It doesn’t matter which side of the constitutional debate you support, the revelation that Edinburgh-born journalist, Sarah Smith, is relieved to be leaving the country of her birth for a senior BBC job in the USA should come as a wake-up call for everyone.
Smith, the daughter of the late John Smith, former leader of the UK Labour Party, revealed last week that she was regularly subjected to “deeply unpleasant” abuse.
She said that people would “...roll their car windows down as they drive past me in the street to ask me, ‘What f****** lies you're going to be telling on TV tonight, you f****** lying b****?'" she said.
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And she added she was looking forward to living in America, where she would be anonymous. “Nobody will have any idea who my father is,” she said.
Her father died suddenly on 12 May 1994, aged only 55, and on the cusp of becoming the first Labour Prime Minister for two decades. His funeral in Cluny Parish Church in Morningside represented the best of Scotland.
Mourners came from across the political divide to remember him. Former Tory PM Sir Ted Heath joined the then-Tory PM Sir John Major and his wife to pay their respects.
Hundreds of Edinburgh folk lined the streets to say goodbye to a man who had a unique gift. John Smith was able to hold – and promote – strong political views while maintaining cordial relationships with those on the opposite side to him and his party.
Those days are long gone. Since the announcement of the 2014 referendum on whether Scotland should leave the UK, our political discourse has coarsened. We are no longer Scots who have different political views, we are either ‘Yoons’ or ‘Nats’. Insults like traitor and quisling are traded with nonchalance.
It’s perhaps not surprising, given the binary nature of the debate – yes or no, leave or remain – that Scotland has been split asunder in this way.
But it is very damaging. The constitutional question colours everything, from how we judge the Scottish government’s handling of the pandemic to which flag should be on a box of supermarket eggs.
The cost-of-living crisis, the perilous state of the NHS and the chaos in our schools are largely ignored as politicians and their supporters argue over whether there should a second independence referendum.
Individuals, like Sarah Smith, find themselves the subject of hateful abuse because they are perceived to be on one side or the other.
Even cities are given a political personality. Glasgow is seen by many as the ‘Yes’ city, while I have often heard Edinburgh dismissed as the ‘English’ one.
I have no idea what Sarah Smith’s views are on independence, nor do I care. But I do care deeply that Scotland is now so profoundly divided that John Smith’s daughter is relieved to be leaving.
The last line of John Smith’s last speech, given the night before he died, was, “please give us the opportunity to serve our country. That is all we ask.”
All we should be asking now, as a country, is that our politicians focus on what unites us, and not what splits us apart.