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Listen tae Ben

Political commentary gave us a lot of clarity last week.

I’ve given a lot of praise to Ben Macpherson recently. He’s a politician representing Leith as an MSP in Holyrood.

Some might think that’s unsurprising as he’s a member of the SNP and it’s no secret I campaigned for the independence in the lead-up to 2014.

Some might sarcastically think ‘shock horror’ given the evident soft spot I have for politicians that have previously featured on the Untribal Podcast.

(On which, by the way, Ben was a cracking guest & widely regarded as one of the better interviews I had in Season 1)

I’d remind people that the soft spot isn’t exclusive to people that also campaigned for independence in 2014.

One example I always bang on about is Jackie Baillie. She was an absolute hoot on the podcast.

She’ll be back on this summer and I genuinely can’t wait to speak to her again. A great laugh and was such a lovely person.

Another is Willie Rennie from the Liberal Democrats - a gem of a person whose views were explained in ways that were entirely relatable, regardless of your political leanings. He received a lot of compliments from viewers who also happened to be staunch independence campaigners.

They both believe in more localised decision-making and a radically reformed system of governance in the UK. The parties they represent also reflect this in manifesto pledges for Scottish General Elections… at least on paper.

More localised decision-making and radical reform of our political system… this isn’t particularly unattractive for people that are independence-inclined.

And aye, whether they’re all talk is up for debate.

They were, after all, in a coalition with the Conservatives under the name of ‘Better Together’ making promises of this nature before the 2014 referendum… not only has this promise been broken, but decision-making has also become more centralised to Westminster since then.

Tories in power or not, Labour and the Lib Dems have hardly made much of a fuss about it either.

Giving them some credit, you can understand why it hasn’t been a top priority. A global pandemic coupled with a crippling economy has perhaps made their heads turn for now.

Not that I’m condoning the head turn… Labour has pledged stuff left, right and centre for a vast range of issues and yet falls short on this one only. Maybe it’s that silence which allows the independence question to be as strong and present as ever… cos Gordon Brown’s wee cameo last year was about as impactful as a bat fae a junkie’s shooting erm.

And yet the motive (again, at least on paper) of almost all parties in the Scottish Parliament is the same: transform an archaic and corruption-ridden Westminster system, implement more compassionate politics by investing in public welfare & have more localised decision-making at the heart of it all.

This pitch has been made by Scottish Labour, the Scottish Lib Dems, the SNP and the Greens.

Who will be best equipped to deliver this is, of course up to the public.

Some might think the inconsistency between promises made by Labour politicians in Scotland and ones made by the ultimate decision-making peers in Westminster fits a pattern of what Scotland gets out of its union with the UK. This makes full independence seem like an attractive offer.

Others might think this is too drastic a step all at once. Maybe all the political upheaval has been too much recently and the thought of mare hassle is brain ache for some folk.

None of these views are particularly outrageous and yet we paint each other out to be lunatics depending on what side you’re on.

And this is something Ben Macpherson picked up on last week in a refreshingly untribal fashion.

He recognises that Scots want to be shown more collaboration amongst politicians and a shared desire to improve our lives. All first and foremost.

“We share in that hope,” as he puts it. He’s urging people to keep that in mind.

He does this because, as a society, we’re too quick to judge people and put harmful labels on each other before a word is spoken.

That happens to be the premise with which Untribal was born a couple of years ago – ridding this idea that you need to declare your political colours and standpoints on certain issues before an argument is made… just so we know ‘who’ you really are or what you really ‘mean’ when you’re about to make the case for something.

Or in other words, tainting whatever it is you’re about to say and judging your book by the cover.

In modern Scotland, we have this problem all over the shot.

If anyone’s been on the dating app ‘Hinge’ and happens to be under the age of 30 you’ll see that just about 1 in every 4/5 accounts shows someone telling you to swipe the other way if you’re a ‘Tory’.

Unofficial statistic, of course.

Perhaps you vote Conservative because you don’t believe in governments making personal choices for you or taxing everything you’ve got.

Perhaps you simply believe in free market economics… you’ve managed to drag yourself and your family out of poverty because of a business you started and believe everyone deserves the best chance at doing that as well.

Aye, we all know the success of the current Conservative Government reflecting those values is questionable… but does it make you a bad person to think these things? Is it fair to assume the person voting this way is also probably a racist or a homophobe or an arrogant, pompous, greedy, self-righteous pig?

Another example Ben uses is the overly simplistic tribes of ‘unionists’ and ‘nationalists’ that determine people’s positions on disproportionately complex political issues. It’s becoming an anchor to our societal development.

We saw it in the latest episode of BBC’s ‘Debate Night,’ in which a so-called nationalist and a so-called unionist made similar points & yet couldn’t look less on the same page.

Political columnist, Alex Massie, famous for his bitter hatred towards anything to do with the SNP, said accountability in politics is deteriorating because being ‘pro’ or ‘against’ independence is constantly at the forefront of Scottish voters’ minds. If the SNP are winning elections from a core base of between a third and half of folk that vote… remaining that way until independence is won… how are SNP meant to be accountable for their decision-making in other areas of governance?

Valid question… but this works both ways.

Everything the Scottish Government does is judged in the frame of the ‘nationalist movement’ and a threat is posed by the UK Government to bin the issue entirely if the SNP are to fall any measure short of a landslide victory. Every mistake the Scottish Government makes is judged as a Jenga block being taken out of what has been built by the independence movement.

Political parties that refuse to make promises or even discuss the constitutional issue also use it consistently to gain political capital. They benefit from opposition politics and deny any of the conversation’s liabilities.

It is no coincidence that, similarly, both Labour and Conservatives do not even entertain the idea of a more proportionally representative voting system in UK General Elections. Even though it would undoubtedly make politicians more accountable in its ridding of ‘safe seats.’ It suits them.

And Alex Massie’s sentiments were, at least in a way, echoed in Ben Macpherson’s earlier comments. They were addressed in a different issue but there was a running theme of the relationship between media, politicians and the public for the majority of the programme.

Ben was acknowledging the rut we’re in with the way our politics operates and says all of us need to take “collective responsibility” to make it better.

It was at this moment the inherent tribalism could not be any more evident. Massie turns away from Ben, rolls his eyes and looks at everyone else in a belittling manner… as if he was crazy. As if to say ‘aw here we go.’

Because it is now hatred. Stoked up for so long. It’s bitter, screw yer face up, sour taste in yer mooth hatred.

It started with the targeting of Nicola Sturgeon and now it’s all things SNP.

To some, anyone remotely associated with the party cannot say or do anything right. Alex Massie could not even look at or listen to Ben Macpherson with any kind of respect before a word was spoken. Even when the argument to follow was a paraphrased, or at least supplementary reasoning, to the version of the argument in his head that he was so desperate to say on the programme himself.

That’s where the problem lies.

Neil Mackay recognised this in his writings of Douglas Ross last week when he compared his moulding of the Scottish Conservatives to that of the DUP in Northern Ireland; one that jumps on any moral panic, one that constantly says ‘No,’ one that constantly attacks devolution and anything the Government tries to do. Literally for the opposition’s sake.

And as many will rightly point out, this is a two-way street.

Scottish Independence was once about social and economic development for the people of Scotland.

I say ‘once’ in reference to the core arguments proposed before the 2014 referendum.

When we talk about collective responsibility to make our politics better, the reflection that independence supporters must see in the mirror is that this objective cannot be achieved by any means necessary. No matter how much of an injustice is felt by the promise of EU membership, a huge talking point in the referendum debate, swaying the vote and then only to be taken away from us against our will.

Snatching the vote back by trying to pounce on a moment that an election may ever so slightly show favour of opinion towards independence isn’t what the movement is all about. Stooping low once doesn’t give everyone else the right to stoop low also. That isn’t democracy and it’s also a massive discredit to the so-called ‘Scottish Democracy Movement’ that independence is meant to champion.

And some of the chat going on the now is just ridiculous.

Like the suggestion that we should start negotiating as an independent country if 50%+1 of votes are cast for independence-favouring parties in a UK General Election.

That is ridiculous.

Sticking with the example of EU membership for one… do you really think that the international community would recognise this as a clear mandate for Scotland’s exit from the UK’s political union? Do you really think a Central Bank, necessary for a functioning economy of an independent country, would be legally recognised and financially supported by the IMF on this mandate? Do you really think those governing the EU will fast-track our membership and set a precedent for any movement in any country to break away from them? Do you really think they’d even give us membership at all?

If you feel a sense of injustice with our EU membership being taken away from us in 2014… think how we’ll all feel when this would inevitably collapses our country. It is literally chaos waiting to happen.

And as frustrating as it is with the UK Government refusing to set out a clear path of how we achieve independence should the public want it; the only viable option is for politicians to work productively and have confidence that the public will recognise that in the way they want at the ballot box. If the SNP’s ‘Independence Convention’ comes to any other conclusion then we’ll be going around in circles forever.

Most politicians are in the game for the right reasons and we are a largely decent population… yet I don’t think it’s any surprise that with trial by social media, 24-hour news and hysterical online commentary have led to a lack of trust between us.

On the back of lies told about Iraq, the expenses scandal, austerity, Brexit, partygate and police investigations into Scottish Government officials… we’re in desperate need of a reset.

So, without the snarling, without the pre-emptive judgement based on prejudice… listen to what Ben Macpherson is saying: reset is only possible by changing the language and mindset of media, the public and politicians.

All of us.


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