Scottish independence: As nationalist anger overflows again, old fears are returning – Christine Jardine MP

Even as I write this, I am bracing myself for the abuse which shall inevitably follow.

As the prospect of a referendum is dangled enticingly in front of her supporters by Nicola Sturgeon so the discomfort that the rest of us are feeling begins to mount.

The tension is rising and the nasty, abusive behaviour which characterised the 2014 referendum is beginning to rear its ugly head again.

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Scenes outside the Perth venue where a BBC journalist, doing their job, was bullied and heckled by nationalist protesters was a disgrace.

Fortunately you will find very few outside the most virulent nationalist activists this week prepared to defend it, but criticism after the fact is little comfort to those on the receiving end.

We need those they take their leadership from to do more to discourage this behaviour in the first place and make it clear that it has no place in our debate.

There are good people on both sides with valuable opinions and ideas for creating a more progressive society.

But we are all undermined by the few.

Protesters demonstrate outside the Conservative party leadership hustings in Perth (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)Protesters demonstrate outside the Conservative party leadership hustings in Perth (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Protesters demonstrate outside the Conservative party leadership hustings in Perth (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
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Don’t get me wrong, I have no place either for the sort of dismissive, muscular unionism which can be just as guilty of wanting to silence, or ignore opposition.

I cherish the right to peaceful protest which is fundamental to our democracy, but that does not give anyone licence to shout down those who do not share their views.

A video of the event went viral as discussion raged over a highly respected BBC broadcaster being taunted with insults like “scum” and “traitor” as he tried to collate news footage of the day.

There was no room allowed for the possibility that he was simply doing his job and had, like all professional journalists, left his own politics at home.

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Apparently, to those protesting outside the Perth venue, the only opinion allowed is theirs. They are the only ones whose Scottishness or love for the country is not in question.

I so need them to know that they are wrong, and to understand that very many people in this country, Scots through and through, have a different opinion.

And that when they wave the Saltire, our flag, and shout insults, they do not do it in our name.

Watching that footage, I recognised a fear I hoped would be put to bed with the 2014 referendum result, but has never really gone away.

It is not a fear of defeat, of separation from family and friends in the rest of the UK, but of the actual substance of the campaign itself. It is not, after all, the first or only recent example of nationalist anger overflowing.

One of my own colleagues was accosted in the street recently by an apparent nationalist supporter whose behaviour left him rattled and caused my party to re-examine the safety of our campaigners. That should not be necessary in a modern democracy.

Anecdotally I’ve heard of a comedian at the Fringe describe 2014 as a friendly affair.

They must have been in a different referendum from me because my experience was certainly not that, but was instead a constant barrage of bitter divisive comments and actions.

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I was one of many campaigners followed by nationalists who photographed us or posted horrible tweets about us.

On one occasion, on the eve of the vote itself, I found myself surrounded by a crowd or around 100 Yes campaigners waving flags and shouting.

The group I was with was engulfed and pushed towards the edge of a pavement alongside a busy main road. It was alarming.

But strangely none of those responsible seemed to recognise that fact.

Perhaps that is the nub of the problem. In the heat of what became a battle in all but the actual physical sense, the recognition of the impact of behaviour is lost.

Good people get carried away with what they are experiencing as a collegiate common cause which they find enjoyable, perhaps exhilarating.

They cease to see the damage they are doing to relationships with friends and family.

It doesn’t need a large protest or rally to create the dislocation. I was at a lunch to mark our children leaving school where one guest at the table decided that this social event was the ideal opportunity to regale us all with his feelings on independence. To try to convert us.

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Not all the guests disagreed with him when he began his verbal assault, but they did find his approach inappropriate. They were uncomfortable.

Looking around the table, I could virtually see years of respect and friendship being frittered away as he continued to proclaim into the silence unaware.

That was not the only occasion like that which I experienced and I know that I am not the only person to have lost friends this way or worse, fallen out with family.

Watching that Perth footage, I realised my fear was of impending loss of family, of friends and of the divisiveness we have survived once, but may be forced to endure again.

It will not, however, persuade me to be bullied or silenced in my pursuit of what I believe is best for me, my family and my compatriots.

And neither will it persuade me to join in the shouting and jeering.

When the dust settles on the United Kingdom, as I sincerely hope it remains to be, I intend to be able to look both my colleagues and my opponents in the eye, confident that I have made my argument with respect and dignity.

If only those who turned up to shout in Perth would pledge the same.

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Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West



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