers at best. And it makes me want to pull my hair out, really. Because involved in the Yes campaign are people who are inspired, passionate, intelligent and kind and who have – shocking as it may seem – thought this through. Economists, academics, manual workers, artists, lawyers, nurses, entrepreneurs, CEOs, shopkeepers – oh, the list goes on and on. We’re from all over the world as well – because while the Yes campaign has been portrayed as a scary nationalistic movement, in reality most people are just seeing an opportunity to make social change and to help build a better society. A glance at the #YesBecause hashtag on Twitter would tell you as much – a chat with a Yes friend or neighbour, a wander down to a local stall. The campaign is passionate, but from what I’ve seen, and experienced – in my long stretch as an undecided – it has been mostly polite.
I’m not saying that’s always so. Some people are dicks – and no doubt there are such people on both sides of the campaign, under the Saltire or the Union Flag. A few weeks ago, a pair of No campaigners at a stall reduced me to tears with their bullying behaviour. And sure, I need to grow a thicker skin – but I left that encounter feeling like hiding from the world, withdrawing from any political discussion (eating my cereal). I imagine I’m not alone in having felt that way through the campaign. And I’m sorry. I’m sorry that anyone has been bullied, or insulted, has been made to feel unwelcome, or stupid, or has wanted to hide away until after the Neverendum, hibernating through the winter of discontent.
And here, now, I’d like to say sorry to any No voters or undecideds who have been made to feel that way by anyone in the Yes campaign. It’s awful to feel that way. Your opinion matters – whoever you are, wherever you are from, whatever you believe, you have a right to believe it. I am sorry. Sure, I’m just one person, and maybe I can’t speak for all the thousands of people involved. But you see, if I’m going to be lumped in as part of one huge homogenous mass, if the media and campaigners are going to rail against the Yes campaign as a collection of bullies and extreme nationalists and – frankly – dicks, then I feel like maybe, just this once, I can speak for the CyberNats. Because just because I sport a Yes twibbon on my profile photos, and because I’ll join in with debates online, it doesn’t mean I’m a rabid nationalist (genuinely, I don’t foam at the mouth or nothin!). It doesn’t stop me still being me – someone who tries to be nice to people, to listen, to find opportunities for kindness. Like a whole lot of other people – on both sides of this referendum debate.
So – friends, acquaintances, people in the twittersphere – I’d love to ask you to think before you generalise. Your experiences are valid – but recognise that for every person bullied by Team A, Team B has reduced another to tears, and both teams have their share of troublemakers. They also have their share of wonderful, caring people working hard for what they believe in. I’m not going to characterise all of Better Together as aggressors because I had the misfortune to encounter two bullies on an ego-trip. Maybe before posting sloppy generalisations you could think of a friend who is voting differently, and wonder whether they fit into your 140 character pigeon-hole. Chances are they don’t.
Come the 19th we’ll have to work together whichever way the vote goes. A little kindness and respect now may go some way towards helping with that.
Or that’s what I reckon…