Politics, politics, its not all party politics….
It seems that the Independence Campaign might be catching up with the people in the street. Last week the YES campaign announced its board members and there were people from all walks of life. A new site Voters Alliance for Scottish Independence and its associated Facebook page have appeared along with “Labour Voters for Scottish Independence” quickly followed by a page for the Conservatives and the Lib-Dems. Not much action on the latter two but the Labour page is already starting to buzz. I’m not sure whether these pages will attract actual Lib-Dem and Tory voters and, whether there will be any sensible debate, is also still to be discovered over the next wee while, but these pages are there and I hope it is an indication that the debate over Independence is starting to cross party boundaries.
The online debate is already wide and varied – from Facebook pages with thousands of members to those with but a few. There is this site – National Collective – NewsnetScotland , Labour Hame, Tory Hoose, a variety of bloggers and some “official pages” to highlight a few. Twitter baffles me a bit – I have no idea how to increase my followers and it took me ages to figure out what a “hash tag” was and what “#FF” means (Follow Friday apparently). I’ll keep at it but I’m not completely engaged. My addiction is Facebook. I am a connoisseur. I feel like I should add “LOL” after that sentence LOL. (There I did it – I can stop twitching now). I follow the trail of both YES and NO supporters around Facebook – sometimes posting sometimes not. I guess I’m a bit of a political page slapper. No real allegiance just picking up whatever I fancy at the time. There are others just like me (Although they might not like my describing them as slappers – my apologies). I have learned much but also found some things that disturb and horrify me – a dance into the pages of the Scottish Defence League and links from their pages left me running for the hills and hiding behind my monitor for a few days feeling rather sick.
I have only ever actively left a page I had joined once. I threw my toys out of the pram and said I wasn’t coming back. It was a “NO” page for those of you who like to know those things, and when the threads descended into a pissing contest between the boys it was really not for me. I retired to the relative calmness and solidarity of “Women for Scots Independence” to regroup. I do still lurk on that “NO” page a bit and it is really irritating when I want to post but can’t because I made a big fuss out of walking away. I won’t do that again. Mostly I’m tolerant and interested by the views people express and the immediacy of Facebook. That’s the addictive thing you see – the immediacy. Post a comment and on the busier pages there is often someone who replies within a few minutes. I can while away the rainy afternoons with a film on the telly for the children whilst I, meandering around the internet, can find myself arguing about welfare with a baker in Nottingham, social policy with a lawyer in Glasgow and democracy with an anarchist in Ayr.
It’s tempting to suggest that the quality of the debate is better on the Pro-Independence pages but it does depend on the page. And of course, we always prefer places where our opinions match other peoples so it’s not really a valid comment to say that the YES pages are better. Some are good and some are dire on both sides. There is also a sense of optimism about many of the YES pages and a sort of negativity about the NO pages which is mirrored within the argument itself. YES supporters tend to say “We could do this or this or this” and NO supporters tend to say “We wouldn’t be able to do this or have that”. I’d like to see NO pages where they say “If we stay with the Union we could achieve this and this and this”. That doesn’t seem to be the case and I find that disappointing.
The area where the Internet is failing to provide any concrete answers is however clear. It’s the Economy – Ya bam! You can drive yourself mad, and quickly too, trying to get to the bottom of the economic argument for and against Independence. Claim and counter claim, evidence and conflicting evidence, prosperity and austerity… once you enter the world of online debate on Scotland’s economic future you could be lost forever. I worry that one day they might find me slumped over my keyboard, having not eaten for days, smelly and unwashed muttering about McCrone and block grants and the amount of time before the oil will run out. Fortunately I have little ones and when my two year old comes to stand next to me saying “Hungry, hungry, hungry, hungry” I am forced to put my laptop away and turn back into their loving mum – at least until bedtime. I’m waiting to see if l either get smarter over the next two years, or the arguments become clearer. I’m not hopeful though.
And so I am pleased to see that the campaign, both officially and online is trying to move on to mirror the debates that are taking place in houses, round dinner tables, over pints at the pub, over coffee at Starbucks and in workplaces. I have been worried that the YES Campaign will fail to engage with ordinary people – People who don’t belong to any political party, people who run small businesses, voluntary organisations or who just, simply, live their lives apart from the cut and thrust of political shenanigans. People ARE talking about Independence more, regardless of what political party they support, they are meandering around Facebook, and they are talking, face to face even, about how it affects them and their families – their lives. They agree or disagree with each other and then continue to drink their pint or talk about their children or their jobs, relationships and holidays. That’s a good thing. Their conversations don’t start or end with a question about the political party you support and the Independence Campaign shouldn’t either. We need to reinforce the message that this campaign is about more than party politics over and over again and it looks like we are, at least, starting to do that.