Wednesday, 7 March 2012


The attack on the online pro-independence community continues to heighten. There has long been an attempt to dehumanise those who support independence for Scotland, and although this increased when George Foulkes coined the term "Cybernats" as a handy shorthand for anyone who believes Scotland should be independent, it most certainly started long before that.

There are two recent articles that have annoyed me and which illustrate this dehumanising effect quite well. David Torrance's one on Total Politics about Scottish factionalism, and Ian Smart's one which, inexplicably, is titled "Nationalists".

David's article tries to suggest that the Scottish independence debate is particularly visceral, more so than other debates. For a start, this is wrong. Anyone who knows anything about internet discourse knows that the anonymity it gives people leads arguments to become far more heated than they would in person. The subconcious knowledge that, no matter what you say, the argument will not descend into physical fighting, means people have far higher (or should that be lower?) limits to how far they will push their opposite number. As the comment I've left on his article suggests, the stuff I've seen on Twitter and on blogs in regards to the debate on Scottish independence is no worse than what I've seen in other discourse. Indeed, in some ways it's far tamer, and at least it is a debate that warrants tempers being flared. Godwin's Rule exists for a reason, and it was being utilised liberally long before people in the Scottish independence dbeate started getting called Quislings or Nazis.

But his main failing is the implication that the nationalist side are somehow worse than the unionist side. This is demonstrably wrong (I'm confidently predicting that clicking on that link will always return Tweets calling the SNP the Scottish Nazi Party), yet he quotes Murdo Fraser saying that Cybernats are a "peculiarity". Murdo's description of The Cybernat ("blindly and viciously loyal to the SNP and vociferous; extremely personal and nasty to those who don’t share their point of view – they go along with a tendency on every occasion to play the man not the ball") is pretty much a description of internet trolling itself, and it is absurd to suggest that there are not people who do exactly the same but from a unionist perspective. If comparing Salmond to various dictators is not "extremely personal" and playing "the man not the ball", then I don't know what is (and these are just elected - and non-elected - politicians...)

Then we look at Ian Smart's blog. Ian is meant to be one of the few Labour members who doesn't go for the knee-jerk reactions of many in the upper echelons of the party. He's thought to be a considered unionist. However, his article is anything but considered. Apart from completely misrespresenting Joan McAlpine's column, he choses to "play the man not the ball" by bizarrely talking about how wrong it would be to compare Alex Salmond to a predatory paedophile (in my opinion, a far worse metaphor than the one he accuses Joan of making) in an extremely tenuous attempt to show that Joan's metaphor (which merely apes the "divorce" metaphor so often trundled out by Labour politicians in particular) is completely inappropriate. The thing is, he muddies the waters by introducing comparisons between Highland Clearances and the Holocaust, and Alex Salmond and Robert Mugabe. The reason this muddies the water is because the latter comparison most certainly IS regularly made (most infamously by Paxman recently), and the Highland Clearances metaphor probably has been used as well. So is he saying the predatory paedophile metaphor is also utilised? If so, by whom; and if not, why introduce it in amongst metaphors that are actually utilised?

He ends by suggesting that if the SNP do not sack Joan, it must be because what Joan says is what they believe. That would be fine if he hadn't spent a whole article talking about domestic violence and made the assertion that this is what Joan was comparing the union to. This is the most vile kind of politically motivated misrepresentation of a person's views, but it is especially heinous that he extrapolates this onto the SNP as a party and, by naming his article "Nationalists" without any other reference to us (leading to the assumption that the article is about nationalists as a whole), onto those who support the party and Scottish nationalism itself.

This all points towards the objective that the catchy term "Cybernat" (which has long since been adopted throughout the media - no such term has been incorporated to describe those of the opposite persuasion) was created for: to paint all nationalists as reactionary, slack-jawed, swivel-eyed nutters, hell-bent on ripping the UK apart and trampling over anything that gets in their way. Nothing is off-limits, we'll use and abuse whatever we can in order to destroy the poor, innocent union. Why bother trying to make a positive case for the union or disprove our arguments when you can just attack our character, in one big, all-encompassing argumentum ad hominem?

Of course there are pro-independence people who make poor arguments for our case, whose poorly-constructed ramblings are an embarrassment to the rest of us who try to take part in reasoned debate, and whose views are just completely unattached to reality. But this is not unique to nationalism, and to pretend otherwise is completely disingenuous. It is time for unionists to start facing our arguments head-on, and to stop using smears and lies to try to undermine our case. If they cannot do so, then it is difficult not to take this as a silent acknowledgement that they have no substance to back their arguments, and that the "Positive Case for the Union" does indeed consist entirely of "BUT MUMMY I DON'T WANT TO LEAVE!!!!"


  1. 'which merely apes the "divorce" metaphor' Err no she explicty compared the 'Union' to an overbearing male(ENGLAND) dominating a free spirited female Scotland.

    As for the case for the 'Union' I refer you to Alex Salmond whose mission in life seems to be saying how much of the Union we will keep.
    And how little will change between Scotland and the rest of the UK after Independence.

  2. I haven't been on here before, but I'm looking in to say how much I agree with these comments. When Douglas Fraser left the Herald citing the "vermin" who populated the comments that were appended to his articles I remember a wee chill on the hairs of my neck - anyone familiar with Nazi anti-Jewish propaganda of the '30s might have had the same. We've had outrageous slurs on Salmond and the SNP generally, and let's not forget that the Ian Davidson threatening Eilidh Whiteford situation has never been resolved - far more serious than any online insults but something those who fabricate and complain about "cybernats" show no interest in whatsoever.

    Ridicule nationalists, shout them down (see House of Commons for further details), dehumanise them - anything goes except respectful and reasoned argument it seems. I was hugely disappointed with Ian Smart. I thought he was one of the good guys!

  3. Ian Smart is a totally biased clown!