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Is Critical Thought Being Suppressed in Post Referendum Scotland?

18/12/2015 15:21 | Updated 18 December 2015

This week, the SNP announced their 2016/17 budget - which was rife with swingeing cuts to council budgets: totalling around £350m.

So, I posted a status on Facebook about it. Calling a spade a spade, I simply stated that these cuts - regardless of how much spin was put on them - were austerity. For a party that has somehow cemented itself as Scotland's anti-austerity option, these announcements seem quite hypocritical.

Why couldn't the council tax freeze be lifted instead? Why couldn't the SNP government make use of their powers over income tax to mediate the effects of Westminster cuts, rather than implement further slashes in Scotland?

It wasn't long until I was barraged with the usual response when one dares to question the SNP: "I thought you were smarter than this", "The Scottish Government's hands are tied - it's Westminster's fault!", "Pathetic - get real", "Instead of turning this on the SNP you should be directing this to the No voters".

This is, in essence, what it's like to live in post-referendum Scotland. If you criticise the party of government, you become a pariah - all of a sudden, you're faced with a deluge of SNP warriors to defend yourself against. What is becoming of democracy in Scotland if this is the situation that we have been left in?

I've spoken about this with people before when I've been critical of the SNP or individual parliamentarians and, often, the advice is to just not talk about it. Don't question them. Don't mention them - steer clear of any sort of critique if you want to save yourself a headache.

No thanks.

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Last year, as a young voter, I voted Yes - for a Scotland where social democracy, opinion and critique was valued. Where political engagement was encouraged. I looked beyond the SNP, and I saw opportunity in independence. Now, I'm left asking myself: is this really the kind of Scotland that I wanted to see? Is this really a social democracy? Are we really free to criticise our government?

There seems to be an emerging trend amongst many Yes voters and SNP supporters. If something goes awry or a bad political decision is made (like council cuts), then the same position is adopted every time. Whether this bad political decision is well within the Scottish Government's control (like the council cuts are) or not: Westminster will be blamed. It's all Westminster's fault. Those bloody Tories! Following this, it isn't long before we're back to thinking entirely with referendum blinkers on: blame the No voters. If they had voted Yes, none of this would have happened. Those bloody No voters! Saor Alba! Come on - how long is it going to be before we start indulging in our very own Two Minutes Hate?

How on earth do we expect to convince anyone with our vision and our arguments as to what an independent Scotland can look like if we continue to constantly blame No voters for every little thing that goes wrong? Spitting vitriol will lead to alienation, and those voters will turn their backs on Yes forever. I voted Yes and I would do so again - but I am finding myself increasingly exhausted with the climate of aggression, divisive politicking and one party devotion that so many of my compatriots are partaking in.

The referendum sparked huge civil participation - so many people who were once put off by politics found themselves actively engaged in the process. Now, I am fully aware that we cannot have mass engagement and expect everyone to have a critical mind. Politics has always been rife with tribalism, but - for crying out loud - this isn't a football match: this isn't cheering on your team. If the SNP do something questionable: let's question them. If the SNP do something worthy of critique: let's criticise them.

And, if you're a devout SNP fan and you happen to stumble across someone who is exercising their democratic right to criticise their government: instead of resorting to vitriol, could you breathe? Chill out? Ignore it and move on? If you have something constructive to add, then by all means get involved: but accusing someone of being a traitor or angrily denouncing them is not constructive.

Further to that, though, this behaviour is ultimately damaging in our long term quest for independence. If all we do is attack and lambast - then it's going to turn the very people that we need to win over even further against us. Think of it this way: what does it say when I (a hardened Yes voter) am so uncomfortable with this current climate that we're operating in? What is a swithering No voter going to think?

The referendum has left us in a strange situation. On the one hand, it has inspired many new, vibrant campaigns across the country and a lot of newly politicised activists have found the confidence and drive to tackle social issues in their communities. On the other hand, we've got this weird SNP craze to deal with. Other parties are wondering how to tread cautiously around them - saying the wrong thing could literally result in an entire election campaign being derailed by vocal, aggressive Yessers.

Opinionated individuals are finding themselves censoring their critique, or - like many people I know - completely staying away from even commenting. Let's be honest: this is a climate of fear. What have we become when people are worried about the inevitable backlash if they criticise their government for a bad decision? Remember that spirit of free debate that prevailed throughout the referendum campaign? We're at risk of losing that. If we allow critical thought to be further stifled, then we're walking down a dangerous path.

So, again, the question needs to be asked: what sort of Scotland do we want to live in? Because, for me, it certainly ain't an Orwellian one.

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