Scottish politics: As independence issue looms larger, we need to put respect back at the heart of our politics – Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP

These are grim times. Our streets are a mess, people live in fear of monthly fuel bills and each week brings the prospect of fresh strike action by another workforce simply looking for a fairer pay settlement. That malaise is evident in our politics as well.
Protesters demonstrate outside the Conservative leadership hustings in Perth earlier this month (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)Protesters demonstrate outside the Conservative leadership hustings in Perth earlier this month (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Protesters demonstrate outside the Conservative leadership hustings in Perth earlier this month (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Earlier this month, broadcaster James Cook was confronted with a torrent of abuse outside the Conservative leadership hustings in Perth. He was called a “traitor” and a “scumbag”.

The pro-independence supporters that had gathered there also threw eggs at those attending the event.

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Before that, my close friend, Kevin Lang, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrat group on Edinburgh Council, was grabbed by the neck and assaulted by a nationalist voter as he distributed leaflets in his ward.

I’d like to say Scotland is better than this, but it feels all too familiar.

In 2014, a mob descended on the BBC in Glasgow, alleging that the network was biased in its coverage of the independence referendum and branding their political editor a “liar”.

An opinion poll found that a quarter of a million people believed their relationship with a friend or family member had been permanently damaged as a result of the referendum. We are still a country divided.

But it hasn’t always been like this.

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In its early days, the Scottish Parliament delivered a myriad of successes. The Liberal-Labour coalition abolished dental and prescription charges, delivered a new electoral system, and pioneered the smoking ban. But the early promise of devolution is now being overshadowed by tribalism.

We’re told that independence should be our response to Brexit, but isn’t building a wall between Scotland and England just like building a wall between the UK and Europe? Isn’t the nationalism of SNP a carbon copy of the Brexit nationalism of the Conservative party?

I’m getting tired of playing spot the difference because, at the end of the day, there really isn’t much difference at all.

So let me say this in the spirit of an olive branch to independence-minded Scots.

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I understand why people are angry with the Conservative government and I understand why some of the promises made by the SNP high command sound appealing, even though I disagree that breaking up the UK is the way to get there. There is much division still to come, I only ask that when we disagree, we disagree well.

With the Supreme Court's verdict on the prospect of another referendum on separation looming, constitutional matters are sure to play a sizeable role in the year ahead. But it’s up to us those of us with a role in the public eye to make empathy and respect an integral part of our politics.

Millions are struggling to feed their families and heat their homes, drug deaths are some of the worst ever, our health service is buckling under the strain of backlog. That’s why Scotland needs a shared foundation upon which we’re all willing to hear each other out, so real progress can be made.

What do you get when you throw an egg? Probably cruel laughter, possibly some tears, maybe an egg thrown back. But when you lend an ear, you will hear a voice. And when you hear a voice, you will approach an understanding.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western

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