So I guess that having an online pro-independence presence classifies me as a ‘CyberNat’. The hilarious myth of cybernattery is one of the more ludicrous outgrowths of the ‘No’ campaign’s strategy to make the campaign for a ‘Yes’ vote to be solely about one person (Alex Salmond, in case you hadn’t guessed where this idea was headed). Given Salmond’s popularity and satisfaction ratings, compared to the Westminster leaders, this might seem a bizarre and risky choice of tactic. So why would they try this approach? Well, there are several benefits of this approach, in terms of ‘presentation: first of all, it has the effect of communicating the idea that support for this idea is not only limited, it is isolated. As such, it can be portrayed as ‘one person’s obsession’ (how often have you heard Johann Lamont use that precise phrase?) – so you don’t need to feel that it is reasonable, or ‘normal’, or (heaven forfend) a popular idea. (In the longer term, this of course also paves the way for any desire to present an ‘unfavourable’ result as dismissible’ – but let’s not get ahead of ourselves…) Which means that there is no way that the idea of an independent Scotland could ever possibly be viewed as a campaign of broad ‘grass roots’ support. That it cannot be regarded as legitimate for the Scottish Government to make it policy to have this Referendum because it was part of an upfront part of the manifesto that the party of government gained their landslide on the basis of; that, in some mysterious way, the electorate were not voting for a party saying they would conduct a referendum when they gave that party its landslide majority victory within a system designed to return coalitions. This way, you can make the supporters feel alienated from the idea that they have embraced, their collective ownership (through an intention to vote for it) somehow removed, and it can be presented as some strange idea solely belonging to a Lee Harvey Oswald style ‘lone nut’. That way, you can rubbish an individual, without appearing to attack the will of a large section of the electorate – ‘don’t worry, we are not getting at you, it is all his fault’.
So how, then, from a ‘No’ perspective, does one deal with the massive popular online pro-independence presence, which so effectively undermines this ‘lone nut’ model? One has to discredit them, otherwise the idea that this might in any way be a popular movement starts to gain some traction. So what to do? Simple – make them simply an extension of that ‘lone nut’ – all under his direct and personal control. And worse – demonise them, run stories about how they perpetrate such terrible abuse that they are in some way ‘sub human’. Although online abuse is never acceptable, it is worth pointing out (again) that a recent survey demonstrated a 3:1 ratio of abuse with Yes supporters more likely to suffer it than No supporters. I was thinking about this, and how the mainstream media’s representation of Yes campaigners really did not fit with reality, while helping at a Yes stall at the Meadows last week, with some genteel retired ladies of Newington. In this context, it is also worth remembering that the only victim thus far of physical violence during this campaign is a Yes supporting 80 year old pensioner, James McMillan, who sustained a broken wrist in Edinburgh when one woman attacked him for his ‘Yes’ placard.
So amidst the calls for ‘Alex Salmond to take responsibility for and rein in Cybernats for abuse’ (Jim Murphy’s ‘straw man’ rhetorical accusation of choice) lies the implicit idea that the Yes-supporting online community is a) aggressive (despite evidence of this being notoriously hard to track down any evidence of e.g. in the case of Susan Calman); b) directly controlled by the First Minister. I do wonder sometimes if these grand objectors, with their tinfoil hats tightly applied to keep their conspiracy theory intact within their heads, imagine us all getting nightly strategic bulletins from some ‘central office’. In striking contrast, in 2012, when the user of a Labour FaceBook page expressed his wish for the death of Alex Salmond’s 90 year old father, a Labour spokesman dismissed objections thus: “Political parties are responsible for their candidates and officials, but members of the public must be responsible for their own behavior.” Presumably, this is why they try to portray online supporters of independence as some sort of unofficial secret wing of the SNP…because otherwise, by their own logic, they would not be able to link the online activity of members of the public with the Scottish Government.
Amusingly, as observed by one individual on Bateman Broadcasting this week, many of those voting for independence would appear to not be ‘nationalists’ (i.e. primarily embracing cultural or sentimental aspects) at all, but simply have a belief that the worst part of David Cameron’s ‘Broken Britain’ is the flawed Westminster system, and that is what they wish to leave behind. In this context, they are not ‘Nats’, but closer to gnats – a buzzing nuisance, an irritation for those used to presenting an unquestioned Union-led narrative of politics in Scotland.
And I’m not sure that that is really anything for me to be embarrassed or ashamed about – is it?
“It’s time for the SNP and the First Minister to finally rein these people in. Washing their hands of them and pretending they don’t know who they are will no longer do.” (Jim Murphy)