Yesterday the No campaign’s Rob Murray responded to allegations of scaremongering by complaining on Twitter that supporters of independence “don’t like debate”.
For some unknown reason he didn’t reply to our observation that “Better Together” has banned hundreds of would-be debaters from its Facebook page for politely raising various awkward issues about “Project Fear”, but later the same day rather more disturbing news reached us of some events in the north of Scotland.
On Saturday the Twitter account of Louise Morton, apparently Women’s Officer of the Moray Labour Party, referred to an incident at the historic “Maggie Fair” in Garmouth, near Elgin. Responding to a claim that Yes Scotland activists had been “hounded out” of the fair, Morton tweeted “I found this highly amusing. Haha.
She subsequently noted that the activists in question had been “politely advised to leave” (adding “LOL”), retweeted a comment from local Labour councillor Sean Morton (who appears to be her son) that fair attendees had been “angry” about their presence, and claimed that “a LOT of people” had been objecting.
A slightly menacing picture was being painted, so we were pleased to be contacted with a fuller account from one of the Yes Scotland campaigners in question, Paul Donaldson. We reprint it below in full as received.
In just under 450 days time from now, the people of Scotland will be asked to make the most important decision they will ever have to make – whether we become an independent country. As part of the debate over this decision, over the summer months both the Yes and No campaigns are participating in hundreds of community events and local fairs all over Scotland.
Being present at community events allows both Yes and No campaigns to engage more directly with the public and in a different way to that which takes place in the mainstream media. As part of our ongoing campaign to raise public awareness of issues in the independence debate, we recently approached the organisers of the Maggie Fair, to ask if we would be allowed to have a stall – as we have for many other events in Moray.
We were told that Yes Scotland would be allowed an information stall at Maggie Fair, only if the No campaign took up an offer to also have a similar stall. Our understanding is that the No campaign did not take up this offer, but the committee told us the decision of the committee (although not the unanimous decision) was that a small group of volunteers would be allowed to hand out materials in the park, as long as we did not do so in the main street.
We respected the decision of the committee not to allow us to have a stall or to do any fundraising, but were grateful to them for allowing us to have a presence moving around the park. We spoke with the committee member two days before the fair to confirm that we would still be allowed to attend, and no indication was given of there being any potential problem.
On arrival at the park in Garmouth on Saturday afternoon, we were immediately questioned by someone who asked us who had given us permission to be there and we told them the name of the committee member who had given us permission. Shortly after that we met the committee member we had made the arrangements with, who greeted us and welcomed us to the fair.
Some local residents who were clearly unhappy with our presence at Maggie Fair made their views known to the committee member and ourselves, but they were told by the committee member that we had made the request through the proper channels and that we were welcome to stay there.
After some time, it became apparent that the small group of unhappy residents simply did not want us there. Eventually it was mentioned to us that there was a beer tent at the fair and after a few drinks things “could turn a bit nasty” with some of the objectors. At this point the small group of three volunteers made the decision to leave the park in order to avoid any potential problems later on.
At no point were volunteers of Yes Scotland asked to leave the park by the organising committee member who we had been liaising with. We would like to thank the Maggie Fair organising committee for allowing volunteers from the Yes Scotland to attend their fair and if allowed back next year, we would look forward to the opportunity to give members of the public information that they have been asking us for and raise awareness of the referendum campaign.
Mr Donaldson’s account of events seems to tally with Ms Morton’s, in that there was a clear element of threat against what was an officially-sanctioned presence – with Ms Morton’s account saying that the activists were “advised” to leave, rather than “asked”.
Interestingly, another comment retweeted by Ms Morton on the Saturday came from Better Together Moray, the official regional arm of the campaign:
So what do we know for certain?
1. Yes Scotland requested permission to attend the event in an official capacity, through the proper channels, and were granted it.
2. “Lots” of Better Together supporters were also at the event.
3. “a LOT of” the fair’s attendees were allegedly “angry” at the presence of the Yes Scotland representatives.
4. The Yes activists report that they were warned of possible violence if they didn’t leave, and they elected to do so for their own safety and that of others.
5. An officer of the local Labour party professed to find the “hounding out” of the activists with the threat of violence “highly amusing”.
We cannot, of course, make any direct connection between “Better Together” and an “angry” crowd containing “lots” of its supporters intimidating three peaceful volunteers with official permission to be at the fair into leaving, on pain of a drunken beating. There may have been no crossover at all between the many No supporters and the angry people who the Yes activists were warned might assault them.
All we can say for certain is that “Better Together” demonstrably doesn’t like people putting forward polite and reasoned arguments against it in public, from which readers may or may not wish to form their own judgements.