NOT for the first time, they both seemed to be reading from the same script. Both Scottish Labour and the Scottish Tories have been waiting eight years for yesterday’s announcement by Nicola Sturgeon that she’s seeking to hold an independence referendum on October 19 next year. And in that time their responses haven’t changed. The referendum (altogether now) will be nasty and divisive.

Anas Sarwar, leader of the Labour Party in Scotland, has always had a low opinion of his fellow Scots. He doesn’t think they’re capable of conducting themselves properly in a referendum. He was at it again yesterday: “Nicola Sturgeon is using the ‘thank you’ she was given, and the promise she made to lead us through the recovery, to instead pit Scot against Scot.”

Ian Murray, Labour’s only Scottish MP, is predicting mayhem on social media. “Twitter is going to be a lovely place for the next 18 months. Joyous,” he said sarcastically. If you were being uncharitable you might previously have gained the impression that Mr Murray would be disapproving of an outbreak of dancing at a family wedding. 

Douglas Ross, leader of the Scottish Tories, said: “Nicola Sturgeon has shown again today that the SNP’s selfish obsession with another divisive referendum is always their top priority.”

Right-wing politicians are fond of purporting to uphold democracy. Yet, in Scotland, since independence became the dominant theme in Scottish politics they have all recoiled at the prospect of a referendum.

Despite having previously spoken of their pride at being Scottish they all began to exhibit their true colours: they believe the Scottish electorate to be a beastly mob of simpletons who simply can’t be trusted to hold a civilised vote without fighting and making a spectacle of themselves.

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In 2014 the Electoral Commission, who had closely scrutinised the first independence referendum every step of the way, concluded that it had reached the highest standards of political debate.

I spoke with one of their senior people during this time and asked him what had pleased him most about the campaign. He was captivated by the sight and sound of so many people who had previously felt marginalised and excluded from the political debate now having the confidence to make their voices heard. This unprecedented level of engagement was borne out by the record numbers of Scots who cast their vote on September 18, 2014.

This was a phenomenon I’d witnessed at several events throughout the first referendum campaign. For the first time, hundreds of local meetings and hustings were being organised by the people for the people. The slogan had been made flesh, if you like. And it terrified the bejesus out of the political and media elites who had always been accustomed to dominating the major conversations. They didn’t like it one bit.

They also think their fellow Scots are so thick that they can’t be expected to deal with several big questions at the one time.

Journalists and professional politicians have always maintained a safe distance from those whose opinions we profess to represent. We tend to become a little defensive and, dare I say it, jealous when those whom we regard as untutored or lack the relevant professional qualifications speak eloquently and with authority.

Unsurprisingly, many of those who found their voice and the confidence to use it, did so in what we considered to be a more rudimentary fashion. Their speech perhaps lacked the polish of the professional elites … but this didn’t diminish the force of their arguments or made them any less articulate.

Before the advent of social media, there was virtually no vehicle for those who existed outside the political and media bubble to express their opinions. Certainly, there were public meetings and election hustings, but little else. These could often become loud and belligerent, but somehow Unionist politicians contrived to agree that the spectre of Scottish independence had poisoned the well to an unprecedented degree.

Elections and referendums are actually great fun. They offer very rare opportunities to engage directly with those we pay to administer the country on our behalf. Politicians who say otherwise are either lying or simply can’t handle such close scrutiny. It is why, like Labour’s Mr Murray, they all pretend to be horrified by edgy opinions, espoused pugnaciously, on social media and the blogosphere.

These elites become nervous when large groups of people gather together in numbers they find difficult to control. They hate raised voices and passionate arguments. In furthering their gilded careers they first had to be quiet and then exhibit manicured manners.

There will be little room for caution or quiet meditation during the next referendum. This is because people will speak with their hearts and not with a script dictated by their pay-masters. Mr Sarwar and Mr Ross and Mr Murray had better all buckle up.