I haven’t taken an active part in any political campaign since 1992, when I stuffed envelopes for my local Tory Association. I don’t – as will be no surprise to attentive Kitty Kounters – like politics, although I take the same morbid interest in it as I would any other catastrophe that had befallen me and my family.
However, the recent narrowing of the polls in the Scottish referendum, not to mention the mob that assembled outside the BBC in Glasgow at the weekend (I’m no fan of the BBC, but that sent a chill up my spine), made me feel I had to do something, so this afternoon I headed down to the Better Together office and volunteered. I ended up handing out leaflets and posters on the street.
Mostly, I was pleasantly surprised. Without any overt indication – a badge, T-shirt, or whatever – it was impossible to tell at a glance who would be sympathetic. People of all ages, all walks of life, and all ethnicities accepted a leaflet with a smile, a good many actually coming up and asking for them, and for the most part it was actually quite a heartwarming experience given the sheer volume of “Yes” propaganda that’s around. It was encouraging to see that “we” really are out there, and in good numbers.
But around 5:30, just as I was thinking of heading home, two blokes came up to me and demanded, “CAN YOU GUARANTEE THAT THE BARNETT FORMULA WILL NOT BE DILUTED OR ABOLISHED BY 2020?”. Not memorized at all, oh no. I was rather taken aback. Of course I can’t. Nobody can. It’s a long-standing parliamentary convention that a sitting parliament can’t bind future ones. I’ll bet whoever wrote the question for them knew that perfectly well. Whatever, it set them off. I don’t think they even listened to my answer.
Long story short, twenty minutes later, there was a crowd of I don’t know how many Yessers – dozens, anyway – TV cameras, press, and a couple of coppers. And me, plus the Better Together bloke I was with. Still don’t even know his name. He seemed to be getting the worst of it, and holding his own – he’d obviously experienced this before – while I had been latched on to by a guy with a bike who, to give him his due, was relatively subdued and rational. Relatively. Then the mob jumped back in. By the end of it, their entire “argument” consisted of chanting “Yes! Yes! Yes!” at us. It’s not hard to imagine what it reminded me of.
Eventually we extracted ourselves – to loud cheers, as if they’d won the argument that had barely even taken place – and the police came over and asked us if we needed protection. Police wondering if mainstream political canvassers need protection, in Britain, in 2014.
Politics is hateful.
I’ve always said that, but I saw the literal truth of it today. Sneering, shouting, hate… it was the very antithesis of reasoned argument. I tried, but they weren’t interested. They just regurgitated the prepared lines, sneered, and laughed. Then resorted to the chanting when we weren’t so easily cowed. I have no hesitation in calling them a mob, without any irony.
Orwell wrote, “True propaganda does not seek to persuade. It seeks to create a climate of thought in which dissent is seen as something akin to madness”. These people were clearly wandering around the city looking for us, not to persuade undecided voters, but simply to shut us down. Spoiling for a fight.
People say that whatever damage this referendum has done – the uncertainty affecting the financial markets – “it has at least engaged people in politics”. No: it has set them against each other, forcing them to take sides. Maybe it amounts to the same thing. That’s why I can’t stand it.
But I’ll be back tomorrow. I won’t give the buggers the satisfaction.