by Jason Michael
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Scottish unionism’s dirty little secret from the Better Together campaign is the underreporting of vicious and malicious anti-independence cyber trolling; the government and media establishment’s conspiracy of silence that made the branding of online Yes supporters as bullying and intimidating “Cyber Nats” possible. Regardless of Vonny Moyes’ recent article in the Guardian describing her trepidation at the prospect of another referendum; with all the “vitriol and intimidation” she remembers from the last one, there are few who doubt – with the Yes campaign starting at 50 percent in the polls – that this will be a passionate and gloves-off rematch.
There are many of us veterans of the last independence referendum who lost friends in what was often a nasty and polarising experience for the whole of Scotland. Yes, it was a positive flourishing of our country’s democracy. But we had to earn our stripes, and many of us still bear the scars – the wounded egos, the hurt feelings, the lost and diminished friendships.
Now that we are heading back into that fray many of us share Moyes’ sense of dread, and for good reason. This is not going to be a clean contest. It is well understood that this is an existential conflict for both sides – a Yes vote will toll the bell for the United Kingdom and another No will see the rapid dismantling of Scottish devolution and our absorption back into the Westminster state. In 2012 the London establishment entered into this unwilling to take us seriously. This is no longer the case, and already the unionist machine has hit the ground running.
In terms of intense and robust argument we can expect much of the same, and the pro-British media will of course be coming at us full tilt. To expect that this can be carefully managed, that it will be always and everywhere polite and civil is naïve in the extreme. Theresa May was spot on, for once, when she said that this is “not a game.” Whatever fun and banter we might have along the way – as we did last time round – we all know that this is a deadly serious business. We have every right to be proud of the whole of Scotland’s conduct in the 2014 campaign and we have every reason to believe that we will again rise to the occasion in round two with characteristic peace and good humour, but it is well worth remembering that in other places not too far from Scotland this sort of conflict has led to bloodshed.
This is why we must be very careful and constantly vigilant, because – like it or not – there are actors in this drama who are all too willing to use or instigate violence to achieve their objectives. When we see Yes activists losing the run of themselves; getting into unnecessary and counterproductive heated arguments or abusing people on the other side – all potential Yes voters – we have a duty and an obligation to rein them in. Every independentista who makes a mistake or loses their cool, no matter how insignificant that person may be to the wider campaign, will immediately become a potential example in the British media of typical Cyber Nat behaviour.
We know, however, that this is only a small part of the problem. The real problem is the bias and the liberal use of the “freedom” of the press – a media apparatus that is overwhelmingly on the side of the Union. Our concern is not with the freedom of the press. Our concern – as we have learned from hard experience – is the willingness of this media to use that freedom without the least regard for the responsibility that freedom demands.
It is absolutely clear from the words he was using that Thomas Mair was inspired by the right-wing political and sensationalist media rhetoric of the Brexit debate when he savagely murdered Jo Cox on the street outside her constituency office in West Yorkshire. No politician and no one from the media has been held to account for the passions they so obviously and willingly stirred up during that campaign; everyone hiding behind the nonsense of their freedom of speech without responsibility.
Not forty-eight hours after Nicola Sturgeon announced her intention to seek the consent of the Scottish parliament to discuss the terms of another independence referendum with the British government – in a week in which the disgusting, misogynistic, and violent abuse to which the First Minister has been continually subjected was revealed by the Twitter account “@SturgeonAbuse” – than a British journalist writing for the Telegraph was calling for Ms. Sturgeon’s beheading.
Butterfly Rebellion (@Butterfly_Reb) March 15, 2017
Of course Allison Pearson’s words were only in jest, claiming – as she later did – that the term “‘Off with his head!’ …is often used for comic exaggeration. In pantomime for example.” We can be pretty damn sure that every unhinged and violent British nationalist understood perfectly well what this dog whistle meant. The big giveaway wasn’t her “comic” allusion to the domestic violence of a Punch and Judy performance, but the use in her headline of the words “Nicola Sturgeon is a liar and a traitor.” A traitor to the sacred and deified idol of Great Britain – a blood and soil patriotism that still leads to murder on the streets of England.
Undoubtedly Pearson will now re-emerge on social media claiming to be the poor victim of Cyber Nat bulling after the backlash which her irresponsible words were met with in Scotland yesterday, and this is a pattern we have seen before and one we will see over and again in the coming months. This is a tactic, but it is one that is extremely dangerous and we cannot allow it to go unchecked. We can be absolutely sure that neither the British authorities nor the unionist media will police this carry on. They are instigating it and it suits their purposes. The government in London has shown that it is willing to return Northern Ireland to a state of war to accomplish its half-baked Brexit plan, and so we can no longer trust it to prevent mayhem in Scotland to the end of saving the Union.
From now on we are the police of the media and the establishment, and this comes with an awful responsibility. We are now responsible for developing strategies of resistence that will make it impossible for the British government and its media vehicle to stir up trouble and violence in Scotland. This will not always be a clean or a fair contest – that much is obvious, but we have a responsibility to the debate and to the future of an independent Scotland to ensure that this is a peaceful and calm competition. We owe it to ourselves, to our neighbours and friends, and to our children and all the future generations of our country to make sure this is a bloodless revolution – a Butterfly Rebellion.
The Butterfly Rebellion