Following a media proclamation regarding her position on the constitutional question of Scotland’s independence, the former Labour leader in Scotland – Kezia Dugdale recently tweeted that it was impossible to have a ‘nuanced debate’ in Scotland, which – to the detriment of Scottish society – left Scotland stuck in a ‘reductive holding loop’.
Her tweet swirled in my mind as I considered it in the context of my own view on independence and how I have tried to add nuance to my thinking since 2014. Back then, I was stuck in my own reductive loop of confirmation bias. A time in which politicians like Kezia were an amplified voice and therefore contributed in their own words to the situation we now face. That time really crystalized the divide between those who will most probably never change their minds. Since then, binary rhetoric from both politician and commentators has served to harden both positions and hearts in some quarters. Anyhoo, the tweet swirled, the thoughts formed, and the words were eventually organised into this article.
As I ruminated, I was taken back to those days of devouring every piece of info I could. Reading and learning (or confirming) so as to argue the case with some who put their head above the parapet with a differing view. I was lulled into a stupor of confirmational bias and – as with the election of Trump – couldn’t believe that enough people would accept the arguments of the other side.
I knew it was no use arguing with the completely decided, there were enough of them around and some were not only very vocal but seemed to be amplified by a media searching for voices to hammer home messages for their desired political outcome. I chose to engage in more considerate discussion in the hope that any undecided voters observing the conversation would be swayed by reasoned argument with no animosity attached (mostly, sometimes we can react to the more moronic statements).
I truly believed – that although it would be tight – that enough people would vote ‘Yes’ and give Scotland a chance to try something else, that at the very least no-one could ever again blame Westminster for Scotland’s situation. When I realised – with a sinking sick feeling in my stomach on hearing Ruth Davidson proclaiming ‘No’ would win – I closed down the social media site I had used and, following a period of mourning, set about learning about such ‘nuanced debate’.
Nuanced debate seems impossible at times, but this isn’t so
One thing that has struck me over the last few years is the number of people who voted in a way that I did not guess. There have been conversations that have unearthed some real surprises and had me thinking that lots of people were having nuanced debates, just that they were doing it in their own heads or with their own friends and families, at least those that had the emotional capacity to speak without resorting to anger or even estrangement. They had no truck with the overzealous and certainly weren’t convinced by fear or fervour.
There is something to be said about the so-called silent majority. They usually aren’t so silent and are found quietly talking amongst themselves; just drowned out, or never truly listened too.
Some politicians and the media can stifle nuanced debate
Now Kezia exists in a world where her proclamations are always going to cause that divide to bubble and froth. Unfortunately, it’s not a broth fully made of hearty ingredients; the bilious bile some add to the debate will always make us gag if it reaches our palates. She knows better than anyone – having been at the end of much repulsive behaviour – that the currents of blame and anger run strong in the still stormy sea of Scottish independence debate.
I don’t think it comes as any surprise – as difficult as it is to endure – that her speaking out unleashed the rabid hounds, who barked, yelped, and howled to drown out the more interesting debate. Yet, for quite a few, there was no surprise that her view is now publicly more nuanced. I have been waiting for it for quite some time and I doubt I am the only one. In fact, I encourage her to be as outspoken about the possibility for nuanced debate as she was adamant about never, ever, ever, backing a second referendum.
We should live our truths as and when we experience them and as someone who commentates regularly on political matters across the board, I believe she could help that debate emerge. Given the Edwardian levels of destitution some are experiencing there is no better time to explore a different way (as an independence supporter I would certainly accept a federal UK if it offered up the right conditions. I am not tied to the notion of Nation as a border issue).
Lastly, politicians who follow party lines that are ‘absolute’ for a good while then allow their more nuanced arguments to emerge on leaving office must share the responsibility (alongside partisan media) for the way in which the divides in society emerge. We may never bridge the gap between the yays and the nays, but we can certainly allow for better circumstances for those who can see different sides of an argument to gain a little more public attention. Politicians would do well to foster such circumstances during their tenure.