Calling It Out
Who is up for another referendum? I’m guessing that the vast majority of those who read this will most certainly relish another campaign. The confidence, inclusivity and optimism that were the hallmarks of the 2014 Independence Referendum provided a positive and lasting legacy. Despite the deep disappointment of the result, the referendum gave impetus to a belief that change was still possible and that the old political loyalties in Scotland had been torn asunder.
It was a campaign noted for its grassroots involvement. A broad church. A rainbow alliance of different political, cultural and ethnic backgrounds. A kaleidoscopic movement that was noted for its enthusiasm and progressive ambitions. A modern movement that was adept at taking to social media and utilising it to maximum effect. This was a campaign that recognised the inate hostility of main stream media and circumvented this through a profusion of alternative pro Indy news sites and social media bloggers. And instead of melting away on a no vote, many are still going strong four years later, still beating the drum, still flying the flag.
Social media and especially Twitter, became the focus for the dissemination of ideas and information. But there were downsides. There were, on occasions, intemperate exchanges between those who supported a Yes vote and those who were convinced it was a bad idea. In response to these sometimes ill tempered discourses, it is understandable that people restricted themselves to feeds where their own views were supported. An echo chamber developed, where debate became increasingly insular. It led to some Yes campaigners affirming their messages and beliefs to the already converted, receiving endless validations and affirmations from fellow independenistas in return. It created false impressions of a campaign on course to win. Of course none of this is surprising. Who wants to put up with insults and abuse? But, it does rather mean that persuasion and negotiation withered on the vine and a philosophical and political stalemate developed.
For Yessers who remain committed to engaging with those that retain a love for the union, social media remains one of the best platforms for doing that. But it can be a frustrating experience. It lends itself to impulsive and unguarded comment. It is a medium that strips away the subtle nuances of body language and tones of speech that prevent arguments escalating in the ‘real world’. Text looks aggressive no matter what the original intention. A whole lot of thought has to go into a tweet, or a post to prevent misunderstandings. It’s tiring doing that all the time. Sometimes we just think stuff it. Have this.
You may be thinking, ‘hold on, the other lot are far worse.’ And you would be right. A whole world of derogatory remarks exists in the twittersphere. There is a lot of trolling. Of desperate needling and provocation. There are a lot of knuckle draggers out there. But, if we are honest, it’s not just the ‘opposition’ that are the source of dismay. There have been some occasions when I’ve thought that comments by someone on the Yes side have been intemperate, or insulting. It’s thankfully not the norm. The vast majority of Yessers persuade and cajole, with politeness and patience, but there are a tiny minority who don’t. Keyboard warriors firing off salvos, encouraged by the bravery of being out of range. They bring opprobrium on us all. We all become ‘Cybernats’ when the invective is handed out by one of our own. It undermines our wider argument. It is used as a weapon by a mainstream media determined to beat down the Yes movement and create the impression amongst undecided voters that this is not a cause that they should to aspire to.
In addition to the occasional ill chosen words there are other traditional soubriquets like ‘Tory Scum’. You might not think that such a bad term, but if your aim is to change perspectives and to get people of a different political persuasion onto your wavelength, it simply doesn’t work. It entrenches positions. It speaks of tribalism at a moment when you are trying to convince people, who normally vote Conservative, that a Yes vote in an independence referendum is not the huge risk they consider it to be. As for those who align themselves with Labour, no amount of shouting ‘Red Tories’ at them is going to swing things in favour of independence either.
So why am I laying this on thick? It’s certainly not to alienate fellow Yessers. I hope that you are still reading thus far, because this is all about a fabulous movement of people, committed to an amazing, life affirming cause, raising the bar another notch in preparation for the next Independence Referendum. It is about maximising our abilities to persuade others to our point of view and through friendly, patient discourse, secure victory next time around. There are two ways in which we, all of us, can individually achieve that.
The first is by applying the art of negotiation.
It’s something we all do in life. It’s an innate human skill. We learn it as children when trying to extract concessions from our parents. You probably use it in your daily working lives. It’s simply that we don’t recognise the ways in which we can apply it in more combative situations. It’s easier psychologically to retreat into self preservation, because negotiation requires an element of trust, of exposing a sense of vulnerability, of showing that you are willing to listen, in the hope you will be listened to in return. That, of course, does not always happen and on those occasions we can feel frustrated. So it requires us to be brave. And in that Yessers are already ahead of the game. By definition, you prepared to take a bold step and have the courage of your convictions. Your task, should you choose to accept it, is to persuade the seemingly unpersuadable, that there is a better future, that they’d be most welcome in the movement and they’d could play a huge part in making the world a better place. But how do you do that?
It’s all about that old saying ‘walking a mile in someone else’s shoes’. It about empathy. (Not sympathy, though feel free to feel that if you like). Just don’t confuse the two. This is about understanding another persons point of view. Of really listening. About gently asking why they feel the way they do. Of trying to establish some common ground.
The key to this is politeness. Such a simple thing. Think of how you’d like to be spoken to and you’re most of the way there. This is about NOT knocking back every opposing view out of hand. It’s about giving a little bit of ground in order that you gain some more in the long run. There are some things about independence that will be challenging. It’s not all going to be rosy. So if someone cites those fears, we should acknowledge them. Even share some fears of our own. Because we are all in this together right?
The main thing is to show that you are listening. That you do appreciate another point of view. That you are willing to concede some points, with tact and humour, but are able to point out any number of positives that, on balance, make Independence much more attractive than the status quo. By doing so, you may win some trust. You might have established some rapport with a stranger who formerly thought you were a Yes troll, but now thinks you are a reasonable and intelligent human being with a positive vision.
It’s nice to engage in a positive spirt of equanimity, but remember that the goal is to persuade someone to change their outlook. Not easy. Social media, with its quick-time ephemeral nature does not lend itself easily to debate, but if you can find someone willing to do that, the key is to find out what the real issues are for them. Through that you can illustrate all the things that an independent Scotland can do to address these. Array all the positives. Admit they may be one or two rocky paths to traverse, but over time it will all be worth it.
And if they won’t accept your argument?
Then leave as friends. Thank them for at least listening. Thank them indeed for sharing their point of view. Yup. Thank them. Through that you will leave a seed. Of someone who was decent, intelligent and willing to meet someone half way.
Remember that their point of view will be as valid as yours. They are your fellow Scots after all. And when the day comes, and one day it will, when Scotland becomes an independent nation once more, we have to be in a position to heal wounds and to act with equanimity and magnanimity to those who did not want it. Because they will still remain our fellow Scots regardless of background our political persuasion. Young and old. Rich and poor. We will all be in the one boat. One sovereign nation does not mean we will all be joining hands, singing as we dance up sunlit uplands. But it will be a whole lot easier if we go along that road in the spirit of mutual respect.
And if that respect is not returned?
Then, in terms of social media, there are always the options of mute and block. There will be those who are unpersuadable and downright nasty. In that regard there are few options. If you can keep up a wall of politeness and reasonableness, go for it. If you feel the hackles rise, walk away. Deny them what they want. The oxygen of your emotions. And the oxygen of publicity. They need you far more than you need them.
And to those within our own ranks?
In some ways this is the hardest bit. It’s about doing the right thing and standing up for what you believe in, even if it means calling out the behaviour of someone who is on ‘our side’. No movement is strong and healthy if it gives hot heads and abusive individuals tacit approval to use that movement as a platform for intemperate language. It’s about leadership. Each of us has a role to play as ambassadors for Yes. Each of us can make a wee difference to raising the bar and to make the Scottish independence movement something to be admired not just at home, but across the world. A force for good and an example of positive political engagement at all levels.
So. Next time you see a twitter exchange where the language has become abusive, where you feel your heart sinking at the damage being done to the cause you dearly believe in, challenge it. Politely of course. Point it out to the transgressors. There is nothing more powerful to someone who has stepped over the line than condemnation from those they purport to belong to.
In this world of hashtags, there is perhaps room for another. If you do come across something that makes you acutely uncomfortable you can tag it for all to see. I think this one could do the job. Over to you.