Friday, 15 July 2011

The 'SNP bastard traitors' angle and claims of neo-fascism

Last week's post about national identity - and the related notion of identity politics - underlined that such concepts can be used both positively and negatively, and that the tribalistic and often aggressive nature of the beast had been instrumental in alienating me from the whole process, with the UK's partisan politics generally and nationalism in the particular Scottish context often serving to divide rather than unite. Indeed, I should know, having once upon a time been belligerently dismissive of any political outlook inconsistent with my own left leaning worldview, and also perhaps guilty of a Scottish patriotism verging on jingoism.

However, my days of blind political partisanship and a rather crude '90-minute patriot' style are long gone, but before immersing myself in Scotland's online political 'community' a handful of years ago I wasn't really aware of the vehemence and aggression attaching to many of those attempting to further the cause of Scottish nationalism via the internet.

Of course, this is hardly a new phenomenon or what follows a particularly original insight - think Cheesegate, the Wardog scandal and targets like the Scotsman's David Maddox - but the whole so-called cybernat debate was brought into focus by Labour MP Ian Davidson's intemperate "neo-fascist" jibe towards his SNP opponents in the House of Commons a couple of weeks ago, for which he's more recently and rightly apologised.

But despite the excessive nature of the MP's remark, the cybernat phenomenon and attendant debate has certainly never gone away, and indeed it's probably those sort of things that formed the basis of Ian Davidson's remarks. Of course, his problem was not only that he overegged the problem, but also that he picked the wrong targets, since SNP MPs heckling him in the House of Commons are hardly doing anything that parliamentarians of other parties don't do, almost as a matter of course.

And indeed some take exception to the cybernat label and its pejorative connotations merely because they're Scottish Nationalists/nationalists and they happen to operate in an online environment. However, this per se doesn't make someone a cybernat, which instead would seem to entail someone slavishly pro-independence - and, as a corollary, viscerally anti-Union - who fails to engage in substantive debate and instead favours ad hominen, derisive, derogatory and often defamatory attacks rather than statements of fact and fair comment, and who generally operates on an anonymous basis.

Thus over in the generally sober environment of the Scottish Review, columnist Dick Mungin took the cybernats to task in the wake of the Supreme Court affair. SNP MSP Joan McAlpine's assertion that Unionists are anti-Scottish he claims amounts to "insulting rhetoric" which "gives cover to those who use even more abusive language", citing as an example a Newsnet Scotland poster who said of Michael Moore: 'He's a traitor'...'When we get independence this guy should be refused citizenship of Scotland and deported to his Brit nat paradise...He's filth.'

But while Ms McAlpine retorts that Mr Mungin is "as guilty of the same extremism and misrepresentation he accuses others of", on the same page an ex-SNP member opines: "There is a tradition within the SNP of intolerance directed at those who dare to disagree with it."

Mr Mungin in turn says that Ms McAlpine's response "proved the very point I argued in my article", and in the wake of the Ian Davidson affair adds: "The stupidity of that remark was however exceeded by the editors of Newsnet Scotland who headlined the story 'Calls for Ian Davidson to resign after calling almost 1 million Scots neo-fascists'. The result of this example of dog whistle politics was a deluge of outraged readers' comments mostly hurling the usual abuse at 'quislings' and 'Brit-nats' but including one suggesting that those offended might 'pop along to one of his surgeries and discuss it with him. Nae chivs mind'."

Well clearly Mr Mungin missed the likes of the 'quisling traitor' double insult, the occasional allusion or suggestion of taking an, er, undemocratic path to an independent Scotland, or even talk of lampposts being reserved for non-believers.

Then of course there's the often incessant and juvenile references to the physical shortcomings of Unionist politicians which won't be used in relation to a Nationalist politician who is similarly, er, challenged, for example in relation to being overweight. And this also seems to be worse in relation to females, maybe suggesting a degree of misogyny, which in turn perhaps reflects the fact that historically the SNP has proved less attractive to female voters than to men.

There's also the occasional use of the particularly insulting and emotive phrase 'self-loathing' to describe Unionists, which one commenter on Bella Caledonia recently took exception to. And while the Guardian columnist who provoked the claim - in an admittedly ludicrous article - to an extent deserved a degree of derision in response, the attempt to intellectualise the 'self-loathing' jibe - "a wider phenomena in which you internalise shame of your own culture, people, history and prospects" is pathetic, and seems to claim that if you're critical of Scotland then you are suffering from some sort of mental health problem. Which is arguably at least partially racist, and in any case particularly ironic from the kind of people who will shout the r-word or cry 'intolerance' if, for example, someone takes gypsy travellers to task for trashing an illegal camp or indulging in other criminality.

Of course, some of this is so juvenile as to be positively mirth-making, albeit this entailing laughing at the nonsense in question rather than with it.

For example, a commenter on the first part of my recent guest post at Better Nation suggested that the inability of unionists to understand "ridiculously simple" concepts meant that they "are generally of low intelligence, or they just wilfully misconstrue matters for the sake of obfuscation".

Which if the boot was on the other foot might again be considered quasi-racist, but instead of consulting a human rights lawyer I tend to view such insults with the same kind of cringing hilarity with which I might watch a 1970s TV sitcom.

Of course, just like the clever Dick attempt to rationalise the self-loathing insult the author of this latter jibe had his get out clause thought out in advance, thus was charitable enough to conclude that I was an obfuscator rather than an idiot, but that still leaves open his attitude to other non-believers, and of course the commenter's own deliberate attempt to obfuscate did little to hide the thinly-veiled motive, which was simply to insult.

But although I've fortunately not been subject to the same vitriol as some others who are sceptical of the SNP and independence - I like to think that's due to a more measured and civilised approach rather than that this blog isn't considered important enough! - the grosser the insult then the more hilarious I find it, indeed a backhanded compliment. It's the more subtle and intelligent critique that induces an element of self-doubt.

And it's not just to be found in the nether regions of the internet either. For example, I recently came across a columnist in the Edinburgh Evening News who seemed to use uncharacteristically strident language for the MSM - for example that Willie Rennie "comes across on television, however, especially when he is yapping in parliament, as a particularly obnoxious individual, with all the graceless demeanour of Uriah Heep trying to imitate a rottweiler but managing only to resemble an annoyingly snappy whippet" with a concomitant cult-like worship of Alex Salmond - and whose name rung a bell from another journalistic context. Yes, you've guessed - Newsnet Scotland.

Then there are the wilder fringes of nationalism (note small 'n') away from the rough and tumble of the mainstream MacBlogosphere and MSM. There's nationalist legend Ian Hamilton QC, for example. QC, of course, standing for Queen's counsel. So why would an anti-monarchist emphasise this at the top of his blog? Well let's not get too personal, but would the term 'advocate' not be more obviously demonstrative of Mr Hamilton's Scottish republicanism and nationalism, even if it doesn't quite reflect his exalted status in the legal profession?

Anyway, the presumably comfortably off Mr Hamilton advocates things like minutemen marching on the BBC and a TV licence fee boycott, which is a bit of an insult to those of us who have to scrimp and save to pay it, and who try to abide by the law even if we don't particularly like it.

But of course Mr Hamilton had no problem in reverting to the law when his shares in RBS went belly up, albeit that his case was unsuccessful, and that he should have perhaps asked Alex Salmond why he was shortly beforehand bigging up the Scottish banks as "global leaders today, tomorrow and for the long-term" and extolling the virtues of RBS's toxic ABN Amro purchase, which of course was instrumental in RBS's subsequent requirement to be rescued by the UK taxpayer, underlined by a recent Nationalist concession that an independent Scotland couldn't have bailed out the Scottish banks and that assistance would have been required by the jurisdictions in which its worldwide operations were located(!)

Oh aye, back to the subject in hand. An even more extreme form of republican nationalism is evidenced by one contributor to Mr Hamilton's thread, who refers to the Queen's visit to the Scottish Parliament as 'rubbing Scots’ noses in the shite of her rule over Scotland', things like 'scum vermin MSPs who have lied their way into parliament will sit there quietly like wee mice and lap it up like the Queen’s lap-dogs they are' and consequently to 'SNP bastard traitors'. And he even has a rather professional video to get his message across.

And of course his pejorative reference to the SNP underlines the huge caveat to all of the above in relation to the pro-independence movement. Joan McAlpine again: " take anonymous comments from the internet and ascribe these opinions to mainstrean politicians is absurd – it is also a game that everyone can play. As a pro-independence writer I have been subject to all sorts of bile and personal abuse from the very aggressive online unionist community. I wouldn't dream of suggesting that these comments somehow reflect the approach of my parliamentary colleagues on the Labour, Liberal or Conservative benches."

Which is of course perfectly correct - it works both ways. However, the problem for Scottish nationalism - if not the mainstream SNP per se - is that if the internet is representative of real life then the poisonous and absolutist element of the movement is far greater in extent and magnitude as compared to Unionism, even despite the fact that the latter is still better supported by Scottish voters generally.

And indeed in relation to the electorate generally these people are minuscule in number, despite their seeming ubiquity in online Scottish political discourse.

Nevertheless, the simple unpleasantness and autocratic stance emanating from many of these people simply serves to underline my own scepticism towards Scottish nationalism, and indeed what purpose a lot of this stuff is supposed to achieve is difficult to rationalise. Surely it serves to repel rather than attract? Why indulge people who twist their own loathing of those who disagree with their worldview (or perhaps worldview is inappropriate in their insular context!) such that the perceived problem become's their target's self-loathing?

Of course, the hardcore cybernats will presumably be unconcerned about the views of apostates like myself in view of the inevitability of an independent Scotland - like Marx's deterministic view of the ultimate ascendancy of the proletariat - and perhaps we'll just be sent into exile when the promised land is delivered.

And indeed the biggest caveat of all to the whole issue is that neither the likes of myself nor the wilder fringes of cybernattery will be of other than the most marginal relevance to voters generally, as compared to those of us inside the social media political bubble.


Braveheart said...

Davidson was wrong to say what he did, and right to apologise.

To quote Mr Mungin's blog;

‘There is no doubt that the neo-fascist cap does fit those on this site and elsewhere who refer to unionists as quislings or suggest that they are anti-Scottish. Decent nationalists shouldn't tolerate such nonsense,....'

but what constitutes a "decent" nationalist?

In my local newspaper my SNP MSP wrote that "people like (me) loathe the very concept of Scotland", a characterisation that I took to mean that I was in the "quisling/traitor" category as far he was concerned.

Now Ms McAlpine, also an elected SNP MSP, apparently calls non-Nationalists "traitors" on her blog.

It seems that "decent Nationalists" and "Nationalist MSP" are not entirely interchangeable categries.

Or to put that another way: the belief that, if you don't vote nationalist you are somehow not a "true" Scot, is not confined to the fringes of the SNP or the nationalsist community.

It sits in Holyrood and that's a disgrace.

Braveheart said...

"..Dick Mungin took the cybernats to task in the wake of the Supreme Court affair. SNP MSP Joan McAlpine's assertion that Unionists are anti-Scottish..."

I've looked on Joan McAlpine's blog and I cannot find the bit where she says that unionsts are anti-Scottish.

can yu post a link please..

Anonymous said...

When will MSPs admit they were conned by the zealots.

Angus McLellan said...

You've hit the nail on the head with the last paragraph of this piece. Otherwise it's largely a case of 'move along, nothing to see'.

I am not a fan when it comes to characterising opponents of independence (or devolution) as quislings, traitors and the rest. But neo-fascism it isn't, just laziness. The danger is that these labels are very much of the thought terminating cliche variety. They may be useful in motivating the believers and, frankly my dear, I really don't give a damn if Unionist politicians and pundits are offended. I do care a great deal if potential converts to the cause might be alienated, which is probably the case.

But Braveheart is imagining things. The only use of the words "traitor" or "traitors" Google finds on Ms McAlpine's blog is in relation to Ramsay MacDonald joining the National Government. Adding "apparently" to a factually incorrect claim (or "lie" as some might say) doesn't make it all better. And on the good old principle of "falsus in unum falsus in omnium", one might question the reliability of the unsourced quote attributed to a nameless MSP. I could claim that this says something about Unionists, but what it really speaks to is the dismal standards of debate. As someone once said, "It is amazing what you can discover ... when you are willing to just make stuff up."

Braveheart said...

Angus, you're right. I shouldn't have used the word "traitor". It seems she is accused of using the phrase "anti-Scottish", which is a politer version of "traitor".

But I can't find that either...

But I did not imagine that an SNP MSP said that people like me hate the very concept of Scotland and if Joan McAlpine actually did say that non-nationalists are anti-Scottish, then the attitude is at the highest elected level of SNP politicians.

barbarian said...

Newsnet will have to be a bit careful. Many insults are thrown at unionist politicians without any thought of the damage this could cause. Jackie Baillie especially has been a target for what is childish humour.

Is McAlpine has been describing those who do not vote SNP as "not true Scots", them she should make an appearance on the next QT in Glasgow to explain why she says this.

Or better still, at next FMQs someone should raise this as an issue. There is no place in government for such views.

Someone should explain to Ms McAlpine that as an MSP, she was elected to serve EVERYONE, not just those she considers to be "true Scots".

Independence for Scotland said...


Stuart Winton said...


Regarding Joan McAlpine's claim, I was merely quoting Dick Mungin and her response thereto (accusing him of 'misrepresentation') and I provided the links so that anyone interested could examine the nuances of the debate themselves.

However, the two may be slightly at cross purposes since Ms McAlpine seems to refer to her blogpost on Unionists retreating to the Laager and her related Scotsman article while Mr Mungin seems to be referring primarily to another blogpost called the "Oscars of independence" in which she says:

"But this category of Scottish Unionist died with Dewar and Buchan. The current generation see assertions of national identity as means of encouraging the SNP. They are therefore anti-Scottish, a magnification of the old cringe, dismissing our own history and culture as provincial and secondary."

Indeed, in her response in the Scottish Review she also says:

"The piece argues that while in the past there were staunch unionists who were nevertheless passionate about Scotland and its culture, today's unionist parties are so driven by opposition to the SNP, they adopt anti-Scottish positions."

On the other hand she also refers to a strand of unionism - 'ultra unionism' or 'fundamentalism' - in her Scotsman and laager pieces, but doesn't use this nuance in her Oscars post, thus referring to Unionism generally.

Stuart Winton said...

Angus wrote:

"But neo-fascism it isn't, just laziness."

Generally agree with your first claim, but your alternative is equally crude and can't credibly be used to explain or excuse the whole thing, surely?

"I really don't give a damn if Unionist politicians and pundits are offended."

So you don't give a damn if opponents are gratuitously offended by 'laziness' (putting it as charitably as possible). Pehaps you're QEDing the essential point being made?

"I do care a great deal if potential converts to the cause might be alienated, which is probably the case."

So you don't equate 'potential converts' to unionism then?

Funny, since others seem to call anyone who isn't pro-independence a unionist. But as regards myself, it's not a label I would subscribe to, despite being an independence sceptic.

Braveheart said...

Thanks Stuart

and I agree wholrheartedly with you response to Angus. In attempting to oppose, he makes your case.

Angus McLellan said...

Stuart, "potential converts" seemed fairly self-explanatory to me but I can expand on that. Michael Moore plainly isn't going to think again but Tom Harris was reported as saying that he might and anyone who remains undecided or wavering obviously will think it over before the time comes to vote. A majority of Scots then, many of whom will presently be minded to put their mark in the box which indicates support for continuing the Union (so, unionists then).

It is indeed laziness to apply what are no more than crude political swear-words to opponents. Not only is it obviously untrue to describe any significant body of unionist or nationalist opinion as neo-fascist, it deprives us of a perfectly good term which describes something- neo-fascism - for which alternatives are lacking. Yet again, this kind of thing says more about the low standards of debate than anything else. Lamentable, certainly; sinister, probably not.

I'm sure you could reach all manner of conclusions by studying my admitted taste for schadenfreude. They'd probably be wrong though. One of the highlights of my day lately has been a visit to 'Awkward Ed Miliband Moments'. Cruel, but fun. If only there had been something similar when Brown was PM.

Stuart Winton said...

Angus, I don't really see it as just down to laziness or a lamentable level of debate. It may not be particularly sinister, but there's certainly a degree of nastiness there which, let's face it, if the public were exposed to in the MSM - in a televised leaders' debate, say - then it would cost the party in question a lot of votes.

It might appeal to the like-minded individuals who flock birds of a feather-like to certain blogs and websites, but politicians know that the public don't like the more extreme and conflictual language, hence the politicians in the main don't use it, and grab the negative headlines when they do.

Which is why you won't get any mainstream politician to defend it, hence the stushie regarding Ian Davidson's remark and the fact that even Labour brought him to book over it.

However, something like laziness might help rationalise the likes of a lack of proper punctuation in many of the contributions - some people just can't be bothered - but thinly-veiled and not so thinly-vieled abuse is a different matter.

Of course, we all say things in the heat of the matter, which might help explain - if not excuse - Ian Davidson's outburst, but as regards the social media it's sustained and (usually) unspontaneous, so that excuse isn't really appropriate.

Of course, we all have different approaches on what's acceptable in such discourse and in particular environments, which might explain our difference of opinion here.

As regards the Ed Miliband site, it seems more like a funny caption site than akward moments, but each to his own!!