I guess it depends on what is meant by being nice. If the question is whether we should maintain reasonable levels of civility in our exchanges with those who voted No in last year’s referendum, then the answer is clearly in the affirmative. We should absolutely eschew petty insults and epithets which call into question the No voter’s desire to do what is best for Scotland.
Which is not to say that there were not those who urged a No vote knowing full well that it would be to Scotland’s detriment. Or that there were not those whose fervent pursuit of a No vote led them to do and say things which were quite purposefully intended to be harmful to Scotland’s interests – as in seeking to deter inward investment, for example. But such people were few in number and confined almost entirely to the ranks of the political, economic and social elites who see their own interests as being served by keeping Scotland thirled to the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state.
Amongst what, for want of a better term, we shall call “ordinary No voters”, there were no “traitors”. There were only people overwhelmed by a veritable deluge of British nationalist propaganda which left them confused and fearful.
But does “being nice” to No voters mean that we should give them succour? Does it entail reassuring them that their choice was perfectly legitimate? Should we be telling them that they weren’t wrong in any sense of that term?
Or should we be pointing out, forcefully but with all the courtesy we can muster, that they voted No on the basis of a false prospectus?
As continuing independence campaigners, we are by necessary implication telling No voters that they made a bad choice. Should we be wrapping this message in the cotton wool of prevarication and mealy-mouthed euphemism? Or should we give No voters the respect due to rational human beings and consider them capable of handling the fact that they made a mistake? Especially since we may shortly be urging them to rectify that mistake.
Surely we can, without unseemly gloating, point out to past No voters that the information needed to make a better choice was readily available. When they voted No, it was already known that Gordon Brown had lied about pensions, blood transfusions and transplant services.
When they voted No, it was already known that Alistair Darling had lied persistently about the bank bail-out.
When they voted No, it was already known that the UK government had lied about mobile roaming charges, treaties and start-up costs for independent Scotland’s infrastructure, amongst countless other things.
When they voted No, it was already known that Better Together had lied about scientific research funding etc. and even about the referendum itself. When the anti-independence Labour/Tory/Lib/Dem alliance was launched, Alistair Darling stated categorically that they would be campaigning on the basis of a choice between independence and the status quo. That lasted only as long as it took to realise that next to nobody was prepared to vote for the status quo.
In fact, it is difficult to find anything that the British establishment didn’t lie about – defence, oil, Europe, currency and all else besides.
The important point here is that the sheer dishonesty of the anti-independence campaign on all these topics was either already known or could justifiably be assumed. The UK Government’s position on Scotland’s EU membership was plainly nonsensical. Their position on the currency union amounted to knee-jerk economic vandalism.
The infamous “Vow” was as blatant a piece of inept politicking in a blind panic as has ever been witnessed.
All of this was known. It was no secret. It may not have been splashed across the papers or trumpeted on the radio and TV. But the information needed to make an informed choice was easily accessible online from a multitude of different sources. It was available in just about every format there is and, in many instances, in a wide range of languages.
Is it not reasonable to conclude, therefore, that No voters made a choice that was definitively irrational, in that it was predicated on information they could hardly have avoided being aware was, at the very least, highly suspect?
Should we be nice to No voters? The answer is a not entirely unequivocal, Yes. But not at the cost of conceding the legitimacy of the anti-independence campaign’s tactics of lies, smears, scare stories and empty promises.
Nobody relishes admitting that they were duped. Nobody particularly likes owning up to a mistake. But there is a grating illogicality in allowing past No voters to believe that their choice was perfectly legitimate whilst strenuously pointing out all the things that served to undermine that legitimacy.
A shorter version of this article first appeared in The Grist #5