The Scottish referendum debate is doing the public an injustice

Describing Scotland as being 'captive' or 'oppressed' is patronising and insulting to the entire country.

Describing Scotland as being ‘captive’ or ‘oppressed’ is patronising and insulting to the entire country

There are countless times I have heard politics being described as a dirty game, a game to which people make up the rules as they go along. Of course, this isn’t the politics I want to be part of and I have campaigned throughout my adult life to make a better politics.

Working at the grassroots level of politics, you hear members of the public becoming increasingly tired of how the game of politics works, becoming disengaged with mudslinging, sensationalism and quite frankly debate which is far away from their lives.

When the referendum campaigning began in Scotland, there was a difference. People were excited at the prospect of this game of politics being done differently, of going to a debate to talk about an issue rather than be talked at by a candidate.

But somewhere along the way, this difference has ceased to exist, and unfortunately, I can’t help but think we might be talking about something different, but we are doing it the same old way and we are doing the debate and the public an injustice.

I say this for two reasons.

Firstly, there has been an increase in the arguments for an independent Scotland which are painting a picture of ‘the other’ towards the rest of the UK or are pushing sweeping statements which are an inaccurate representation of Scotland. Over simplistic arguments are not only unrepresentative but are an insult to the electorate.

Secondly, there has been an increase of the level of abuse and person attacking going which serves no other purpose for any side, other than to create a mockery out of democracy. The very democracy those in favour of independence use as a reason for voting yes.

I was just one of many who was outraged and disgusted at the UKIP billboards I have to encounter on my way to work telling me that immigrants are coming for my job; and I was proud of those who rallied peacefully outside the UKIP conference in Edinburgh and told UKIP their racism isn’t welcome in Scotland.

But what came quickly after this was an array of campaigners telling me that UKIP wouldn’t exist in an independent Scotland and nor would this type of racism and extreme right-wing sentiment.

This is just not true. Let’s not mask a reality in order to win the current argument. If we do that, we are closing our eyes to real inequality that exists right now and risk ignoring it in the future, regardless of a yes or no vote decision from the public on the 18 September.

North and south of the border there are people who discriminate.

We don’t have to look far to see evidence of just how much discrimination exists in Scotland and unfortunately is finding its way into this debate. Raise you head above the parapet and if they don’t like what you have to say, prepare yourself for an online spewing of hate. That doesn’t sound like the inclusive or ‘different’ Scotland I am being told already exists.

This week, we’ve had an activist Clare Lally speak at a Better Together event and be called a ‘liar’, claimed to be the daughter in law of someone she is not (ironically that was the lie) and smeared against across Twitter – simply for having an opinion.

Then we had JK Rowling tell us her reason for supporting a No vote and she was called a ‘bitch’ and a ‘whore’ (notice the gendered adjectives) and people advocating the burning of her books.

How can those who advocate a yes vote for the sake of democracy be willing to either engage in or remain silent about the suppressing of opinion? Where is the condemning from those at the top taking about fairness and equality in independence or does calling it out take away from the shiny veneer being sold of a different Scotland?

There is also the commentary on the reoccurring idea of Scotland’s oppression. As a feminist and a member of the BME community, this puzzles me a great deal. I have read on a few occasions that Scotland is being oppressed by Westminster and that those who are pro-union are allowing the oppression to continue.

I think we need to take a long hard look at that explanation and I think we need to consider the use of terms like ‘oppression’ or ‘captive’. Oppression is real, it plagues peoples’ lives across the world, it is caused by an imbalance in power and those with power using it against the powerless.

Many, rightly, see the decisions taken by a UK government as unfair and oppressive. The Bedroom Tax or the austerity measures causing people with disabilities to have to prove their inability to work, are wrong, are a misuse of power and a form of oppression. This injustice is being felt by people across the United Kingdom and should be fought.

But it is not an injustice happening to Scotland as a country, it is happening because power is not balanced across the UK. Moving the power locations from London to Edinburgh doesn’t change how that power is used and cannot be what this referendum is about.

I, as a resident of Scotland, since the day of my birth, have felt oppression because of my gender, I have felt oppression because of the colour of my skin, I have felt oppression because of the faith I come from, but I have never considered myself to feel oppressed as a Scot. To draw these parallels is for me is not only disingenuous, but actually to the oppression I have felt and others feel, belittling.

Describing Scotland as being ‘captive’ or ‘oppressed’ is patronising and insulting to the entire country. But even more importantly, it is an insult to those who, in Scotland or across the UK, feel real, damaging oppression.

We are having an historic debate, let’s make our arguments memorable for the right reasons.

Talat Yaqoob is a feminist and equalities campaigner

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