Public trust in the establishment is at an all-time low. The reputations of politicians, journalists and banks are all in the gutter. If we have a democratic deficit in this country, it is not that we have only 59 MPs; it is that only 50 per cent of the population bother to vote in our elections. The referendum offered a real chance to change that—a unique opportunity to re-engage people in politics—and many people expect the turnout in the referendum to be high. Up to 20 per cent of the population could vote for the first time in decades, and it could be a real chance to evolve our politics and to change the way that the public perceive their politicians and how politics is conducted in this country. However, so far, the vast majority of the public see the independence debate as a real turn-off—as something that is not for them. The debate is being conducted by politicians and political activists in front of audiences who have largely made up their minds already.
I have taken part in perhaps 15 to 20 different referendum panel debates so far. It is hard to count them because each one is so like the one before it. That experience recycled reinforces the sense of tribalism that is monopolising the debate. I am as guilty as the next person of that tribal type of debate. We are conducting a debate around the independence referendum that is about attacking and rebutting instead of thinking and listening. It is hardly any wonder that a large number of people throughout the country do not want any part of that conversation. The real conversations are taking place around dinner tables, in playgroups, in canteens and on doorsteps. When I am part of those real conversations, I hear a desperate call for the facts—for information to enable people to make up their own minds about how they are going to vote in the referendum—yet the facts are largely absent.
The Government does not want to hear this, but independence is its own proposition, so it is up to the Government to lay out the case, to put forward the facts and to make the argument for independence.