James Millar: Second referendum will be darker and grittier than the first

Written by James Millar on 13 March 2017 in Opinion

Nicola Sturgon is rebooting the franchise with her call for a second independence referendum.

Those of us who were there know that the 2014 independence referendum was indeed a jamboree of democratic engagement.

In public at least. Folk talked about nothing else in the pub. Journalists sent on to the streets to partake in that miserable job of vox-popping the public were met with people actually coming up to them to talk rather than the usual experience of begging passers-by for just a few minutes of their time and a publishable opinion.

But we also know there was a dark underbelly. In private friends and family were divided over such a fundamental question that cracked open issues around identity, what it means and how we choose it.

And today’s press conference at which Nicola Sturgeon announced she’s going to start the process that will likely lead to indyref2 suggests we’re in for more of the same.

There was plenty of fine talk of trusting Scots to choose the nation’s destiny, of giving voters a choice. Which was as correct as it was well delivered. And she set a fine example in taking a ton of questions from journalists (and just as in 2014 they are almost all white men.)

But there was darkness there too. She dropped the stateswoman schtick briefly to ridicule a journalist who asked about the border in event of independence and pointed to the example of Northern Ireland and the Republic. And it wasn’t a passing barb, she laboured the point as she patronised the questioner by explaining she answers the questions and he asks them. It was a moment that was easy to miss among the huge issues up for discussion but it pointed up that history is repeating itself in more ways than one.

The Scottish press pack well remembers a bolshie First Minister in 2014 who hit a low point as polling day loomed when he patronised a young Daily Telegraph journalist by offering him sweeties. And it suggests that passions will be running high again.

Folk that fell out in 2014 aren’t going to be able to make up for a few years yet. In fact if it was bad last time it will surely be worse this time because there is even more at stake. If the last independence referendum was said to be once in a generation this one surely will be.

Already it looks like indyref2 will unleash poison. Hopefully that will be balanced by yet another celebration of democracy but there has to be questions about whether all sides can get equally geed up so soon after the last campaign.

With indyref2 Nicola Sturgeon is rebooting the franchise (literally), and as is the way these days the reboot is inevitably going to be darker and grittier.



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