A thistle grows in the rubble

Back in the 1960s when I was a wean, if you were bright enough you could go to uni for free, there was an NHS that was safe and secure, there were nationalised blue trains that were the height of modernity, and when you left school you could get a job for life. My parents enjoyed opportunities that had been denied to their parents.

It wasn’t a paradise. It was very far from that. There were evil Tories aplenty, and they enjoyed a significant support in Scotland from the big drum banging brigade. Sectarianism and racism were rampant and socially acceptable, the dread question what school did you go to was asked at job interviews. Homophobia wasn’t just commonplace, it was obligatory. But there was a Labour party to act a bulwark, a defence against the worst excesses of the establishment and the bosses. We felt that Labour stood on our side, that we had a powerful ally that could look the establishment in the eye and say No. We felt safe.

People looked down on furren lands with their generals and their coups and their coalition governments that crashed as frequently as a Fiat with no brakes. Scandals and corruption were things that happened in far away places, and we could watch from afar and feel smugly superior. For all its faults, Britain was the gold standard of democracy. Or so we thought.

We were naive, childlike in our trust. We knew nothing of the sex abuse, the cover ups, the corruption and the sleaze. These were things that happened elsewhere, in those foreign lands we were taught to look down on. Not here. We were better than that. We had the British state to save us. We had the safety blanket of social security, and for all the many faults of Britain for the most part we felt safe.

And then came Thatcher, and the British state ate itself. It consumed Scotland and the North to build glittering towers where bankers could worship money. The rich got rich and the poor got kicked in guts that they have nothing to fill. In the towns and cities that formed the powerhouse that drove the Industrial Revolution there were once factories but now there are only food banks. The safety net is a tattered tissue of begrudgement called welfare on which no one fares well, given only to those deemed deserving by the arbitrary tick of a box on a form. We’ve got a state that offers nothing, but demands ever more, becomes ever more intrusive. It snoops and it pries and demands that we hide nothing from it. But it hides away its own secrets. If you’ve got nothing to hide you’ve got nothing to fear, say the powerful people who keep their sins secret with a Jimmy Savile smile.

Britain protects the rich and powerful. It covers up their vile crimes against children. In Britain, protecting the reputations of members of the establishment is more important than the life of your child. Britain robs from the poor to enrich the wealthy. It exists in a network of connection and nods and handshakes and mutual backslapping that exclude the majority. They have power but no accountability. The higher your paygrade, the less likely you are to carry the can. Only the little people have to resign for their failures. This is Britain.

Britain bombs and blasts the fabric of other countries, and calls in the army when the shattered citizens of states Britain has made fail come seeking refuge. Demonising and dehumanising, human suffering becomes a swarm. Compassion is a weakness. Care is privatised. Charity only for a hand picked few. The only jobs for life are the jobs the rich and powerful give to themselves and their children, while the rest of us scramble for coins in the dust they throw up in their haste to avoid paying tax. We now live in the furren land we once looked down on. This state is alien to the likes of you and me.

And the Tories are still Tories but now Labour has joined them. Evil twin dark stars orbiting around the black hole that swallows all hope, devours all that is good, reduces and shackles all that is progress.

Tony Blair promised to reform the House of Lords, a chamber composed of hereditary peers who had the right to affect our laws because of who their dad was. It was an insult to democracy and had no place in a modern society. True to his word, Tony reformed the Lords. He replaced it with the only thing worse. Tony replaced the lottery of genes and birth order with political patronage, appointees who get their privilege as a reward for services rendered.

Now we have a Labour party whose leading lights struggle with the very concept of democracy. John McTernan, the former spin doctor to Tony Blair, thinks that ordinary party members should do as they’re told. They should vote for the candidate that their betters tell them to vote for, and if they don’t then the person the little people elect should be summarily evicted from office.

There are those who cling on to past glories and old stories like dried up chewing gum on a broken pavement. What they love is the image of a Britain that never really existed, the surface gloss not the rot underneath. But the truth is that you can’t really love something that is kept hidden from you. If you don’t know the truth, you live and love in a lie.

And I think of all those who cling on to the comfort blanket of myths and still believe that Scotland shouldn’t stand on its own feet. I feel sorry for them, living in the cotton wool of lies. Blind to reality, deaf to truth, living on hopes of change that will never be delivered. The only hope is in our own hands, in the changes we make ourselves. We can be agents of that change. It only takes faith in yourself. Trust yourself, or trust the McTernans of this world. That’s the only choice remaining.

Look on the wreckage of the British state. Smell the rot. Inhale the heady gases of decay. Then look to the north and see the green shoots of a thistle, growing and thriving in the rubble.

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Scottish democracy is not a serving suggestion

Davie Cameron, the balloon faced Tory who enjoys the support of a single Scottish MP, has slapped down us little Scottish people who were labouring under the misapprehension that we lived in a democracy. He’s done this in various ways. He’s done it by giving us that nonentity striving for a purpose David Mundell, who in a normal universe would be a traffic warden, as Scotland’s voice in the cabinet. He’s done it by giving us a Scottish affairs committee in which Scottish MPs are outnumbers two to one by non-Scottish MPs. He’s done it by refusing to recognise that the outcome of the General Election superseded the pathetic inadequacy of the Smith Commission and was a clear demand from Scotland for the substantial devolution that Davie and his pals promised us last year. But now he’s also done it in another way.

This week Davie told Scotland that there’s going to be no second independence referendum for 30 years. So, that’s us telt then. Any time between now and 2044, it matters not a mundell if Scotland’s voters overwhelmingly elect parties in favour of another referendum, parties who pledge in their manifestos to introduce a bill in Holyrood bringing forward a new referendum. For Davie and the Tories, Scottish democracy is merely a serving suggestion. You may select tender Scottish sovereignty in a rich creamy sauce with the roasted potatoes of representation, but what you’re going to get is whatever mouldy instant noodles that Davie can dig out of the back of the cupboard where they keep the MI5 files on paedophile MPs.

But we shouldn’t be disheartened. Westminster consented to the last referendum because they were convinced that the pro-independence cause would be lucky to get 25% of the vote, and the Union would win by such a crushing majority that the topic would be off the table for ever. As we all know, that’s not what happened. Ha ha. The Union was saved by the skin of its teeth and only by making some very vague promises of sooper dooper extra powers for Scotland fronted by Saviour of the Union Gordie Broon. But the superpowers which Westminster never had any intention of delivering were always as imaginary as Gordie’s superstatesman powers. The only people who ever believed in them were the editor of the Daily Record and BBC Scotland news.

The failure of the superpowers to arrive is stoking up increasing resentment in Scotland, only a small minority believe the oft repeated claim that the Union has delivered. But let’s the honest here, this Union couldn’t even deliver a pig in a poke. If David Cameron promised us a pig in a poke we’d end up with a packet of bacon flavour crisps that had long since gone as soggy as David Mundell. Meanwhile the saviour of the Union was so saved by his saving that he’s now buggered off to the other side of the Atlantic as there wasn’t a rock big enough in Scotland for him to hide under.

The reason that the Unionists are so keen to rule out a second referendum is because they are not at all certain that they’re going to win it.

Westminster opposition to another independence referendum is likely to increase over time. The more likely it is that Scots are disposed to vote in favour of independence, the less likely it is that Westminster will willingly consent to a referendum taking place. For every percentage point that an independence majority increases over support for the Union, Project Fear 2.0 will ratchet up even more. We went into the last referendum campaign with a clear majority in favour of saying in the Union, we’ll go into the next with a clear majority in favour of independence. Expect dirty tricks, underhand dealings, machinations and panicked bribes.

The only proper time for us to have a second referendum is when the opinion polls show that there is a large, clear and consistent majority in favour of Scotland becoming independent. That’s the best time for another vote, the only time, a time when the referendum is effectively a formality and will merely be a rubber stamping of what everyone already knows – that a large majority of the Scottish population want independence. A second referendum should be the formalisation of what will by then already be the settled will of the Scottish people for independence.

We can’t afford to lose a second independence referendum, because then it really will be off the table for thirty years to come. But the time when there’s a large and consistent majority in the polls for independence is also going to be the time when Westminster is least disposed to consent to one, because they’ll know they’re going to lose. They’ll be more embarrassed than a woman who has realised that she’s got the same taste in bras as Lord Sewel. This exactly what has been happening in Catalonia, only without the bras.

In Catalonia there’s never been much doubt about the outcome of an independence referendum. Opinion polls have consistently shown a large majority in favour of Catalan independence, and consequently the Madrid government has been vehement in its refusal to consent to a referendum.

The time is still not right for a second referendum. Before that happens we need a clear strategy for a Scottish currency, a prospectus that neutralises the economic attacks of the last referendum campaign, and a means of ensuring that the terms of the debate are not set by the London-centric media but by the people of Scotland and a Scottish media which is representative of them. But what we must do in the next Holyrood election is to vote for those parties which unambiguously and clearly spell out in their manifestos that the right to hold a second referendum is in the gift of the Scottish people, not David Cameron.

We are sovereign in this land, not Westminster. Westminster is only our parliament because we currently consent to allow it to be, and we can withdraw that consent at any time we choose. That’s the political reality, and politics trumps any legalistic machinations. David Cameron isn’t going to tell me when I can have a say on the future of my country. What Scotland’s people decide is not a serving suggestion for Cameron to ignore at his pleasure.

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On the highway to indyref 2

Alicsammin is back in the news, not that he ever really left it. You may remember him from last year, while you, oh naive Caledonian person you, thought you were voting in an independence referendum, according to the UK media Scotland was voting in an Alicsammin’s referendum. Alicsammin was, at least until the votes were counted, the only person in the entire UK who wanted independence. Or, according to the Daily Mail, to shamelessly rip the beating heart out of this great nation of ours out of hatred for all things English.

Anyway, Alicsammin has been annoying the UK media again by making the perfectly sensible and obvious point that another independence referendum is inevitable. This has led to an outbreak of oooing and tutting in certain sections of the metrocommentariat, who are playing clips on an infinite loop of Alicsammin saying that the referendum was a once in a generation opportunity. They’re doing this because they’re still labouring under the misapprehension that it was Alicsammin’s referendum.

But it wasn’t, it was your referendum, it was my referendum, it was my maw’s referendum, it was my late partner’s referendum. It was your cousin’s referendum, it was your pal’s referendum. And no one asked us whether we thought it was only going to be a once in a generation deal. I don’t recall the question on the ballot paper being – should Scotland be an independent country and should we never ever ask this question again in your lifetime?

The only question that is still open is the timing. We need another independence referendum. I want another independence referendum. And the only material change of circumstances that I’m interested in is the one that says we’re going to win. We’re not there yet, but support for independence has increased somewhat since the referendum. We need to build on that and increase it. The next time we have a referendum it needs to be a formality, the legal recognition of what will by then be the settled will of the Scottish people, the settled will to become independent.

Alicsammin said that there were already several reasons why another referendum is inevitable. There’s the infamous vow for starters. At the fag end of the referendum campaign when the Union was a doubt we got promised devo to the max. Now Westminster says devo my arse. This super dooper near federalism home rule was supposed to have been overseen and supervised by the personal guarantee of Gordie Broon, who now makes the Invisible Man seem like a bit of an exhibitionist. Rumour has it he’s pissed off to the USA. No one knows who he is over there so he can go to the shops and buy stuff without the risk of having his custom refused because no one has any change.

Despite voting for 56 SNP MPs who stood on a platform of yer Smith commish is pish, Scotland is still lumbered with the pathetically inadequate devo proposals that came out of that half hearted process. The only thing that we learned from the Smith Commission is that giving politicians the benefit of the doubt is always a mistake. It may take a few more years before that message percolates through to No voters, but slowly they’re realising that they were had. A tipping point is in the offing.

Then there’s the EU referendum, the Faragegasm of British politics. There’s going to be a lot more of David Coburn in Scottish television studios, blazing away like a self-immolating bonfire of fart gas and blaming everything on immigrants and the SNP. But he’s going to be a lonely voice as Coburn’s appeal is very restricted, restricted to his own bathroom and a pile of kleenex, and even the kleenex doesn’t want to be there. All by himself he will be enough to ensure a massive victory for staying in the EU from Scotland, no matter how intransigent Angela Merkel gets with small European countries who refuse to toe the austerity line.

However in the rest of the UK, the immigrant bashing tendency is very much in the ascendant, and it’s far from certain whether England will vote in favour to say in the EU, despite the Project Fear on Steroids which will be unleashed on the voters. We’re in a different world now, where support from the mainstream media provokes suspicion and not trust. We may very well end up with a situation where Scotland votes to remain in the EU but the rest of the UK, or at least England, votes to leave. That would turn the entire EU question on its head in the second indyref.

And finally there’s the permausterity. Scotland didn’t vote for that. We voted to grow our economy, we voted not to blame the poor and the low paid for the sins of the banks and the bosses. But we’re getting Iain Duncan Smith making Cruella de Vile look like a patron of PETA, and George Osborne being touted as the next Prime Minister. The self immolation of a Labour party that no longer has a clue what it’s there for, what it’s doing, or how it’s supposed to get out of the hole it’s dug for itself means that we’re all facing being condemned to the Conservative con for another decade and a half. You want the Thatcher era all over again, only this time with no family silver in the form of nationalised industries to flog off? Well that’s what you’re getting, No voters. But there’s still an escape route, and it’s marked Indyref2.

In its report on the story, the BBC made the non-point that getting the UK government to agree to another referendum might prove to be very difficult indeed. Like any independence supporter thinks that we require their permission. The letter of the law may very well say that, but law is trumped by politics every time and if there is a large majority in the Scottish Parliament in favour of a referendum, and it is clear that a majority of the Scottish public wants independence, then we will have a referendum and we will have independence irrespective of what Westminster wants.

You want a legal principle for this? It’s perfectly easy – it’s the principle familiar to hundreds of thousands of Scottish people when told that they can’t do something, the principle of “Aye, that will be right.” Scotland is still on the highway to independence, we’ve not reached the exit yet, but the journey is getting close to its end. We’ll know that we’re there when opinion polls show a consistent majority in favour of independence. And then we can have a party, and get down to some serious work.

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Captain Caveman and the shock of the new

Labour’s hierarchy, the careerists and the SPADs, the spin doctors and the politics grads, are in full scale panic mode this week. Headless chickens have been known to run around more calmly and with a greater sense of purpose. The cliques in charge of the Labour party these past 20 years have suddenly discovered that their corpse like grasp on the party is rotting away and the token leftie might actually win the election.

Curse this democracy and one member one vote business. Having changed the voting system to reduce the power of the unions, the Labour leadership has now made the shocking realisation that some Labour members actually believe in all that stuff about socialism and fairness and redistribution of wealth and holding the banks and the corporations to account for the financial crisis they’ve caused, instead of blaming the poor and the marginalised. The road to hell is paved with self serving intentions and right wing machinations.

According to a Yougov poll, Jeremy Corbyn is well ahead in an election he wasn’t supposed to win. He wasn’t even supposed to make any significant impression in the leadership contest. He was supposed to come in a poor fourth, trailing behind Liz Kendall and her Blairite nostrums. He was there as socialist window dressing, a red sop to the membership, a little dash of red colourant to remind Labour of its roots. Jeremy’s real role in the election contest, according to the bland plastic people who make up the rest of the field, was to say left wing things that they could reject so they could appear sensible and middle of the road. He was there so that none of them would have to look left wing. Jeremy’s job was to give Liz, Andy, and Yvette someone to point a finger at and say socialism bad, so they’d get a marginally more sympathetic write up in an unsympathetic press.

But that’s not what’s happening. For those of us in Scotland this is popcorn time, as we sit back and watch the Westminster Labour party implode under the weight of its own self-delusion just as we watched its Scottish branch office do over the course of the past year. But the real worry is that whereas Labour in Scotland collapsed under the crushing weight of the SNP and the Greens and SSP and the well articulated aspirations of a highly politicised populace who knew what they wanted and knew how to vote in order to get it, Labour in England implodes into a vacuum. There’s nothing else left in the English body politic except the heartlessness of the Tories and the vultures of UKIP.

If Labour in England collapse there’s nothing to replace them. The SNP are going to have to do the job of the opposition in England too – is that what Better Together meant by Scotland punching above its weight as a part of the UK? Probably not.

The problem for Labour is that none of the four leadership contenders is a convincing leader, and if UK wide opinion polls are anything to go by, none are heading for 10 Downing Street at the next UK General Election. Labour looks set for a period in the wilderness while it rediscovers its soul and its purpose. So the question is will it find that soul and purpose under the management of the same plastic identikit politicians who brought it to this sorry pass, or will it find it with a leader who is likely to prove as unelectable as Michael Foot, but who will actively oppose the Tories and give the shattered party a sense of purpose again.

Meanwhile in Scotland we’re faced with a different set of questions. With a Labour party that’s not going to be re-electable in 2020, we have the very real and very scary prospect of George Osborne or Boris Johnson as the next UK Prime Minister – assuming that Cameron stands down before the next election as he has previously hinted. Is that the Union that No voters want to remain a part of, a dystopian hell of privileged elites and excluded masses, stretching ahead of us like a high speed railway that we are denied a ticket on. The UK train’s destination is off a privatised cliff. We need to change track, we need to take control of our own destiny.

Meanwhile a demon from the past popped up to tell Labour where it’s all going wrong. The war mongerer responsible, the soul-eater, the spirit crusher, the man who put morality through the blender of Iraq then waltzed off in a flurry of consultancies. Tony Blair gave a speech about the future of the party, and apparently didn’t even charge for it this time. But then near bankrupt Labour doesn’t have pockets as deep as Kazakhstani dictators. Tone created a Labour party in his own image and wants it to stay that way. Because soul-less money grabbing war mongerers are so progressive.

He also had a wee dig at the only effective political opposition left in the UK, the SNP. Tone said:
“When they talk about it being new politics, it is the oldest politics in the world. It’s the politics of the first caveman council, when the caveman came out from a council where there were difficult decisions and pointed with his club across the forest and said: ‘They’re the problem, over there, that’s the problem.’ It’s blaming someone else.”

And this would be true, because the topic of the first caveman council was the fact that them over there across the forest were eating people’s brains because they were unevolved apes with a sense of entitlement the size of a mammoth. We’re still opposing the brain eaters, Tone thinks the proper path is to eat brains too. Of course it’s not “new” politics, because we saw how Tony defined new when he rebranded a social democratic party as New Labour. Then what he did was nothing new. Greed, avarice, wars and invasions are the oldest politics of all. Blair gave us the shock and horror of the new Labour. He can keep his new, we want no part of it.

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The party which ran away

Are there any principles left in the moral vacuity that has replaced the Labour party? Is there anything that can be said that will get through to the party’s bankrupt leadership? Are there any barbs sharp enough to pierce the elephant’s hide of complacency that surrounds Labour’s sense of entitlement? On the showing up the party gave itself in the House of Commons on Monday night, the answer to all three questions is clearly no. Edward VIII had more principles than Labour do, that’s how low Labour has sunk.

Just 48 Labour MPs had enough of a moral conscience remaining to vote against the Tories’ swingeing and ideologically driven cuts to the benefits system. The rest are the St Augustines of political opposition – every night they get down on their knees to worship Mammon and pray that their god grants the strength to resist the Tories – but not yet. Let’s be clear here, the it wasn’t the poor, the disabled, or carers who caused the economic crisis. It wasn’t the low paid who caused the national debt to soar. It was the fault of the banks and their unregulated casino, it was the fault of rich corporations and individuals who have systematically avoided paying their fair share. And it was the fault of the Tories and the Labour party for allowing this sorry state of affairs to come to pass. And now as the Tories seek to punish the poor for the sins of the rich, Labour washes its hands in crocodile tears and says it does nothing for our own good. Labour dishonours our grandparents who founded that once great party. It traduces the memory of our struggles. Labour has betrayed the people it once stood for.

Only 48 Labour MPs remembered that they were elected to oppose. Scotland’s sole Labour MP wasn’t one of them. Did the residents of Edinburgh South elect him to oppose the Tories by acquiescing to them? That’s what Ian seems to believe. More SNP MPs than Labour MPs voted against the Tories’ vicious vindictiveness. Her Majesty’s Opposition think their official title means that they can only oppose things that her maj and her Hitler saluting benefits claiming family of spongers would oppose.

If you’re unemployed, Labour won’t give you an income you can live on until you find work. If you’re a carer, Labour doesn’t care about you. If you’re disabled, Labour wants you to stand on your own feet and will kick away your crutches. There was a time, a long time ago in a galaxy far far away, that Labour was the party that defended those who didn’t have the resources to defend themselves. Now it’s the party of the Death Star and the benefits sanction. It’s the party of the shallow, the materialists, the selfish. Labour is only the party of No when No means telling Scotland it can’t govern itself.

Only a fifth of Labour’s MPs have a vestigial remnant of a moral purpose, have a memory of what their party once stood for. Only a tiny minority of Labour MPs could look Mary Barbour in the eye. Only a tiny minority of Labour MPs can still claim to be the heirs to the Red Clydesiders. Labour wants to be the party for people who want a second holiday to Portugal and riding lessons for the teenage daughter. Labour wants to be the Tory party. That means that the malaise that Labour suffers from is worse than penis envy, they suffer from arsehole envy.

The best you can say about the rest of the Labour party is that at least some of the party’s MPs had the decency to turn up and abstain in person and stare their non-vote in its metaphorical blind eye. There are invertebrates with more of a spine, snakes with more legs to stand on. In the modern Labour party, it’s a rebel MP who is the one to vote against Tory benefits cuts. A rebel MP, think on that. That’s what happens when you try to run a country and formulate policy based on what focus groups in Croydon tell you.

You expect this sort of thing from Tories. Tories are callous and insensitive, however well preened the hairdos of their press apologists. The Tories kill the poor while Labour looks the other way, and tries to claim that looking the other way is a principled stance. The principle being – I’m going to walk past this mugging in the street without doing anything in solidarity with people who haven’t been mugged. Someone needs to stand up for the non-mugging non-victims.

Ah but, say the Labour apologists, we’d have lost the vote anyway so it makes no difference. But that’s not true, it would have made no difference to the outcome of the vote, but it would have made a hell of a difference to the tattered reputation of a pathetic excuse for a party. People might just actually have thought that Labour had some balls, and not the Tory budgeting Ed kind. People might have realised that Labour still stood for something. But now they know that Labour stands for nothing except a hauf-airsed petty fogging power grab, and when that fails they cower under a rock like the moral cowards they are. Labour is a party that no longer sings about keeping the red flag flying, the only flag they fly is a white one. They won’t oppose anything if it risks resulting in a bad headline in the Daily Mail.

308 Tories voted in favour. 128 MPs opposed, the SNP, Plaid, the 48 Labour MPs with a conscience. 308 minus 128 is 180, and more than 180 Labour MPs abstained. Oh but because of pairing we’d still have lost, the Labour apologists bleat. Excuses about the cosy gentleman’s pairing arrangement cut no ice when you’re starving out on the streets in a bitterly cold winter. It’s not the job of Labour to enter into cosy arrangements with the Tories, it’s their job to make life difficult for them. But Labour don’t want to do that if the Daily Telegraph objects. That’s what makes Labour unfit for purpose.

Labour’s spinelessness is why we didn’t vote for them in Scotland – on this showing we’ll never vote for them again. Labour recovery? Even BBC Scotland can’t even start dreaming of that until there’s a glimmer of hope that Labour might just do its bloody job. But we don’t need Labour to oppose the Tories any more – we have the SNP and the Greens for that, and that’s why Labour is going the way of the Union. The demise of Labour is the demise of the UK.

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#60mins The hashtag that refused to trend

As someone who wants Scottish independence, by definition I am opposed to the British state. Anything which weakens the British state strengthens my cause. But not like this, I don’t want it to happen like this.

Sometimes you can take pleasure in the misfortunes of your political enemies, but sometimes you can’t because the misfortune of your enemy comes on the back of abused and broken innocence. Sometimes you find yourself hoping and praying that what is being said about your enemy isn’t true, can’t be true, because if it is true it revolts and disgusts, because it means that things are far worse than you could possibly have feared – even in the nightmares that stalk you on a cold and lonely night. Sometimes you don’t want to believe what is being said because it means that the mad fringes of conspiracy theories might be right, and that means we live on the fringes in a state of madness. But this is the state we live in. The British state is an abusers’ state, a state of abuse, a state of moral poverty and political cowardice.

This weekend my Twitter feed was filled with comments marked with the hashtag #60mins, but the hashtag didn’t trend, didn’t appear in the list of most talked about subjects as these things automatically do. And that by itself sparks suspicion.

The hashtag refers to an Australian current affairs programme, which very recently broadcast an episode investigating alleged paedophile rings in the very heart of the British establishment. It was claimed that over many years, important and powerful men at the centre of the British state sexually assaulted dozens, if not hundreds, of vulnerable children, many of whom were in care and whose well-being had been entrusted to a state which then abused them and offered them up as sacrificial lambs to the sick fantasies of evil men. Even worse, it alleged that certain very powerful individuals, some of whom remain in public life as lauded lords, killed kids for fun. According to the programme, the British state colluded in covering it all up.

The programme claimed that the British state used the agencies of public security to cover up the abuse, in order to protect the reputations of those who may have committed foul crimes against children, and by extension to protect the reputation of the British state. One of the worst abusers according to the programme was a man who was deputy head of the intelligence services. He used his influence and power to prevent investigations into the abuse that he and his powerful friends committed. Men, the programme said, like Leon Brittan and Cyril Smith.

We saw something similar with the Catholic Church. Those with the power to punish abusers, to remove them from positions of power and influence, to protect the vulnerable and the weak, did nothing. They did nothing because they believed that protecting the reputation of their institution was more important than preventing abuse. As long as the public don’t know what is going on, then the institution preserves its reputation intact. It remains an institution which commands respect and deference. But a reputation which depends upon secrecy is already a reputation which is worth nothing. We live in a state whose reputation is valueless. That’s the British state, an abusers’ state, a state of disgrace and shame.

I don’t want this to be true. I don’t want to live in a state where nothing is sacred and no-one is safe, but a part of me knows that there is an evil truth at the heart of these accusations.

My late partner Andy served in the Metropolitan police for many years. Back in the early 1990s he told me that there had been a police investigation into the Liberal MP Cyril Smith. Andy wasn’t directly involved in the investigation himself, but it was common knowledge amongst officers in his police station in the East End of London. The Met police had decided to take action about the prostitution and drug dealing which was then rampant around Kings Cross station. It wasn’t a specific investigation into high profile abusers, but Andy told me that during this investigation the Liberal MP Cyril Smith had been seen by police picking up rent boys outside the station, and taking them off in his car and engaging in sexual activity with them. Mostly they were homeless teenagers, out on the streets after years in care, left to fend for themselves as Thatcherism began to bite. Andy said that no action was ever taken against Smith because he was a high profile public figure. He added that the officers investigating the case were warned off by some very senior figures, and it was all quietly dropped.

When knowledge of Smith’s abusive activities came to public knowledge many years later, after his death, I asked Andy for more information about what he’d told me all those years before. Sadly by that time Andy’s vascular dementia was pretty far advanced, and he couldn’t remember any details or the names of any of the officers involved. He passed away a few months later.

We can press for an enquiry into the events of the past. We can demand that the police investigate unhindered by the powerful. We can demand justice for the victims and survivors of abuse. But we can have no confidence that we’ll ever get these things, and that means we can have no confidence that they won’t happen again in the future. This is a state which doesn’t do transparency, which doesn’t allow the little people to know what the big ones get up to behind the locked doors and closed curtains of the establishment. Being British means to know your place, to be subject, to be silent.

I don’t want this state to have power over me or my family. I don’t feel safe. The agencies of the state which are supposed to make us feel safe instead make us feel unsafe. The agencies of the state are – allegedly – actively covering up the worst abuse possible. When that happens we no longer live in a democracy. I don’t want to be British. And with every passing scandal, every instance of abuse that comes to light, another little bit of Britishness dies. Its passing will not be mourned.

All I can do is suggest that you watch the programme for yourself. It’s not easy or comfortable viewing.


I will leave comments open on this article, however PLEASE DO NOT ACCUSE ANY LIVING PERSON AS AN ABUSER. DO NOT NAME ANY ALLEGED ABUSERS OR WRITE ANYTHING WHICH COULD LEAD TO THEM BEING IDENTIFIED. Any comments which do so will be removed immediately. You risk prejudicing a future trial or investigation, and I do not want to get sued – and possibly lose my home because I can’t afford to pay damages. Your cooperation is appreciated.

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BBC Cringe: the Norma Desmond of broadcasters

Earlier this week, the youngest Scottish MP ever gave her maiden speech in the Chamber of the House of Commons. You’d think that a 20 year old working class Scottish woman from Paisley might be intimidated by an institution which is so far up its own arse that the crap comes out the other end, but not Mhairi Black. Since deposing one of the spoiled princes of the Labour party from the seat, Mhairi has been subjected to a barrage of insults and abuse from the UK media. She has been patronised and demeaned by middle aged middle class privileged men who are affronted that someone like Mhairi dares not just to step onto their territory, but to own it. And that’s precisely what Mhairi did in the House of Commons with her maiden speech.

The speech was perfectly judged, contained the right balance of humour and gravity, it was emotional and emotive, but at the same time logical and rational. She spoke movingly and with great passion about the evil wrought on working class communities by an ideologically driven Conservative government. She made it personal and illustrated the destructive effect that Tory benefit rules have on ordinary people. There but for the grace of god could go any one of us. She pleaded with the Labour party not to acquiesce and surrender to Tory policies but to join with the SNP in actively opposing the Government and to challenge it. And you know that Labour have fallen pretty low when it takes a 20 year old to plead with them to oppose the Tories. Some Labour MPs had the good grace to look shamed and a bit embarrassed, although Ian Murray wasn’t amongst them.

Even cynical auld gits like me were moved by Mhairi’s words. It would have been a remarkable and newsworthy speech irrespective of whose mouth it had issued from. And it issued from the mouth of a young working class Scottish woman. Mhairi did herself proud, she did her constituency proud, she did Scotland proud, she did democracy proud. Mhairi showed that Scotland’s future is safe and secure, because she’s the voice of the next generation. You couldn’t help but feel as you watched her that you were watching the president of a future Scottish republic.

So how did the Scottish state broadcaster choose to report on this marvellous affirmation of Scottish democracy, this immense credit to the youth of our country? It told us that the SNP had been slapped down by the deputy speaker for applauding Mhairi’s speech. There was a clip of the deputy speaker instructing MPs that they could show approval by harrumphing like trained seals, but there wasn’t a single line of Mhairi’s own words. This is the news we pay for. This is the news that we have to pay a tax on. And now we know the difference between a state broadcaster and a public service.

According to the nearest thing that Scotland has to a public broadcaster, the only important thing about Mhairi Black’s speech was that there was a mild breach of the antiquated and sclerotic protocol of the House of Commons as Mhairi’s SNP colleagues showed their appreciation. Another belter of a maiden speech, from the wonderful Anne McLaughlin, the Sherpa Tenzing of Glasgow North East who climbed the mountain of the largest Labour majority in the country, and got to the top in style – that went entirely unreported. The message from BBC Scotland was clear – Scotland, you’re a bit rubbish and you need to be slapped down and put in your place.

BBC Scotland’s news department apparently operates on the default assumption that nothing good can possibly come of the SNP. Let’s find someone who had to wait more than four hours in A&E and use it to attack the Scottish Government. Any mistake or oversight by an public body in Scotland becomes a generalised attack on Scottish self government.

BBC Scotland should just quit pretending that it’s a public service broadcaster, it’s an arm of the British state. It’s not BBC Scotland, it’s BBC Cringe – and don’t you Scots dare forget just how irrelevant and rubbish you are. It’s not a public service, it’s not remotely representative of the public it is supposed to service, it’s the propaganda department of the British state. It’s wall to wall crap about the Royal bloody family. I honestly don’t give a crap about Willnkate and their gilded existence. Now here’s a story about a cute kitten stuck up a tree that had to wait hours before the SNP’s national fire service could come and rescue it. And now the fitba.

This is not to criticise the ordinary staff of BBC Scotland. They have families to feed just like anyone else, and they are not responsible for the Corporation’s editorial policies which are set and controlled by London. I know for a fact that many amongst the ordinary staff of BBC Scotland support the proper devolution of BBC Scotland and yearn to make it into the proper Scottish public broadcaster that it was always supposed to be. Sadly the chances of that happening are close to zero as the Corporation battens down the hatches in the face of a concerted attack from the Tory government. Screwing the Scots is one way in which the BBC management in London can demonstrate its loyalty and avoid cuts and axes in other areas which are more important to the London based elite which determines BBC policy.

The BBC in Scotland has long since lost its reputation for impartiality, however much it clings to the memory of its former glory. By its one sided handling of the referendum campaign, its relentless focus on SNP Bad, BBC Scotland has destroyed itself as a credible news organisation. It has now got to the point where BBC Scotland could highlight a major failure of the Scottish government and thousands of perfectly reasonable people will turn a deaf ear, because BBC Scotland has cried wolf many times too often. BBC Scotland is the Norma Desmond of news, it thinks that it’s the news that’s got small.

So what to do about it? I recently paid my TV licence for the year so it would be hypocritical for me to call on other people not to pay it and to take the risk of prosecution that I’m not facing myself. Although I have to say that it’s unlikely that I’m going to renew my TV licence – I don’t see why I should pay for propaganda. If the BBC wants to punt an ideologically driven message to me, they should be paying me for the privilege, I don’t see why I should be paying them for royalist pro-union advertising.

But it’s not enough just to withhold the TV licence, we need to decide what we want in place of BBC Cringe, and we need to decide how to go about getting it. We need the devolution of broadcasting now. The 56 SNP MPs in Westminster and the Scottish Government should highlight the issue at every opportunity – Scotland is the ONLY self-governing country in the world which doesn’t have its own public service broadcaster. So much for best of both worlds.

(Am off to London tomorrow to see family. And while there will take in the Festival of Model Trams in Croydon. Back on Sunday – so the next blog post will be Monday.)

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It’s been a good week

It’s been a good week. OK, we still have the slimiest evillest Tory government since slimy evil first crawled out of the primordial slimy evil soup – which by a strange coincidence was also the stuff they used to serve up in the school canteen when I was a wean. But apart from that, it’s been a good week.

It’s been a good week because today, the 14th of July, is Bastille Day. This is the day that the peasants of France finally had enough of their ruling classes, and rose up and deposed them. Meanwhile King Louis XVI wrote in his diary for that day “rien” – nothing. You’d think that after 230 years the ruling elites of Europe, and the UK, might have learned by now of the dangers of being so out of touch with public opinion. But apparently not. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

It’s been a good week because the New Horizons probe flew all the way through the solar system to the frozen depths of Pluto, where it got a much warmer welcome than a benefits claimant in a Tory budget and confirmed that even from that distance George Osborne still looks like a slimy evil lying git far beyond any possible redemption.

It’s been a good week because the Large Hadron Collider – which I keep mistyping as Large Hardon Collider because I can’t get my mind out the gutter, although I’m sure that it’s a sport played in some of the more specialist night clubs – has discovered a new subatomic particle. The pentaquark is mind bogglingly tiny, but it’s still several orders of magnitude greater than Iain Duncan Smith’s generosity.

It’s been a good week because the sun has finally taken its tap aff and keeked out from behind its Scottish blanket of cloud and admitted that it’s the middle of July. Although of course it won’t last. The sun in Scotland is more skitterish than a fox in a room full of Tory MPs.

It’s been a good week because I’m loved up, having met a friend in Boston that I’ve chatted with for years. Our eyes met, and let’s just say that there was a Grangemouth’s worth of chemistry. The dug’s got himself a new American boyfriend. Unlike the sun in a Scottish summer, that’s a warmth that will last. He does read this blog occasionally, and says things like, “What does tap aff mean?” So I demonstrate, and that’s quite enough information.

And it’s a good week because Scotland’s 56 opposition MPs – the Labour one and Lib Dem one don’t count because they’re bugger all use for anything – actually managed to get the slimy evil Tories to crawl back into their primordial evil soup while complaining about the SNP being opportunistic. Which is a bit like Dracula complaining about blood banks.

Davie Cameron is upset because Scotland’s MPs shouldn’t be allowed to overrule England’s MPs, this comes after the single Scottish Tory overruled every single amendment to the Scotland Bill made by the 58 non-Tory Scottish MPs. Paddington Mundell doesn’t have 59 votes all by himself, but he does count on the support of a whole load of English MPs who will vote down what Scotland wants. Cameron doesn’t do irony where Scotland is concerned, or indeed fairness or democracy.

As a result of the SNP’s decision to intervene on the fox hunting issue, the Tories have been forced to withdraw the motion to repeal the hunting ban because they were unsure that they would be able to get it to pass. It’s quite possible that it will not return in this Parliament, or ever, and English foxes have the SNP to thank for it. They’re now free to return to raiding rubbish bins like reporters for the Daily Mail. Although if it had been a vote on whether to allow Daily Mail reporters to be hunted down with dogs, it’s highly probable that the SNP would have voted in favour. I know I would have.

But the real reason for the intervention was to remind Cameron and his minions that they do not always enjoy the crushing majority that they have when they use the weight of their 300 English MPs to overrule 58 Scottish ones. And if they want to play that game, then they ought to be prepared for others to play it back at them. And to play it with considerably more style and panache.

Then it’s been a good week because there was an opinion poll. There haven’t been many Scottish opinion polls since the election, and this latest one asked about voting intentions in next year’s Holyrood vote. This is important, as it’s vital we secure a clear majority of pro-independence MSPs if there is to be a chance of a new independence referendum. And the poll showed that the SNP and the Greens are likely to enjoy a crushing majority in Holyrood.

The poll also showed that 60% of Scots want another independence referendum within 10 years, although most would still vote no – but the good news is that less than a year after the indyref the 55% are now only the 52%, and if we keep up this rate of attrition they’ll be well under 40% by the time there’s an indyref2. You see that light on the horizon? That’s an independent Scotland coming that is.

That the Union is on the wrong side of history was shown by the maiden speech of Scotland’s youngest MP, the 20 year old Mhairi Black. In a stupendous speech she was witty and gracious – and begged Labour to join with the SNP in being a constructive opposition to the Tories. The fact that the voice of Scotland’s youth and Scotland’s future had to plead with Labour to get it to do what it was supposed to be doing all along tells you all you need to know about the likely future of Labour and the Union. Them and the Tories are the Louis XVI of the 21st century – although they’re only in for a metaphorical beheading.

So we listened to the articulate and passionate words of an intelligent young working class Scottish woman, telling them what it is in the House of Commons. And you know that the future is good.

It’s been a good week.

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What is the point of you?

Jesus wept, Keir Hardie spun in his grave, the ghost of Aneurin Bevin howled in impotent rage at the vacuity of the press release, the spirits of the Jarrow marchers sat down and wept, and millions of former supporters raised their eyebrows to the skies and sighed at the Labour party – what is the bloody point of you? And the only answer is the meaningless self-serving waffle of a party that’s lost its way, a party that couldn’t even find a moral compass if it was lodged up its own arse.

There is no point to Labour, none at all. No meaning. No purpose. No bloody sense. All there is is the cold hearted triangulation of a spin doctor who’s never had to struggle against poverty or exclusion. Labour has announced that there’s very little they’re going to do to oppose as the Tories set fire to the social contract that Labour fought so hard to establish all those decades ago. The party is not going to oppose the cuts that the Tories are introducing to the benefits system, not going to oppose the loss of the principle that each mouth deserve to be fed. They’ve abandoned the principle of to each according to their need. Labour not only supports the final cutting through of the social safety net, they’re helping the Tories with the scissors. Spin and snip as they cut their own tendons, and the party falls never to stand again.

What is the point of you Labour? Nothing, nothing but to make us weep and rage at your wilful impotence, to scream silently in the vacuum of your lost soul. The hopes of our grandparents betrayed, their memories traduced. What is the point of you?

When you lose your principles, you lose your soul. A week is a long time in politics, and in fifty years you can lose your soul and turn into a zombie, the living husk of a political party, going through the motions but without any sense of purpose. Labour is the vampire party, sucking on the aspirations and hopes of working class people, existing for nothing but the perpetuation of its cadre of politicians. The lesson this teaches us is that one Labour MP, one Labour MSP, one Labour councillor, is one too many. We must do to them what we did to the Tories – consign them to the wilderness of political untouchability.

The Tories pretend to govern in the interests of the whole country, and Labour pretend to oppose them. The little people are expected to continue with a charade that wouldn’t be out of place in a dystopian novel, living a harsh reality caught between two falsehoods.

Labour in Scotland demand that the SNP set out they’re going to protect Scotland’s poor from the Tory cuts, while UK Labour refuse to oppose them. This is clearly what they meant during the independence referendum when they claimed that being part of the UK produced the best of both worlds. Labour gets to have its austerity cake across the UK as a whole, and still gets its SNP bad headlines in the Daily Record. The Tory media propagates the lie that the financial crisis was the fault of the poor, and Labour doesn’t have the balls to stand up and call a lie a lie. It meekly goes along with it in the hope of sooking up to the middle class voters in Tory swing seats. Labour is happy with the notion of making those who rely on benefits and those on low wages foot the bill for the financial disaster that Labour and the Tories allowed to happen by turning a blind eye to the excesses of the banks. The lost themselves in the pursuit of power and money.

So this is the redistribution that Gordie Broon spoke of, the redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich. Pooling and sharing means the poor pool so that the rich can share. And Labour is just fine with all of this, because even the most mousy mealy mouthed protest will attract the wrath of press barons that Labour never had the balls to hold in check. Labour created the means of its own destruction, and acquiesces in it meekly. Well they can destroy themselves, but we’re damned if they take us with them.

The party has lost the ability to distinguish between right and wrong, to tell the difference between good and evil. When you can’t even bring yourself to oppose such an obvious obscenity as insisting that a woman who has a third child as a result of rape must prove that rape to a faceless official in the Job Centre who has an incentive for not believing her, then all is lost.

Labour’s excuse is that it would be wrong of them to tell voters that they were wrong to vote for a party that does wrong. When Labour is too afraid to defend what’s right in case it stops them getting the votes of those who support wrong – what’s the point of you then Labour? If the only way to become the government is to become the Tories, then there is no need to bother with a Labour party at all. We’ve already got evil Tories, we don’t require any more of them. We have them in abundance already.

And this, Labour, this is why we no longer tolerate you amongst us, why you can no longer participate in our struggles. You are dead to us because you’re dead to yourselves. The annihilation you experienced in May was only the beginning, by the time we’ve finished with you you will be a footnote in history. We are the opposition to the Tories, not you.

So to the last few remnants of that battered party – if you have a shred of dignity left, if you still value the hopes and aspirations of the working classes above the pursuit of power for power’s sake, then leave Labour, take to the lifeboats, join the SNP, the Greens, the SSP, and help us build a better Scotland. Help us to push the doors of opportunity open, or decline into a sub-Tory irrelevance, bereft of principle, meaning or morality. There is a better way, a way out of this nightmare. It’s called independence. And now it’s clearer than it ever was that it’s the only escape.

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London Calling : How the BBC stole the referendum

My friend and former colleague on NewsnetScotland GA Ponsonby has published a book which, in exquisite detail, destroys the claim of our national broadcaster to have been neutral and unbiased in its coverage of Scottish politics – and particularly in its coverage of the referendum campaign.  The book is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the Scottish media, and for anyone who wants to reform it and make it democratically representative and accountable.  GA has kindly allowed this blog to publish an extract from the book.  Ordering details are at the end of this article.  Buy it now!


Throughout the referendum most newspapers refused to back independence. Indeed almost all were vehemently opposed. The press gave far more sympathetic coverage to the No campaign than to its Yes rival. In short, the Scottish print media was biased.

In order to address this imbalance, the Yes movement created its own media. The internet saw an explosion of Yes leaning blogs and websites. An alternative narrative to that being pushed by the main stream media began to flow from these new web based outlets. As hitherto unreported information began to circulate amongst users of these pro-independence sites so the traditional media found itself being challenged.

Claims from the No campaign were debunked regularly. Lies were exposed. Stories that would have previously lain unreported began to be circulated online. Writers and commentators every bit as erudite and articulate as those whose faces graced the newspaper columns and TV studios, were offering a different viewpoint.

Scandals were exposed. On April 7th 2013, one online group, National Collective, revealed that the biggest donor to the official Better Together campaign was the head of a company that had once paid a convicted war criminal one million dollars. Ian Taylor was the chief executive of multinational company Vitol and had given the Better Together campaign half a million pounds following a meeting with its chair, Labour MP Alistair Darling. However after the donation was announced, it was revealed that Taylor’s company had once paid the notorious Serbian war criminal Arkan one million dollars

Arkan – real name Željko Ražnatović – was heavily involved in organised crime, and was indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for war crimes including ‘murder, wilful killing, rape and other inhumane acts’. He was alleged to have been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Bosnian Muslims and Kosovo Albanians. He was assassinated in Belgrade in January 2000.

Ian Taylor was Chief Executive of Vitol when Bob Finch, as Vitol Director, went to Belgrade in the late 1990s. In 2001 an investigation by The Observer newspaper established Finch had used Arkan as a ‘fixer’ after a controversial oil deal in the former Yugoslavia collapsed.

It also emerged that Taylor’s company had a track record involving fines and controversial deals in Iran, Iraq, Serbia and Libya. Vitol had been fined $17.5 million after pleading guilty in the USA to charges of grand larceny relating to allegations of sanctions busting and payments to officials in former dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime.

There was more. According to the Independent newspaper, the company had also avoided paying tax on billions of pounds of profits – with the blessing of HMRC. Taylor, who had become Chief Executive of Vitol in 1995, had previously made substantial donations to the Conservative party, and attended a private dinner with Prime Minister David Cameron at Downing Street in November 2011.

In September 2012, Labour MP John Mann, a member of the Treasury Select Committee, had accused Taylor’s company of “backing corrupt regimes”. Mann also described Mr Taylor’s donations to the Tory Party as ‘dirty money’.

The revelations about Taylor’s company were damaging to the Better Together campaign and hugely embarrassing for the Labour party. However the story was given only subdued coverage by BBC Scotland. It received nothing like the high-profile coverage previously given to baseless smears levelled against Alex Salmond.

The story grew and threatened to inflict significant damage on the No campaign when lawyer’s letters were sent on behalf of the Better Together backer to National Collective and several other online sites which had picked up the story. The letters threatened legal action. As a result, the National Collective website was closed down.

A statement posted on the site said:

“On the 9th April 2013, Lawyers – Collyer & Bristow acting on behalf of Vitol and multimillionaire and principal donor to ‘Better Together’ – Ian Taylor threatened legal action against the ‘National Collective’ claiming that it was grossly defamatory.”

A pro-independence web site had been forced to close down. It had been silenced. Despite this intimidation, BBC Scotland still refused to treat it as a major news item. Instead, in an interview on Newsnight Scotland later that evening, journalist Severin Carrell actually blamed the National Collective and the other sites for the situation.

According to Mr Carrell,

“[Independence] campaigners perhaps haven’t quite had the experience, knowledge, legal advice that may have prevented some of the problems they are now encountering.”

Had the site been pro-Union and the legal threats been made by someone who had given half a million pounds to the Yes campaign, then past experiences suggested BBC Scotland would have given the story top billing. Had the Yes campaign’s biggest donor headed a business that had avoided paying tax, had given a million dollars to a war criminal and been fined for breaking sanctions against Saddam Hussein, then the story would have saturated BBC Scotland news coverage.

The threat issued to several online sites was indicative of the growing unease with which those in the No campaign viewed the internet. It wasn’t just blogs and websites where the Yes community had grown. Social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook were also witnessing massive pro-Yes referendum participation. A genuine pro-independence grassroots movement had emerged on the internet. It was a major source of concern for the No campaign.


When an argument cannot be defeated then the best way to nullify its effectiveness is to discredit those making it. There was a considerable amount of talent amongst pro-independence online activists. Some provided commentary, some news, some live broadcasts. Others were irreverent and satirical. It wasn’t just an online media evolution, it was a cultural evolution. It encompassed the arts and literature.

The internet’s open access meant that there were no filters applied. Sitting alongside the articulate and positive were those whose online contributions were abusive and offensive. Both sides of the referendum had people who posted offensive and obnoxious content on the web. For every poster who called Unionists traitors, there was one who called Nationalists Nazis. For every disgusting reference made about Nicola Sturgeon there was one made about Johann Lamont. Both Yes supporters and No supporters could be equally abusive – and were. No side had a monopoly on bad language, threats and god-awful vitriol.

But only one side was singled out by the media. A derogatory term was coined for Yes supporters. Anyone expressing online support for independence, or who challenged the orthodox view being promoted by Unionists, was branded a ‘Cybernat’. The term was believed to have been coined by former Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray. In November 2009 speaking in the Holyrood chamber, the MSP said:

“Back in May I asked Alex Salmond to get a grip of these ‘cybernats’ bloggers. At the time they were spreading rumours about me and other politicians as well. I think Alex Salmond has to come to parliament, apologise, and explain just exactly what has gone one.”

Gray added:

“I wish to see these anonymous blogs rooted out and got rid of.”

The claim that Alex Salmond was somehow responsible for people who posted messages on the internet would be a recurring theme of the independence referendum. Time and again Unionist politicians would issue statements denouncing internet abuse allegedly perpetrated by a Yes supporter, whilst claiming Salmond was somehow to blame. Equally disturbing posts from No supporters rarely, if ever, made the news headlines.

This was best demonstrated on May 1st, 2013 when a disturbing sounding story broke. A comedienne had apparently received death threats after making a few tepid jokes about the independence referendum. The story was broken by the Scotsman newspaper in the early hours of that day. In an article headlined, Susan Calman: Death threats for independence satire, the newspaper reported:

Comic Susan Calman has called for an end of “name-calling, swearing and death threats” marring the independence debate after her satirical contribution to a radio show triggered an onslaught of online abuse.

The alleged death threats followed an appearance on a BBC Radio 4 comedy show ‘The News Quiz’ in which the Scottish comedienne had poked fun at Yes Scotland and also lampooned First Minister Alex Salmond.

The article led to other headlines that day, with the death threat claim central to the reports. Newspapers portrayed the comedienne as a victim of ‘Nationalist’ intolerance and ‘cybernat’ hounding. Unionist politicians issued statements condemning the alleged threat and blaming SNP.

Labour MP Douglas Alexander issued a statement in which he attacked the so-called cybernats.
The Labour MP said:

“This truly appalling episode is just the latest example of the hate-filled outpouring of the so-called ‘cybernats’, whose characteristic is general intolerance to everybody and anybody who does not share their outlook.

How has Scotland – rightly proud of our openness and tolerance – arrived at a place where a comedian is smeared, bullied and even threatened for speaking out and making light of the pretensions of politicians?”

BBC Scotland picked up the story. It was covered that same evening by Newsnight Scotland. The programme played a clip of Ms Calman delivering her jokes on the radio programme. The clip was accompanied by some melodramatic claims regarding abuse she had received. According to presenter Gordon Brewer the perpetrators were all ‘Cybernats’.

In the clip, viewers heard the following:

Brewer: “It all began when the comedienne Susan Calman poked fun at the Yes campaign on a topical news quiz…”

A clip of Calman on the Radio 4 programme was then played, She was heard saying: “They’re not going to build a border. We’re going to keep the pound. We’ll still have the Royal Family. So I’m not sure what’s going on.” [Audience laughter]

Brewer: “That was enough to attract the full ire of some pro-independence campaigners who she says accused her of betrayal and racism towards her own people.”

The abusers, according to the BBC Scotland presenter, weren’t just cybernats, they were pro-independence campaigners, and it wasn’t the first time the derogatory term ‘cybernat’ had been used in the programme in order to attack Yes supporters. Speaking on an earlier edition former Labour party advisor Simon Pia had been allowed to launch a similar politically motivated attack.

Pia said:

“The cybernats have operated below the surface in Scottish politics for the last few years. It’s very nasty and abusive stuff.”

In a later programme former Labour MSP David Whitton said:

“Another thing [the SNP] has to do is to stop these kind of cybernat attacks on anybody who criticises them.”

Brewer himself had used similar language, saying once:

“What we have seen this week, to be fair, are senior people in the SNP saying to some of these commentators on the internet, cybernats as they are called, you know look, stop it.”

The cybernat term wasn’t restricted to guests and presenters on Newsnight Scotland. Debates in the House of Commons would also see use of the term by the BBC.

Journalists too were allowed free rein to level accusations. In 2012 speaking on the Shereen Nanjiani show on BBC Radio Scotland, journalist Magnus Gardham called for action over anonymous independence supporting “trolls” he claimed were responsible for spreading “hatred and bile” on the internet.

The former Daily Record reporter, who had just joined the Herald, said:

“In Scottish politics there is a huge problem with internet trolls who target journalists who are perceived to be critical of Scottish independence, who hide under a cloak of anonymity and spread bile and hatred and abuse and intimidation.

If a precedent can be set in this case which shows that it’s not acceptable and there are sanctions then I think that will be entirely healthy.”

It was clear that the BBC wasn’t shy in promoting, or in allowing to be promoted, the falsehood that the Yes campaign, and only the Yes campaign, was awash with abusive, intolerant nutcases spreading bile and vitriol across the internet. On the contrary, the corporation was more than happy to legitimise the term.

The ‘Calman Death Threat’ story was a godsend to the Scottish media. It helped sustain the anti-Yes ‘Cybernat’ campaign and was key to getting the issue onto the BBC again. But was there any truth to the news reports?

The Scotsman article had contained apparent quotes from Ms Calman, only one of which made mention of death threats:

“If we could stop the random name-calling, the swearing, the death threats (real or otherwise) then perhaps we could get somewhere. Bullying is not a way to stop people speaking out. Bullying is the last resort of those who don’t want to enter into a reasoned argument.”

It was from the comedienne’s blog. The blog had been published after her appearance on the radio programme. But the comment made no specific claim that she herself had received a death threat. Some people began to question whether death threats were received at all and asked the comedienne for evidence. Despite widespread media coverage and accusations against Yes campaigners, nobody could locate any evidence of a specific death threat having been sent to the comedienne.

Newsnet Scotland decided to do a bit of digging…

A member of the team contacted the Scotsman newspaper to ask what evidence they had uncovered. There was no reply. The member tried to contact the comedienne herself but failed. In the meantime her blog had been taken down.

However a question to her agent was acknowledged. The reply served only to confuse the situation further. Her client had been invited to appear on Newsnight Scotland to discuss the issue, but had turned down the invitation.

Vivienne Clore said:

“Newsnight Scotland invited her to appear on the show and she declined because she doesn’t want to make any further comment on the matter at the moment so I really am sorry but I cannot help you.”

Despite contacting the police and the procurator fiscal’s office, no evidence of any death threat could be found. Indeed no evidence confirming that Susan Calman had received any threat to her life was ever found.

The Scotsman newspaper responded to the lack of evidence by publishing a ‘cartoon’. It depicted Yes supporters as grotesque mutants marching with burning torches chanting ‘Susan Calman, Susan Calman’. In the background were caricatures of Alex Salmond, John Swinney and Nicola Sturgeon. Clearly visible was a gallows, with a noose fashioned in the shape of an SNP logo.

The BBC wasn’t driving the ‘Cybernat’ agenda. That was being done by newspapers like the Daily Record, Herald and the Scotsman. But the broadcaster, by allowing its own presenters and guest pundits to throw the term around with abandon, was complicit in its spreading.

London Calling: How the BBC stole the Referendum can be ordered online at http://LondonCalling.scot