Friday, 26 June 2015

Talking To The Enemy

Who’d have imagined such a day would come?  Stomach-churning angst amongst Yes supporters and celebratory congas throughout Bastardville.  Nicola Sturgeon’s fallen from grace with an almighty splat, and nothing will ever be the same again.  Why, oh why, couldn’t she have given her firm support to the macaroni pie, instead of signing up to the campaign only because it’s what her Dad wanted?

No, wait a minute, that’s not it. It’s unspeakably, horrifically worse than that, worse even than ripping the head off the new Partick Thistle mascot and finding Kaye Adams underneath.  She’s… she’s… (adjusts straitjacket)… written a piece for the Daily Mail!

Gee, thanks, Nicola! Here I am trying to write a knockabout comedy blog that secretly depends on me never saying anything too controversial, and suddenly I’ve got a hugely divisive issue bang in front of me, as unavoidable as a skateboarding hippopotamus singing Moon River.  I don’t know if there’s a section of the humour spectrum between “hardline Cybernat” and “apologist sell-out”, but, with a pile of Setlers on the desk and an unimpeded route to the bathroom, it’s time to find out…

Let’s begin with the known facts, at least in this universe, rather than the parallel one where Katie Hopkins runs a humanitarian NGO.  The Daily Mail is a poisonous, bile-ridden, hate-mongering, rancid, mendacious piece of gut-rot that Satan wouldn’t use as bog-roll for fear of getting a nasty rash.  If I were down to my last tin of Heinz Ravioli, with my wife threatening to change the locks if I didn’t earn some dosh, I still wouldn’t accept money to write for it.  Even if its editor promised to print my piece verbatim, without comment, and let me call it Famous Unionist Wankers.

But what if one of the Mail’s minions doorstepped me before my first coffee of the day, to ask searching questions about my disreputable blog, that time I swore on Twitter and whether I’d ever uttered the merest squeak of pleasure at England losing on penalties, then stuck a camera in my face as I forcefully encouraged him to leave?  And if the paper then printed an exposé entitled Unshaven Racist Potty-Mouth Can Dish It Out But Not Take It, featuring a photo of me as a wild-eyed, aggressive loon with disastrous bridgework?  Wouldn’t I be looking for, and very much entitled to, a Right of Reply?

That’s not quite Nicola’s position, of course, since she’s much too savvy to open the door to anyone before she’s fully explored the coffee-making possibilities of That Awfy Expensive Machine She’s Got.  But I’d say she was certainly entitled to a right of reply, having been monstered the previous day for following people on Twitter and graciously acknowledging their personal Tweets without setting up a full-time monitoring unit to analyse everything else they’d spouted on the Internet before or since.  The smug claptrap merchants at the Mail leapt on it as an “exclusive”, which in one sense it was: by stating her case plainly in her own words, with a backup copy on the SNP web site, Nicola neatly excluded the possibility of some treacherous hack indulging in a bit of textual jiggery-pokery.

Does exercising a right of reply constitute endorsement of the Mail and all its evil machinations?  Well, some say it does, and I’m happy to respect the bojangles out of that viewpoint, but I beg to differ. I suppose it does recognise it as an organ of influence, rather than something that should be cordoned off until the emergency services destroy it in a controlled explosion, but sadly that’s exactly what it is.  Mail readers may not be inclined to put Nicola on a pedestal, unless they’re allowed to stand menacingly around it with firebrands, but that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t at least try to insert whatever sense she can into their craniums.

But is she simply dancing to the Mail’s militaristic tune?  That's a harder question, but it exists independently of her foray into print.  Realpolitik dictates that if a complaint is publicly put to her, and it has any sort of truth in it, she has to be seen to take action. 

Some miscreants – and, so you can start setting up the gunk tank above my head, I’d include in this anyone bad-mouthing Charles Kennedy for his drink problem – deserve all they get, plus the additional sanction of being attached to an arse-kicking machine for a week.  Others - and please excuse the stench of moral relativism, purists, but I’d place Neil Hay of “Paco McSheepie” infamy in this category - have been chucked under the bus on charges that, upon examination, look shakier than a unicyclist juggling a drinks tray.  

I’m not comfortable with that broad-brush splurge, and having to watch, of all scandal-sheets, the DAILY F…F…FESTERING MAIL strut around as the arbiter of what is and isn’t acceptable is like being force-fed a powdered glass smoothie, but I can understand why it happens.   

Incidentally, in case any hypocrisy-sniffers at the Mail feel the urge to trawl through my own Twitter history, I don’t regard following someone as approval of everything they Tweet, I don’t do guilt by association and I’ll make my own grown-up decisions about whom I follow, thanks awfully.  Nicola, alas, doesn’t have that luxury.

In that context, writing the piece she did could be defended as a decent attempt to set out some principles rather than simply getting railroaded every time some numpty from the Mail lobs a “dossier” at her.  Even with my curmudgeonly dungarees and bunnet on, I couldn’t find fault with anything she wrote.  

She wholeheartedly condemned Twitter abuse, as we should all do loudly and consistently. She welcomed properly-conducted debate. She distinguished threats, misogyny, homophobia, racism and other types of vileness from impassioned industrial language. She made it clear she can’t police Twitter single-handedly, but took responsibility for dealing with line-crossers within the SNP and laid down a challenge to other parties to follow suit.

That's the grindingly obvious point, which it’s tedious watching agenda-driven puffballs constantly body-swerve: Internet abuse is a matter for all of us, not simply a partisan plaything.  It ain’t restricted to the SNP, to Scotland or even to politics.  Start a blog about the joys of flower arranging, and before you can hum a chorus of In the Hall of the Mountain King you’ll have a bunch of trolls jostling you, telling you into which graphically-described part of your anatomy to stick your delphiniums.  As a species we haven’t yet worked out how to use pen and ink without spewing venom, so now that we’ve stumbled on a technology that can instantly transmit eye-popping filth anywhere on the planet, what hope have we got?

So we’ve established that Nicola’s statement wasn’t a forelock-tug to the forces of darkness, that it was a reasonable response to “damned-either-way” circumstances, and that its content was just about spot on.  Was it nevertheless a mistake, opening the floodgates for all sorts of trumped-up Sturgeon-must-condemn tomfoolery?  The immediate aftermath may not look terribly encouraging, but remember: the Mail’s dung-beetles have been piling up their evidence for years, so an avalanche of poop was always in the offing.

And here’s another possibility.  Could this, in the longer term, be a masterstroke, in that it motivates us Yes folk not only to tidy up our own behaviour, where that’s needed, but to redouble our efforts to call out the disgraceful slurs incessantly promulgated elsewhere?  And that, self-proclaimed moral guardians of the press, includes not only the Bizarro-world of Twitter, but your own comments sections, and in many cases your very articles.

In the end (the “end” in question being my bahookey, which has several skelfs in it) it’s far too soon to make a judgement on whether Nicola’s intervention was wise or woeful.  I genuinely don’t have a scooby how things will pan out, especially since the Scottish public are no longer passive observers and will have a big say in what happens next.  But, even if it does ultimately prove to be a mistake, come on, guys!  If anyone deserves to be cut some slack, surely Nicola does.

I don’t possess an SNP membership card, but, if I did, the last thing I’d be considering right now is feeding it into the nearest shredder.  I know that some are mulling over that very course of action, but, without wishing to trample over their inalienable right to feel gutted, may I respectfully suggest to them:  gonny no’ dae that?  

Political engagement surely means hanging tough in the difficult times as well as cheering ecstatically at 12,000-seater jamborees.  Doesn’t it?


  1. Excellent echoing my own and I suspect most ("cybernatish") people's views

  2. Sums up my feelings precisely. It's good to preach to the un-converted in the hope that some are convertible.

    The self-righteous indignation of SNP supporters to Nicola's Daily Mail intervention seems, to this puzzled observer, exactly the same kind of faux outrage displayed by the Daily Mail about alleged CyberNats, whilst ignring the even more vile CyberBritNats.

    Even Mahatma Gandhi responded to critics with an article in the Daily Mail in 1931. Have we really put Nicola on a higher pedestal than Gandhi?

  3. Only time will tell. Has she got some quos for her quids? Didn't look like it since the DM and MSM spu it as an admission of SNP guilt.

  4. daily mail

    same day it headlined Nicola Sturgeon cyber-nats

    the article next to it was 50 dogs jump off bridge

  5. Well said. Nicola has the measure of things, people need to trust her judgement.

  6. Well argued and apposite piece. The mainstream rags (and tatters) still haven't got their wee heids round the concept that information which they still see as their own personal preserve is now freely available to all and sundry.

    They were comfortable, over the years, with Them telling Us what they thought we should know, and what to think about it. They still don't know how to cope with stuff like #memogate being debunked before it's even been published, and the current #CurseList which is proving to be a hilarious contribution to Scottish politics from the Labour Party in Scotland, before it even reaches the Mail tomorrow.

  7. Ah nice one William. Funny and bang on the money.

    faux outrage WTF I hate it. Fake .

    Thanks for some humour and sense on the issue. Off to post around the world on my google page.

    Folk need to read this and chill.

  8. That's brought a bit of clarity to the situation for me, which I confess I didn't fully understand - I just saw Sturgeon write in the Mail and thought 'yuk.' Which was always a peril of exercising that right of reply you talk about. Nice piece.

  9. Excellent, as ever. Thanks William.

  10. Nicola entered the camp of the philistine,gave her speech,and returned with integrity and dignity intact.