I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed. Labour, the Lib Dems, and some independents have struck a deal to run a Scottish council and the SNP and its supporters have called it a “unionist pact”. Others in the party have called it a “backroom deal” and Nicola Sturgeon herself said deals between Labour and other parties looked “shifty”. But is this really how we should be reacting? As I say, it’s not anger I feel, it’s disappointment.

Let me tell you why. Frank Luntz, the American pollster, has been in the UK lately and made a fascinating speech the other day at the Centre for Public Policy. The title of his speech was “Saving Democracy” and most of it was about how to tackle cultural and identity politics, but he also had a lot to say that should be interesting to anyone who has been through the last ten years of Scottish politics – or anyone who thinks a “unionist pact” is a bad idea.

Mr Luntz started his speech by saying that, in many ways, the UK is not quite as bad as the US. America, he said, has witnessed a steep decline in political discourse, to the extent that he can no longer even get Republicans and Democrats to sit together in his focus groups; they are simply unwilling to listen to the other side. Americans are so divided, he said, that they can no longer talk to each other and he’s nervous that the same kind of divisions are happening in the UK.

You will be familiar with the reasons. Both the US and the UK, said Mr Luntz, have had nasty elections and referendums in which people were primarily voting against something rather than for something. The social media in both countries has also led to a move away from news that informs us to news that affirms us; there has been a move towards listening only to those we know we already agree with and demonising those we don’t.

All of this you may already recognise but the details of the polling that Mr Luntz has done in the UK may still be alarming. He found that 28% of people in Britain have stopped talking to someone, in person or online, because of something political they said. Even more alarmingly, among 18-29-year-olds, it rises to 53%. Young people are also three times more likely than average to have had someone stop talking to them for the same reason.

Mr Luntz’s analysis of the figures should be worrying: in the US and the UK, he says, we are raising a generation that does not understand that we have a duty to disagree but also a duty to co-operate. We are more and more certain in the virtue of our beliefs, he says, probably because we are less and less likely to listen to, or work with, those who would challenge them.

Most of this, it has to be said, is directly applicable to Scottish politics in general and the “unionist pact” at South Lanarkshire Council in particular. In the wake of all those nasty elections and referendums we’ve been through, we are increasingly divided in Scotland into distinct groups who do not want to listen to each other and deliberately demonise the other side using what Mr Kuntz describes as deliberately provocative and divisive terms - in Scotland, “unionist” would be a good example.

This is specifically what we’ve seen in South Lanarkshire. The SNP won 27 of the 64 seats in the council elections but Labour – who won 24 – have agreed to work with the Lib Dems and some independents to form a minority administration. It is this which the former council leader John Ross called a unionist pact. It was disappointing, he said, that the council had been “hijacked” by a “pact operating on a constitutional level” when the election should have been about local politics and doing the best for the people of South Lanarkshire.

I want to be nice I really do, but this is pretty disingenuous stuff from the former council leader. For a start, the voting system in the council elections is specifically designed so that parties are less likely to dominate on their own and are more likely to have to work together. And if Mr Ross is concerned about “pacts operating on a constitutional level”, perhaps he should look to the SNP and Greens at Holyrood. What, pray, is that?

The bigger point here is that – as Frank Luntz was saying in his speech – a sign of a society’s political maturity is when two sides can speak to each other with mutual respect and work together when necessary. Obviously Labour and the Lib Dems pretty much think the same way constitutionally, but Anas Sarwar’s argument is that individual councillors and individual political parties should, and must, seek to find the agreement and work for what’s best for local communities.

In fact, in an ideal world, or even a slightly better one, we would go further than that. I was speaking to James Mitchell, professor of public policy at Edinburgh University, recently about Scotland’s councils and one of the things he said that stayed with me was that devolution will show its maturity when we drop our antipathy to “English” ideas and adopt an English policy because it’s the right thing to do, and surely the same applies to our political parties. The system in Scotland will only really be mature when the co-operative working and “pacts” are between parties that are “unionist” and parties that are “nationalist”.

It may happen one day who knows, but given the reaction to the results in South Lanarkshire, we probably shouldn’t be too hopeful that co-operative working will happen any time soon, although we could at least start by working to some of the basic rules Mr Luntz outlined in his speech. For a start, stop with the provocative names for each other. Stop turning everything into us-versus-them. And stop trying to bring your own side together by accusing the other side of weakness, failure or treason. In the short-term, such tactics might win you the odd election but in the long-term it will inflict serious damage on the more profound ideas that society needs to work well.

The most profound of them, in the end, is that political differences shouldn’t preclude the idea that we will work together. Mr Luntz says we’re living in an age of anger that could turn into something uglier and more destructive and I fear he may be right. We know there’s a good chance that one day there will be a Labour government at Westminster facilitated by the SNP so is it too much to ask that one day there might also be a Scottish council, or even a Scottish government, made up of politicians who disagree on the constitution? Can we hope that, one day, that might be possible?

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