I’ve never been one to call the Deputy First Minister by her first name, as if we’re just mates. The SNP freesheet with the Yes Scotland branding that popped through my door this week promised me an ‘at home with Nicola’ interview, and there she was just chilling out in a comfy jumper. Nationalism with a human face. The whole of the freesheet was as laughable as the fake newspapers handed out by the No campaign where every headline simply read ‘[noun] better together in UK, say experts!’.
The fact is, a lot of the stuff kicked out by both sides is cheap and ridiculous, and rightly deserves to be laughed out of town. Now writing newspaper articles calling Alex Salmond a fascist is the other extreme to hailing him as a genius and a saviour. He is, at the end of the day, just a middle-aged man in a casual sports jacket. The problem is that people are getting increasingly defensive of things that don’t need to be defending, so when a Telegraph hack phones in some copy calling Alan Bissett an agitprop extremist, people on the Yes side defend him as if he were Scotland’s greatest living playwright, the SNP conference performance included. He’s written some pretty good novels and his Andrea Dworkin-inspired introduction to feminism was patchy but well-conceived, but he can probably look after himself. The last thing we need is a homogenisation of the voting public into two camps where Greens are the SNP with a bit of recycling thrown in and Labour are the Conservatives. The #bittertogether hashtag stopped being funny about ten minutes after it was invented.
Because we have to admit that there are ridiculous things about both sides, from Alex Salmond’s taste in substanceless ‘poignant’ art, as hangs in his office, to George Robertson’s postcard to the apocalyptic. We probably need to find amusement in the ironies of both sides at the expense of the overly zelous and the impressively naïve. We need to accept that Christopher Grieve was a gifted but often tragi-comic figure and not an unsung hero. We need to realise that Nicola’s cuffs of Ayshire lace provided an unexpected comic touch, and that the Yes Scotland film using Big Country on the soundtrack first shown at the Declaration of Cineworld was not the stuff that aspring nations are made of. Quite rightly, we should also laugh (though not in the way they intended) at whichever Better Together staffer thought the best way to respond to the National Collective Yestival was with a ‘joke’ straight from the Top Gear annual. Laugh at far-left splinter groups arguing about whether nationalism is the antithesis of communism or the path to true liberation, and take heart in the fact that the guy sitting in an armchair in Perthshire with ‘Free Scotland’ on his twitter profile is as ridiculous as the guy tweeting from his sofa in Renfrew with ‘British AND Scottish’ under the picture of his face. We live in a country of complexities and overlaps, divided loyalties and shared values. Pretending there is a big dividing line down the middle of two exclusive groups is equivalent to the Edinburgh-Glasgow jokes trotted out every night in comedy club warm-up acts. Diversity is a good thing, and that means realising you don’t have to be part of Yes the identity, just Yes the voting preference. And if you’re reading Nicola, my favourite thing to do on a night in is cook a curry, have a cheeky glass of red and watch Michael Fassbender films.