Today, 30th May 2014, marks the start of the official campaign period for the Scottish referendum. “But they’ve been campaigning for ages,” I hear you cry. Well yes, but from here on in all the registered campaigners have to abide by Electoral Commission rules on spending and donations, including regular reporting.
Other than that, I expect there will be little change, and the visible campaigning will continue much as it has done.
People’s experience of the referendum campaign seems to vary widely. From enthusiastic converts to political campaigning, to folk who’ve just had enough already. From encounters where pros and cons are discussed amicably, to instances of flaming and trolling online. On both sides.
Politics was ever thus. But this referendum isn’t just about choosing our elected representatives for the next four or five years. It will irrevocably alter the discourse in Scotland, whatever the result on 18th September. And I can safely predict one thing: one side will lose.
That side will be disappointed and angry. And the polls suggest they could make up a significant minority of the population.
As we continue with this campaign, we would do well to remember the words of Margo MacDonald, shared with us by her partner Jim Sillars at her memorial: “There will be harsh statements on both sides, the debate will be fierce, there will be verbal wounds inflicted, but if we conduct ourselves in the run-up to September 18 the Margo MacDonald way, the division will be much easier to heal’.
“The Margo MacDonald way is to recognise that you are dealing with opponents not enemies, not with ogres but with fellow human beings with whom you can disagree but must do so without malice.”
We will all have to live together and work together and do politics together on 19th September, and every day thereafter. Both sides would do well to be gracious in victory or defeat, to bear this in mind as they continue campaigning for the next 110 days, and accept we will all have to come together to work for Scotland’s future.
At ERS Scotland, we would suggest that the people of Scotland should be involved in that work. There are numerous international examples of citizens being invited to hear from experts, deliberate and discuss amongst themselves and make recommendations for the future of their country. If we are to capture the interest in the referendum debate and use the opportunity of the increased levels of engagement we have seen, and the high turnout that is predicted, we would do well to apply these techniques to our own situation.
Some suggested impartial commentary on the referendum includes The Future of UK and Scotland website, and What Scotland Thinks run by John Curtice and the team at Scotcen. The Scottish Youth Parliament have also produced an excellent resource suitable for all ages, Aye, Naw, Mibbe.
And if you haven’t yet seen it, have a look at our Democracy Max project setting out a vision of the good Scottish democracy.