Alert readers will be aware that we like to occasionally have a bit of light-hearted satirical fun pointing out the gulf in numbers between grassroots campaigners on the Yes side of the independence debate and their counterparts in the No camp.
But we’ve been gathering evidence of a much more sinister side to the phenomenon.
It’s not entirely new. A couple of months ago we carried a report of authorised Yes activists being intimidated out of a fair near Elgin with implied threats of violence, on the grounds that the “Better Together” campaign had failed to put up any advocates of its own and the presence of Yes Scotland therefore created an imbalance.
But recently we’ve been hearing more and more from pro-independence campaigners that the same tactic – often with the support of sympathetic Labour councillors – has been deployed across the country. Unable to rustle up any supporters to argue its case, the No camp instead uses its own weakness as a weapon, demanding that Yes stands be removed (or refused permission in the first place) simply because their Unionist opposite numbers refuse to turn up.
Scottish football fans will find the scenario familiar. In 1996 the Scotland national side made the long journey to Tallinn in Estonia for a World Cup qualifying match. The Estonian team famously didn’t show, on the grounds that their FA had objected to the start time being brought forward due to fears over inadequate floodlighting, and the match was abandoned moments after the Scots kicked off.
Under FIFA regulations, the outcome should have been clear – the awarding of a 3-0 victory to Scotland. But for reasons never properly explained (no “force majeure” had been involved, like the Estonian team coach being in a car crash or some such), the Federation instead ordered the game to be staged again at a neutral venue, where it ended up in a 0-0 draw, depriving Scotland of two precious points.
Clearly, this favourable outcome struck a chord with “Better Together”. The following are just some typical examples of the various different strategies used by No campaigners to suppress debate that we’ve been sent this month.
JOHN McGUIRE, SOUTH AYRSHIRE
“You asked for any instances where YES folk were harassed at any public events. Me and some others were challenged at Ayr Flower Show on Friday August 2nd. Three of us (with Blue waistcoats) were on the main drag through Rozelle Park, not inside the event, and an officious lady asked us to move. Our answer was no, with a smile. We then took some hassle from John Walker (the chairperson of the flower show).
We were accused of being in breach of The Representation of the People Act, (nonsense), barricading the entrance (definitely not), we were blocking the main thoroughfare (definitely not). Told that were not allowed not allowed to distribute leaflets and he was away to get the Police. They never appeared after 2 hours.
So essentially while we refused to move we were courteous and invited him to go get the police. Heard later that the Tories complained we were aggressive and rude, a complete lie.”
FAY SINCLAIR, DUNFERMLINE
“Last week we had our stall at South Dunfermline Gala cancelled with less than 24 hours notice. I had booked and paid for the stall weeks in advance, making it clear it was for Yes Scotland and would involve handing out pro-independence information about the referendum to members of the public. I was told this was fine as long as it was not party political.
The evening before the event the secretary of the organising committee (who had taken the booking) called me to say we weren’t allowed to be there. She told me it was because it wouldn’t be balanced as the other side would not be represented and that they’d received several complaints. We registered our disappointment but stayed away and focused on leafleting the surrounding area instead.
After I complained to the press about feeling pressure had been put on the committee for political reasons, I received my refund and a letter stating that the committee had taken a majority decision and that it was because it was a “children’s gala” and not political. But the way it was handled seems to be a tactic employed by Better Together across the country.
Yesterday local activists had a stall set up outside Pittencrieff Park in Dunfermline for the annual Bruce Festival. We’ve asked the past two years (last year as Yes and the previous year as SNP) to have a stall in the venue but were refused. Last year we set up a table just outside the gates and had no complaints, so decided just to do that again this year.
About an hour after setting up our stall on the street outside the park gates event security approached us and asked us to leave. We refused on the grounds that we were exercising our right to free speech and were entitled to campaign on a public street. They threatened to call police to have us removed and at one point called over a passing policeman who was very disinterested as we were clearly doing nothing wrong.
The local councillor for the area (Neale Hanvey) was there and managed to speak to the organisers, who said it was because Better Together weren’t also represented that we couldn’t be there. In the end they agreed to “let” us keep our stall outside the park gates if we agreed not to turn up on Sunday. So the gazebo will stay in the box and we’ll be out with leaflets in hand and Yes balloons to give out to the kids to hopefully flood the venue with our message. This blatant attempt at censorship will not be accepted.
We had a fantastic response from the public today with hundreds of flags given out, probably close to 1000 pieces of pro-independence literature freely taken and dozens of people signing the Yes declaration.
People want access to the facts to make an informed decision about their country’s future and while more of the scare stories peddled by the No campaign crumble by the day they are clearly running from the debate, working behind the scenes to deprive people of access to information rather than engage and present their case. It only makes activists like myself more determined to make sure people do have the information they need to vote Yes next year.”
JOHN HENDERSON, KIRRIEMUIR
“We set up a Yes shop in Kirriemuir recently to promote the cause, and in the window we display leaflets from Labour for Independence, Women for Independence, the Greens and the SNP as well as Yes materials. It’s really worth a look if you’re ever in the area. Recently, however, a local busybody has complained to the cooncil that we’ve put up a sign (a Yes campaign banner), repainted the shop ( from dull maroon to blue and white) and changed the use from shop to office, all without permission.
The cooncil have instructed us to take down the banner (done), and apply retrospectively for permission to change the colour scheme and change of use. All this will cost us £300, money we don’t have.”
BETH WATT, MUSSELBURGH
“After seeing BT leaflets displayed outside the large lecture hall in Queen Margaret University last year, I asked permission to display some Yes leaflets/literature. I was told by the gentleman in charge of this kind of thing that I would be unable to, as they do not allow political materials in the uni. When I told him that there were BT leaflets outside the main lecture hall he explained that these were left over from some conference (I have no idea what the conference was and had not seen any info on it via intranet).
I complained about them allowing the BT leaflets to be displayed (whether they were leftovers or not – rules is rules) and I was told that if I wanted to do any sort of campaigning I should ask the student union. I went straight over the the SU and spoke to the president, who told me the same thing – can’t leave any Yes stuff cos it’s not fair on the No side.”
These don’t seem to be isolated incidents. After Kirriemuir another Yes shop, this time in Dunoon, was targeted by Loyalist vandals, and when the local newspaper covered the story Orange activists attempted to incite nail-bomb attacks on its office.
A regular occurrence (the most recent example we were sent happened at Davidson Mains in Edinburgh earlier this month) seems to be police being called to investigate Yes stands “blocking” streets, which invariably results in no action and officers having their time wasted as well as campaigning being disrupted.
And of course, we shouldn’t forget other attempts to use threats of prosecution to silence discussion of events “Better Together” would rather went undiscussed.
We sympathise with the No camp’s inability to motivate people to tramp the streets promoting continued Westminster rule over Scotland at a time when a UK government of unprecedented inhumanity is dismantling our post-war society and freedoms at a pace even the Telegraph can’t stomach. But it’s not an excuse for trying to subvert democratic free speech and debate by underhanded and bullying means.
As we were writing this post, we received another email from Fay Sinclair:
“We were back today with Yes balloons and leaflets but no stall and the artistic director started shouting at me (a heavily pregnant woman) in the street claiming we were ‘hijacking’ his event. When told Bruce fought for independence his response was ‘No, Bruce fought for money!’ He was very aggressive so an official complaint will be made.
Local councillor spoke to head of Dunfermline Delivers which runs the event and we’re setting our stall up outside the gates again today. A less assertive team may have been intimidated into leaving but we knew our rights and stood our ground.”
Just over a year after the farce in Tallinn, Scotland secured qualification for World Cup 1998. Estonia didn’t make it. With the anti-independence campaign already reduced to such desperate measures as these in their attempt to keep the truth from the Scottish public, we have a good feeling about a year into Yes Scotland’s future too.