September 18th 2014 | Scotland


Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 3 September 2014

Who knows what the chicken that laid the egg was thinking. Was it a nationalist chicken, intent on laying a pro-independence freedom-range egg? Or an MI5 plant? Was it a Russian chicken, attempting to stir internal division in a rival state?

What came first, the chicken’s political views or the egg?

The question has become an important one after Labour MP Jim Murphy attempted to cover 100 streets in 100 days – like a less ambitious Phileas Fogg – to make the case for No.

He was forced to temporarily suspend his tour after being hit by an egg.

Following the egging Murphy told Sky News: “I don't mind heckles and, d'you know what, I don't even mind people throwing eggs - that's just a dry cleaning bill.

“But what happened after the first televised debate between Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond is that things took a sinister turn.

“Instead of turning up in crowds of people on all sides there was an organised mob of Yes supporters, facilitated through Yes Scotland and local organisations through websites, Facebook and other social media.”

But given that he was part of the Labour Government that took the UK into Iraq, it seems surprising that Murphy would not have experienced similar treatment in the past.

In fact abusing politicians in public has been common in Britain for a long time.

In 1909 the New York Times reported: “A smartly gowned suffragette armed with a dog whip attacked Winston Spencer Churchill and was subdued only when the President of the Board of Trade disarmed her by main force.”

It continues: “The astounded statesman seized his petticoated assailant, who fought like a tiger cat, and after a sharp tussle, during which the two barely escaped falling from the platform onto the tracks below, succeeded in wrenching the weapon from her hands.”

The report ends: “When the police got hold of the woman she pointed scornfully at the Minister’s dented head piece and while her face flushed with excitement cried: ‘That’s what you’ve got and you’ll get more of the same from British women!’”

Now Murphy’s assailant was no suffragette and he certainly didn’t fight ‘like a tiger cat’. He egged a politician and ran away.

But the sort of treatment Murphy catalogues in a recent video, titled The Sinister Side of the Yes Campaign, is neither unique to the present day, nor unique to Yes.

Politicians across the spectrum have experienced the same thing throughout the campaign, with the news that Murphy was called anything ranging from a ‘terrorist’ to a ‘quisling’ sitting alongside similar treatment of Yes politicians.

And while the abuse must be horrible to experience, it will not convince the senior members of Yes or Better Together to back down.

Salmond has had death threats but he is unlikely to vote No as a result. In fact he seems so sure of himself he gives the impression he would correct the opinion held by his mirror.

Of course the fact that such treatment of politicians is common does not make it right, and it is still possible that the egging of Murphy will lead to a wider debate over how the UK treats its politicians.

In an age when politics seems to have become more and more sanitised the referendum debate has made it raw again.

Murphy deserves credit for getting out on the street and risk facing this sort of behaviour. It is not something many people would have the guts for.

His approach seems almost old fashioned – a return to the sort of behaviour that would have been normal during Murphy and his colleagues’ opposition to the poll tax.

But whatever the context it is no surprise that Better Together are using it to campaign.

There have been segments of the media who have long wanted to paint the debate as divisive and bitter all along and this gives them something to cling to.

But it is still not fair to say the debate is sinister.

Syria is a nation divided. Scotland is a nation which, by and large, is experiencing a healthy national discussion over its constitutional future.

There are plenty of unhealthy aspects to UK political dialogue but egg throwing is not top of the list.

For example what does it say that the UK Prime Minister condemned an egg attack, while staying silent on the Israeli bombing of Gaza?

The good news is that Murphy has now resumed the tour. He has ignored the egg, crossed the road and started again.

Liam Kirkaldy