March 2014



Anyone reading this blog over the last few months will detect a trend – I’ve been writing more and more about this year’s referendum on Scottish independence.

I swithered before I started doing this in a blog I describe as ‘…trying to make sense of government and public services, and other stuff.’ My personal views on the subject are a tad removed from many of the subjects I’ve posted over the last few years about improving public services.

Maybe I could justify my ‘#indyref’ posts as ‘other stuff.’ But what could be more closely related to the subject of ‘government’ than how a people chooses to govern itself?

It won’t take anyone long to realise that I’m a ‘No,’ or perhaps a ‘Better Together’, person and I’ve tried on a number of occasions to write coherently on where I stand about Scottish independence. My reasons for being against independence are, I believe, positive but I’ve struggled to articulate them without getting bogged down in detail.

Tom Morton

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Shetland Library

So I was grateful to Tom Morton for writing Nationalism: a dangerous delusion on his ‘Tom Morton’s beatcroft’ blog. For anyone furth of Scotland, Tom is a journalist and broadcasts on BBC Radio Scotland, currently on Morton through Midnight. You can catch him, of course, on i-Player. I don’t always agree with his choice of music and I don’t agree with every jot and tittle of what he says about the Labour party. But I do like the main thrust of what he says about independence and how he says it. And I do agree with his final conclusion

it’s a thoroughly Scottish ‘no’ from me. No to separatism. No to division. And an end to this monumental and corrupting distraction from the central moral and political issues we face.

I thank him for putting into words what I haven’t been able to and urge you to look at what else he says.

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Bad language warning

What standards should we expect in public debate about an important issue, and what constitutes public debate?

The questions have been prompted in my mind by online discussion of the Scottish independence referendum and the Collaborative Scotland web site. They urge ‘respectful dialogue’ and this seems to me a pretty good principle for discussion of such an important issue. These are their guidelines:

  • Show respect and courtesy towards all those who are engaged in these discussions, whatever views they hold
  • Acknowledge that there are many differing, deeply held and valid points of view
  • Use language carefully and avoid personal or other remarks which might cause unnecessary offence
  • Listen carefully to all points of view and seek fully to understand what concerns and motivates those with differing views from our own
  • Ask questions for clarification and when we may not understand what others are saying or proposing
  • Express our own views clearly and honestly with transparency about our motives and our interests
  • Respond to questions asked of us with clarity and openness and, whenever we can, with credible information.

They strike me as sensible and when I across public comments that I think are abusive I try to gently let the person concerned know about these guidelines and leave them to draw their own conclusions. Most of the material of this sort I come across is on Twitter, but I see a fair scattering of it on Facebook and individual web sites. Some of my exchanges end in what I regard as a redirection of abuse (and, occasionally, implied threats) from the original target to me. At this stage I just stop. Some people are so unbalanced and blinkered that no comment they disagree with will do anything other than convince them of the rectitude of their own point of view.

Some however are different and should, in my view, know better.

Yesterday I saw a tweet that read

“@[name] Aw, sad for poor Jose-Manuel Barroso tonight.” Maybe he’ll turn on Cameron and say In ye come Scotland fuck the Tory bastard

I don’t know what action or remark by Barroso prompted this comment but I know what the words (excuse me) ‘fuck the Tory bastard’ mean.

I remonstrated – gently I’d say – with

Not sure ‘F the Tory B’ helps #indyref debate – a suggestion: [link to Collaborative Scotland web site as above]

Our exchange then went:

Him – no but it’s on Twitter, it’s heavy with irony and guess what? People laugh. That’s because it touches how they feel. New media

Me – Still, I find it sad you reduce the high aspiration of national self-determination to ‘Fuck the Tory bastard’, ironic or not

Him – sorry roger. That sounds like sanctimony. This is Twitter not Thought for the Day.

At which point I gave up.

Funny my correspondent should mention Thought for the Day because ‘he’ is not some anonymous internet troll. He’s an ex-BBC journalist who presented a BBC Radio Scotland current affairs programme, amongst other things, for a number of years.

Is it unreasonable of me to expect ‘respectful dialogue’ on Twitter about the independence referendum, especially from public figures? Am I sanctimonious or just a wimp who needs to man up? Should we accept standards on some media we wouldn’t on others? What do you think?