Better Together have announced that they love their families more than we do, but the real question is whether we can love Better Together.
I was in Chile in 1988 a few months before the referendum which signalled the end of Pinochet’s dictatorship. One of the surprising things for me, as we met with the youth organizations of all the political parties, from Communist to Christian Democrat, was how much they were concerned with the one third of Chileans who supported Pinochet. This was of course partly pragmatic, they knew that even if they won the referendum they had to find a way to keep the army in the barracks. But there was also a profound political aspiration for inclusion in a democratic journey. They all talked of their own failings in the pre-coup period and how that had contributed to a situation where Pinochet could seize power. There was no simplistic blaming of Pinochet or the CIA. We talked with people from across the spectrum, who had seen friends and comrades tortured and killed, and who wanted to see those who were responsible brought to justice, but they also wanted to reach out to their opponents and build a peaceful transition.
The future we face in Scotland is thankfully framed within a much less troubled context, in spite of the latest scare stories from the No campaign about “carnage” at polling stations. The Scottish Police Federation wisely stated in response that, “politicians and supporters of whichever point of view need to be mindful of the potential impact of intemperate, inflammatory and exaggerated language, lest they be seen to seek to create a self fulfilling prophecy.”
There is no doubt that some desperate unionists want to promote an impression of conflict in the hope that it will dissuade voters, but we need to look beyond the referendum and start thinking about how we build an independent Scotland. We will have to be generous to the losers in spite of legitimate anger at some of their tactics. And anger is anyway almost always counterproductive. It is easy to be angry about those who have threatened pensioners (as I have been), but we need to try to be better than that.
We need to recognise the best in our opponents. Most of them are genuine in wanting to work for a better Scotland. We will need to bring as many as possible into the process of creating our new country. They will be hurting on the 19th of September, it will be easiest for them to retire to lick their wounds. We need to think hard about what we can do to facilitate them engaging positively. Our own language and behaviour in these last weeks will have an influence on that. It was good to see Elaine C Smith, in the STV debate last night, agreeing she had much in common with Kezia Dugdale, we need more of that.
More importantly we will need to think about those who have voted No. Some of them may well feel equivocal about a Yes vote, they may have wanted to vote Yes, but have been scared out of it. But there will be others who feel that they have lost something precious. I have met No voters who are angry the question is even being put to a democratic vote. We need to find a way to reassure them.
The Scottish Government has already stated that they will seek to involve a broad range of talent from across the different parties in the negotiations with the UK Government. They need to make sure that this is more than rhetoric and that the personal contacts and groundwork are in place to help those on the losing side feel able to join Team Scotland. And it will be important to strike the right tone with the UK Government as we try to move beyond campaign mode and into pragmatic and constructive negotiations.
But there is also a challenge for all of us who are engaged in the campaign. We have to find a way to be more generous to our opponents, to turn the other cheek, to show respect. It is not easy in the face of smear and fear, but we need to remember what we are trying to win. It is not about defeating our opponents, it is about winning a better future for all of us in an independent Scotland. This joyous, vibrant, positive campaign for a Yes vote also needs to show some love for the Better Together family, because in the end they are an important part of the Scottish family.
We are truly lucky to be having a peaceful and democratic process to resolve the questions of our self-determination. It can be a fantastic example for people around the world. Lets make sure that the process as well as the outcome is something we can be truly proud of.
PS I know I have not always lived up to this, I will try harder.