IN 2014 at Nunraw Abbey, a Cistercian monastery tucked into the folds of the Lammermuir Hills, the monks were eager to talk to me about the Scottish independence referendum not long passed. This little band of brothers – ranging in age from about 50 to 80 – observe an austere rule that governs their day-to-day lives.

Portions of the day are devoted to prayer which starts at 4am with matins, one of the ancient incantations of the Church. There are intercessions and entreaties for those of us who take our chances in the worldly chaos that swirls beyond these pastures.

I was spending some time among these men for a newspaper feature and the Abbot, Fr Mark Caira, a Scots-Italian from Airdrie, seemed as keen to discuss the political ferment around the referendum as he was to reflect on matters spiritual. “We all voted that day,” he told me, “but I can’t really tell you what the split was in our little community.” For a little time at least Scotland’s constitutional question had provided some light relief from their spiritual duties and engaged them in hearty debate.

He had recently attended an international gathering of Benedictines in Assisi and was amazed at the extent to which the Scottish independence question had piqued the interest of his brother monks across Europe. “It seemed that all of my international brethren wanted to discuss it. Every one of them, it seemed, had a comment to make about it.”

Fr Mark’s reflections on the independence debate came quickly to mind as I read an interview in The Times with the former SNP strategist, Stephen Noon which the paper portrayed breathlessly as a major ‘scoop’.

Not long after the referendum, Mr Noon, a clever and personable fellow, turned his back on the earthly business of political dispute and became a member of the UK’s Jesuit community, the richest and most powerful order of priests and monks in the worldwide Catholic Church. He is currently studying to become a Master of Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. In matters spiritual, the Jesuits are the landed aristocracy to the Cistercians’ tenant farmers.

Now, eight years after walking away from politics Mr Noon has begun to reflect on Scotland’s constitutional debate and thinks it may be time for Nicola Sturgeon to compromise on the question of independence. In particular, he thinks it’s unwise of Nicola Sturgeon to make the 2024 UK General Election a de facto independence plebiscite.

“There is a different path,” said Mr Noon. “I want Scotland to have the form of government that it wishes, and that may not be independence.

“I will argue with my heart and soul for independence, but I recognise that that may not be the point we get to in the immediate future.

“I may want to get 100% of what I want, but that’s not life. In life you sometimes get 90% of what you want and that’s good enough.

“And so for the independence movement, if we can get 90% of what we want, and in a way which gives the No side also a good chunk of what they want, is that not worth exploring?”

Notwithstanding Mr Noon’s long absence from active politics, his late contribution is a worthwhile one, even if – like me – you disagree with him. These were reasonable words from a reasonable man.

In Scotland’s political la-la land (pop: 94) some predictable voices seemed quite overcome with emotion at Mr Noon’s intervention. One of them, the former Edinburgh Labour councillor and now esteemed newspaper columnist, Susan Dalgety suggested that what Mr Noon had said encapsulated what she has long believed: that “most nationalists have absolutely no empathy for those of us who want to remain in UK.”

She seemed particularly moved by one of Mr Noon’s anecdotes about a group of kindly Jesuits reflecting bitterly and regretfully about the independence debate in Quebec. In stark contrast with the elderly Scottish Benedictines’ uplifting experiences of the Scottish question, this had “left a mark on” the “lovely Jesuits”.

There are perhaps around upwards of one and half million Yes supporters in Scotland right now and Ms Dalgety is a fine commentator and formerly a diligent local politician. Yet, how she can divine that a majority of independence supporters have no empathy with Unionists seems absurd.

Another prominent Unionist commentator, my old friend Alex Massie, was uncharacteristically uncharitable when he suggested that the interview, written by his colleague Kenny Farquharson, would “short-circuit tiny minds”.

During the independence referendum, Mr Noon belonged to a galaxy of strategists and political savants who, depending on who interviews them, are credited with being ‘masterminds’ or ‘orchestrators’ of the Yes campaign. There’s Kevin who went on to become a lobbyist and Susan, who became an academic administrator.

Then there’s Geoff, friend of Susan and Kevin and Stephen, who became a hedge fund advisor. And Liz (another senior policy adviser). And not forgetting Blair (friend to them all) who led the official Yes campaign.

They were like a genteel version of Reservoir Dogs (Let’s go to Starbucks) - a Matalan army packing heat in duffel bags and alfalfa crepes.

Now I need to tiptoe around this very gingerly and lower my voice, because some Unionist types have become very sensitive about those ASBO flags and all that aggressive shouting which made for “disgraceful scenes” during the Tory leadership hustings at Perth the other week.

But when Alex and Susan and Kenny (all of whom live in Edinburgh) and Stephen (studying in Edinburgh) begin pronouncing on a millions-strong movement which continues to be strongest in Scotland’s largest working-class neighbourhoods perhaps we ought to deploy a little perspective. But this all resembles a WhatsApp conversation for school swots. Yet, we are being encouraged to view Mr Noon’s mild observations as a watershed moment for an entire millions-strong movement.

And, as has become customary when privileged voices from among Scotland’s political and media elite gather to denounce, the song remains the same: it’s those nasty, unintelligent Yes types being all beastly and upsetting the smooth rhythms of lives less troubled.

Perhaps, if you are inclined towards independence, you may agree with Mr Noon’s assertion that seeking the best possible deal within the UK may be preferable to the potential divisiveness of a de facto independence election.

I have no way of knowing if a majority of Yes supporters lack empathy for Unionist sympathisers. In my limited knowledge and experience though, this is a myth.

The suggestion though, that merely to express support for another referendum is of itself divisive or indicative of stupidity is absurdly elitist.

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