The Importance of Tone

“And you said, No. Our job is to end all that.

                Our job is to make it clean.

                Because if it’s clean, we win.

                Because our ideas are better.”

Kathy Bates – Primary Colours (1998)

I don’t know when it happened but the tone of the independence debate seems to have changed.  Some might say it happened a while ago as we entered the same calendar year as the poll.  It certainly seemed to shift when we had the first direct involvement from the Government in London into what will and will not happen in the event of an independence vote.  Maybe this was the tone all along and I have become more and more aware of it as I become better linked into the online debate.  Whatever the reasons I feel it has shifted, away from the high minded ideals to something nastier and altogether more unpleasant.

The high minded stuff still exists, it’s is still being articulated by both sides but the vitriol is beginning to bubble to the surface and I think it is probably putting off the people who will decide the vote in September.


The majority of voters are not politics geeks, they are interested but don’t want to devote the headspace required to know who was caught up in the expenses scandal, who voted what way in an obscure fisheries bill vote or whether a blogger once used the F-word during a heated twitter debate two years ago.  Normally these people would turn to the newspapers of the broadcast news for this cool headed and informative view, but for some reason they too have been swept up in the mass hysteria.  Papers I once not only trusted, but actively used to help form my views on subjects, have consistently shown themselves to not only disagree which me but have report things that I personally know to be factually untrue.

I have begun now to seek out source documents directly, whether it is the full Wood Report on oil exploration in the North Sea, or reading directly the Annual Report of Standard Life, I find myself not being able to trust what I am being told anymore. Big announcements are pre-released to the BBC and newspaper stories are given a spin; a top line; an angle before the news being reported has even happened.


And maybe this is why the tone has begun to get nasty.  The trust is beginning to go in so many parts of Scottish and wider British society that everything becomes politics, nothing is fact anymore, and everything is up for grabs.  This is much more insidious and dangerous than the idiots on both sides that scream anti-Englishness or profess their hatred for rebellious Nats.  This stuff is horrible and embodies the worst of the debate and the worst aspects of nationalism whether of the ‘British’ or ‘Scottish’ variety.  It feels like we are witnessing the total collapse of the informal institutions of our democracy as the press chooses sides, and the parties of every hue begin to eat their own young.  It is beginning to put me off, so goodness only knows what it is doing to the undecideds.

For those in Scotland this has to be a factor in their choice in September.  Not that an independent Scotland will be immune from this continued threat to decent political discourse, in fact it may be here that the wounds of the referendum debate will be felt most keenly. No, the decision will have to be whether you feel that the political settlement in Britain has got to a point where only massive structural change will wake us from our reverie, or if you think that the best way to heal these divisions is to reaffirm the status quo and carry on together.  Personally I think that we need a change, a new settlement that sees the current way of doing things shaken up, and the people who apologise for this sort of thing as ‘the way it is done’ shown that people think perhaps there is another way to do it.  My hope is that whatever happens we can respect each other and continue to work to the benefit of us all.  In the end we all win when our ideas are better.


(All photographs copyright Lewis Brown)


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