Yesterday the Sunday Herald did something that no other newspaper in the UK has ever done before – it carried an article exposing the online activities of the numerous Unionist Twitter trolls. The mainstream media has until now ignored the swearing, threats and abuse originating from those who support the Union, preferring to concentrate on the portrayal of independence supporters as the agents of an evil nationalist cult, beardy blue face painted Minions in kilts but without the movie deal. While I am glad that a major publication has finally pointed out the obvious – that people are rude on the Internet – I can’t help but thinking that it’s all a bit petty.
Well I say “a bit”, which is like saying that the Labour party in Scotland and dinosaurs are a bit extinct, or that Gordon Matheson is a bit of a car park attendant. But seriously, why should anyone care what a random punter says on Twitter? Although you can understand why Blair McDougall might care, it’s not like he’s got anything else to do with his time. He was appointed as an advisor to Jim Murphy, but now his job description is “waiting for jotters”.
You could quite easily say that being a bit petty is what Twitter is all about. Twitter is the sound-bite generator of the Internet. On Twitter you get 140 characters to express yourself, so you’re not going to get subtle and nuanced, it’s not bloody Tolstoy. You get LOLZ and abbreviations. You get gross simplification and childishness. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you get funny one liners and you can guarantee there’s a lot of pictures of cute kittens. It’s a bit like Reporting Scotland without the laughs or the hotline to Labour party press releases, only you’re not charged £145 a year for the privilege and it’s easier to ignore the fitba references.
And occasionally, but thankfully rarely, you get really nasty individuals who vilify and traduce, abuse and traduce, post people’s home addresses and threaten them – usually women – with violence and rape. This sort of behaviour is of course illegal and it is a criminal offence. But what the Murphoid remnants of the Labour party have been trying to do is to conflate the robust expression of political opinion with criminal threats to hunt down a woman and rape her. They’ve been engaged in a deliberate campaign to leech on the very real abuse faced by some people on the Internet and sook oot what sympathy they can from it. And the mainstream media has been egging them on.
We are where we are because the mainstream media has made such a big play of supposed abuse by independence supporters and ignored the abuse originating from Unionists. The result is that you can read just about any report on Scotland in the majority of the UK press and it’s like being pecked to death by an irate chicken, only with a lower IQ and a greater amount of hysteria. Although on reflection that’s being unfair to chickens. Chickens don’t know how to lie. Half the time what is carried in the media about Scotland is an outright falsehood. If the lying lurid headlines splashed all over the front pages ever do get corrected, it’s in tiny print in an inside page, hiding below an article about breast enlargement.
And that’s even before you venture into the comments section, where there’s a den of spittle flecked invective and hatred which would make the average Twitter user rush to cuddle a Minion in comfort. The real issues are lost in a flurry of net curtain twitching and finger pointing. Supporters of the Union don’t even address the fundamental contradiction lurking at the very heart of their own argument, it’s never been pointed out to them by the press that feeds the flames of hatred and disdain.
Let’s accept, for the sake of argument, that Scotland is a basket case which requires the UK in order to keep it from the fate of Greece. Whose fault is that then? Sure as hell it isn’t the SNP who have had their paws on the levers of macroeconomic policy for the past century or two. But apparently we’re better off remaining under the tender administrations of the maliciously incompetent idiots who have brought about this lamentable state of affairs – reducing what could have been a prosperous northern European country with an embarrassment of natural resources to penury and dependency. That’s the core contradiction at the heart of the Unionist argument, and by ignoring it, all that is left is the childish idiocy of finger pointing on Twitter. Pooling and sharing my arse. So having infantilised and trivialised the debate, then they complain when they’re not taken seriously.
They have chosen to infantilise and trivialise the debate on Scottish independence, and by extension fostering the notion that independence is itself an infantile and trivial idea. The underlying message is that if you want Scottish independence then you’re trivial, you’re obsessed by something that is unimportant and meaningless. And this tells us what the Union thinks about Scotland. It’s Scotland that is trivial and unimportant. It’s not about self-determination. It’s not about democracy. It’s not about achieving a cohesive and fair society, redistributing wealth and land, or social justice and equality. It’s all about rude names on Twitter and the pursed lips of disapproving prudery.
I want to live in a country which is taken seriously by its politicians and opinion formers, a country which is important to those who take the decisions about its future, a country which is central to the policies of those who determine its economy. But apparently that’s too much to ask for in a Scotland which is a part of the UK.
When we get independence we can at least remedy these things. We can have politicians we can hold to account if they don’t treat us like adults. But we’re probably going to be stuck with a media which trivialises everything unless we build a new one for ourselves.
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