After Tory Perth hustings abuse, Nicola Sturgeon must do more to stop Scotland being divided into 'traitors' and 'true believers' – Susan Dalgety

I have enjoyed a fair few political demos in my time. There was a period in the late 1980s when it seems I spent every second Saturday marching down Princes Street, shouting “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie. Out, Out, Out.”

I doubt if the then Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher cared a jot about our protests. They were largely good-natured and, while there was genuine dislike for the Iron Lady in Scotland – and large parts of England – there was never an air of violence.

Fast forward to last week, and the nationalist demonstration that greeted the Tory leadership hopefuls, Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, was anything but peaceful.

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Ordinary Tory party members were screamed at by red-faced, Saltire-waving, angry independence supporters. The BBC‘s Scotland editor, the mild-mannered and very professional James Cook, was called a “scumbag rat” and “traitor”, for simply doing his job.

And Borders MSP Rachael Hamilton and her 15-year-old daughter had “Tory scum” spat at them as they entered the Perth venue.

It brought back memories of 2014 when the independence referendum campaign descended into bitterness, forcing one of Labour’s most senior MPs at the time, Jim Murphy, to suspend his Scotland-wide speaking tour after he was attacked at an event in Kirkcaldy.

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And I still shudder when I recall a weeping woman at a Musselburgh polling station on the day of the vote, who asked me, a volunteer, when all this division would end. “After tonight,” I replied, more in hope than expectation.

Eight years later and Scotland is more divided than ever. It is all very well for the First Minister to tell reporters in the wake of the disgraceful scenes outside the Tory hustings that she was not responsible for them.

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Protesters demonstrate outside the Conservative party leadership hustings in Perth (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
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Nicola Sturgeon condemns 'disgraceful' abuse of BBC journalist by protester
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“I wasn’t in Perth,” she said. “That wasn’t being done in my name…” she added, but her insistence that there will be a second referendum on whether Scotland should leave the UK in just over a year’s time has stirred up the worst kind of nationalist fervour.

Perth is only a taster of what we will all have to endure if there is a referendum in October 2023, as Nicola Sturgeon has promised.

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And she must know, in her heart of hearts, that her particular style of grievance politics – where everything is Westminster’s fault – fuels the anger and hatred on display at Perth.

Many people who support the nationalist cause, including the First Minister, refuse to accept that the threat of Scotland leaving the UK terrifies half the population.

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It is our very being, our identity as Scottish and British that is under threat. I love that the UK has a diversity of traditions and cultures – and yes, different political views. I may never vote Conservative, but some of my best friends do.

When we watch demonstrations like that at Perth, we shudder for fear that this is our future. Our country, our Capital city, divided along sectarian lines. Us and them. Traitors or true believers. Real Scots or unionist stooges.

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I am not asking Nicola Sturgeon to change her politics, but I beg her to have some empathy for those Scots – at least half the country – who do not share her teenage dream of separation.