Speaking the Truth in Love: Or, How to Act like a Citizen.

by Elias Blum

Several times recently I have encountered the notion on Scottish political blogs and websites that political opponents of the SNP or of independence are ‘the enemy’. This seems to have come to the fore since the independence referendum, when, in the shadow of defeat, much of the positive attitude of hope gave way to disbelief and despair. I understand these feelings, because I share them, but this trend towards the demonisation of opponents cannot go unchallenged.

The baseline of democratic disagreement is that we are fellow-citizens. Some are honest, others corrupt; some wise, others foolish; some public spirited, others blinded by party-spirit; some worthy of honour, others of blame. As we, in the capacity of citizens, seek the common good together, we may – and must – stand for what we believe to be honest, wise, public-spirited and honourable, and oppose that which we believe to be corrupt, foolish, partisan, and blameworthy. In doing these things, we may heartily and strongly disagree. There are profound and sometimes intractable disagreements about ‘what is good’. We may even dislike one another. But we cannot and must not write off our fellow-citizens as ‘the enemy’: that route leads to very bitter, dark and violent places.

If we are to constitute a free society based on democratic values – which include tolerance, pluralism and understanding, as well as passion and commitment – then we must rise above petty tribal hatreds. Our means of effecting change must reflect the sort of change we wish to see.