On Thursday, John Beattie asked the male listeners to his BBC Radio Scotland program what makes us cry. Well, I don’t mind sharing that I shed tears of sadness, tears of laughter, tears of joy and pride as I listened to the wonderful Memorial tributes to Margo MacDonald the following day, broadcast live on that same radio station. I doubt I’m the only man willing to ‘fess up to doing that.
I hope the people of Scotland, and further afield, actually listen to what was said at this humanist service for so many reasons. In the first place, this is the most perfect example of how we do not have to be practicing supporters of one or another organized religion to mark the passing of our fellow human beings: our parents, children, brothers, sisters, grandparents, friends, work colleagues, and even those who touched our lives from afar, as Margo did for pretty much everyone in Scotland. We can acknowledge that these people, in however simple a fashion, succeeded in making our lives worth living.
As Margo’s friend, comedian Elaine C Smith reminded us, even for humanists, we don’t die so long as we live in the hearts of those we leave behind. By that measure Margo is in a sense truly immortal.
Margo MacDonald is going to echo down the generations much like a song that has been recorded onto vinyl, compact disk, or whatever you new-fangled youngsters are calling it these days.
Maybe there won’t be new rearrangements, not live concerts, no engaging with the musician, with requests made and new songs dedicated to her fans. But what Margo has bequeathed to us is good enough to keep her alive in a way that makes us all, regardless of religious belief, glad to be part of the same human race.
The final message left to all of us in Scotland, delivered on her behalf by Margo’s husband, Jim Sillars, has been widely and rightly praised all across the political spectrum. This is a message that needs to be constantly reiterated. We can never lose sight of this. And none of us on either side can allow her message to be twisted into meaning its exact opposite.
I have tweeted often and blogged about the same anxieties pinpointed by Margo, which she asked her loving husband to stress not if, but when she had to leave us before Scotland’s day of destiny on the 18th of September this year.
Margo MacDonald is absolutely right to note, and to be genuinely anxious about, the excesses on both sides of the independence argument leading up to our independence referendum. Every last one of us needs to recognize such excesses when we fall victim to it ourselves, and point it out to our friends when we think there could be a problem.
Crying is infectious, as is laughter, sneezing, belching… Actually, maybe not so much belching. But other things are infectious too. And responding to a troll on t’internet by giving them a taste of their own medicine – like a stand-up comedian engaging with a heckler – can get out of hand. It takes two to tango. And it most definitely takes two sides to agree to debate rationally, with dignity and respect. And if the other sides won’t play ball… Well, that’s how shooting wars begin.
Margo was an unusually popular politician. This was at least in part because she demanded the right to think out loud regardless of what party whips wanted. It landed her in trouble with the leadership of her party more than once. It forced her to stand for elections as a one woman party. And she won. She won again and again.
Scotland’s proportional representation system came to Margo’s rescue. It has allowed the Scots – and will continue to allow us – to vote for trouble makers, for mavericks, for those whose independence of mind is valued by the voters even when some of their opinions remain very much minority opinions.
This key aspect of Holyrood’s genuinely democratic system is one of the key reasons Margo fought extend the range of sovereignty to tax and spend and whether we want to invest in welfare rather than warfare. This democratic pillar of electoral system is beyond a shadow of a doubt the reason most Labour voters will, when push comes to shove, vote to leave the United Kingdom in five months time.
Margo was the personification of why it is wrong to portray Scotland’s independence referendum in terms of whether we like or dislike Alex Salmond. Scotland is not like the United Kingdom where Rupert Murdoch and Chris Patten tell us we have to choose whether we want David Cameron or Ed Miliband, which is like asking whether we want to be tortured by a professional gangster or a clown. Can’t we have a third choice, please? Or a fourth, fifth and more?
This is not about which dictator the people of Scotland prefer: one at Holyrood or one chillaxing with Andy Coulson at 10 Downing Street.
Margo, her husband Jim Sillars, Patrick Harvie, Pat Kane, and probably most supporters of the Yes Campaign do not agree with Alex Salmond on lowering corporation tax. All those in the Better Together Campaign who are trying to exploit the unpopularity of this particular policy are deliberately misrepresenting the nature of Scottish self determination.
When Ed Miliband comes to Scotland to lie to us about who will set the political agenda under an independent Scotland, elected by proportional representation, he should not be surprised when we forcefully point out to him that he is deliberately lying to us. Or, alternatively, he is just refusing to listen to the debate.
Can I be accused of being bitter for getting angry at the amount of disinformation peddled by Better Together? Absolutely not. All this means is I am dead keen to set the record straight. And there is going to be a lot more of this exposing the misinformation floating around the mass media notwithstanding the smears of the Better Together Campaign.
Margo’s independence of mind lead to her embracing many campaigns she knew were unpopular. She spoke her mind and didn’t care if we didn’t agree. She was up for a good debate, and anxious to persuade us. And if it turned out that we could persuade her, she was grateful to us. That is how it should be.
But regardless of who wins the debate, Margo refused to bear grudges. That is why in death she brought everyone from right across the political spectrum in Scotland together to mark her passing.
Margo did make us smile, laugh, think. She did change our minds. And she reminded us of the importance of winning arguments by force of reason and by deploying facts, not by screaming louder than the other side. And being patient with those who remain unconvinced. And that brings me to something very, very important.
BBC Radio Scotland held two extremely important phone-in shows on their Morning Call show from 8:50am to 10:30am this week- one hosted by Kirsty Wark, the other by John Beattie. I think these debates will have helped the Yes Campaign enormously, assuming those who heard it allow the arguments to reverberate across the population. However, there are people on our side who are not doing us any favors, and I want to address this.
There were tweets and texts read out, and there were callers who declared their support for Scottish independence whose attitude was so appalling that I have to ask myself if they really are on our side or if they are being paid to smear us. That is only partly a joke, by the way.
Are women who ask for more information before deciding how to cast their vote on September the 18th too lazy or too stupid to vote? Any man who asks that question on any public platform is beneath contempt.
Anyone in the Yes Campaign who seriously abuses anyone (male or female) who refuse to come off the fence months before Scotland’s day of destiny has lost all sense of what debates are about.
There is only one poll that counts: the one on 18th of September 2014. Every other poll is mere a snapshot on the shifting sands. They reflect how the dress rehearsals for the big day are going, outtakes in the dvd box set of Scotland’s history.
No one who doesn’t want to make a premature decision needs to set in stone their attitude to independence. Why the hell should they? I spent over three decades reaching my decision. What right do I have to tell others to get a move on?
Can I point out to sectarians in the Yes Campaign that had they insulted me as “too stupid or lazy” before I joined the Yes Campaign, they would have dramatically increased the chances of my being alienated into sitting on my arse on the day of our referendum, or potentially teaching them a lesson for their abuse and insults by voting for the status quo.
In the Yes Campaign, ‘cybernats’ exist. Of course they do. And they do not help us. These zealots undermine our chances of securing Scottish independence. I promise to play my full part in reining them in. I would have done that even if Margo had not asked Jim Sillars to stress this as her last message to everyone in the referendum campaign on both sides.
I am sure the overwhelming majority of the Yes Campaign will take Margo’s message to heart. They will fight alongside Jim Sillars and others for a rational debate on the case for independence. And those of us who are caught descending into abuse will not necessarily be written off prematurely. Such people need to be offered opportunities to rehabilitate themselves. Only those who consistently refuse to learn the lessons, to get help from others to reject the temptation to respond to abuse in kind should be cut adrift by the Yes Campaign.
I hope the No Campaign are willing to say the same. I hope they don’t simply pay lip service to the message Margo left to us. It is far, far too important for that.