The Lunatic Fringe

There was an interesting comment piece in the Sun this week by Andrew Nicoll.

It hails Ross Greer MSP as some sort of messiah for supposedly being the only Yes voter to correctly deduce that abuse is a bad thing.

Here is the article with my take on it.

GREEN MSP Ross Greer is one of the most remarkable people you’ll come across at Holyrood. Not only was he elected to the Scottish Parliament while barely out of short trousers, he is also a proud and public Christian who has spoken in the past about giving it all up for a career switch into the ministry.

Not doing a great job of explaining why Greer is so remarkable there. So he’s a young male church-going politician, whatever next, a pink tap-dancing centaur?

That’s brave enough in the current climate but now he’s gone a step further by daring to call out the “exclusive, aggressive negativity” which has handicapped the independence movement. In particular, he targeted “those who scream ‘Quisling’ at teacakes.”

First, he removed his short trousers, then he contemplated the ministry, then the called out those who scream at unpatriotically labelled confectionary. Clearly, we have a maverick in our midst.

Except that practically everyone in the Yes movement is against online abuse.

Incidentally, nobody has ever provided evidence that the lunatic fringe is damaging the movement. I doubt that they are because most people are smart enough to realise that a fringe is by definition, at the periphery of the body it is attached to.

Not presenting a convincing enough case for independence might be a bigger problem and that’s something I’d rather see Greer spend his time on.

He’s not wrong. But for many in the independence movement, even daring to say that will make him not just a Quisling, but also a heretic.

Most people that were upset by Greer’s intervention were not abusive.

They were just annoyed that his intervention was not just an attack on the Tunnocks botherers. Like a lot of the interventions in the recent Yes silly season spat, Greer was trying to have his cake and eat it. He was trying to appear conciliatory while simultaneously chastising a legitimate part of the Yes movement that doesn’t happen to conform to his vision of what that movement should be. Greer was not alone using this tactic, it was happening on both sides.

There are some vile things lurking not very far in the undergrowth of the movement and they have been given fuel and oxygen by the internet and social media.

What, mutant fire starting ornithologists? There are indeed some abusive Yes supporters as you would expect in a movement of 1.6 million people.

Guess what though, there isn’t much you can do about them. They are beyond reason and they have access to social media and it’s a free country. My strategy is just to ignore them although if they happen to spread abuse on my social media pages I give them a warning before eventually banning them. (Incidentally, Greer himself likened another Yes voter to an IRA member the other day which isn’t what I would consider civil debate).

The truth is though, Greer’s Herald article went further than just singling out purveyors of abuse. He seemed to be saying, I have decided certain opinions are not welcome in my movement and should be vanquished. This is dangerous in my opinion as the Yes movement should reflect Scottish society and should not be sanitised. Ideas need to be out in the open in order for them to be challenged. If you find the opinion of a fellow yesser offensive then, before you demand their excommunication, how about civilly making a counter argument to their point. You might actually find they are not as evil as you think.

People with very fixed opinions and a terrible certainty about the rightness of their views are free to rant and scream at each other, whipping themselves into a frenzy before vomiting their acidic bile over anybody who dares to ask a question.

Greer’s intervention may have been a bit authoritarian for my tastes but I wouldn’t go that far.

Some people make a good living out of it, milking their disciples for cash like American televangelists and they know exactly how hot and hard the preaching has to be to keep the cash flowing in.

Oh, you don’t mean Greer, you mean Stuart Campbell and his followers who were the actual main target of Greer’s original post.

Nobody is going to pay good money to support a mild-mannered forum for reasoned debate. The only thing that sells is the political equivalent of the World Wide Wrestling Federation. The fans want to see the blood! That way madness lies. That way we get to people standing under dripping Saltires outside Tunnock’s bakery calling for a boycott of caramel wafers.

This is a rare paragraph for the Sun as it is actually true and it explains why the Sun is full of tits and drivel.

Yet, nobody would know about the anti-wafer brigade, nor for that matter, the tiny minority of Yes supporters who are actually abusive, if the mainstream media didn’t devote a disproportionate amount of time to publicising them. This article is a prime example of faux moralising while simultaneously giving free publicity to the exact thing it is railing against. Which is exactly how odious half-wits like Katie Hopkins become household names and opinion formers.

As a Scottish Green, Ross Greer, is also an independence supporter. He was part of the Yes movement at the time of the independence referendum and he has the good sense to realise that this kind of googlie-eyed ranting isn’t helping to build support for the cause. Just ask yourself: how many people passing a biscuit picket would stop for a moment and say, “They’ve got a point.” And how many would hurry past saying: “What a bunch of nutters. I’m having nothing to do with those losers.”

That’s why it was a common refrain outside of polling stations on 18/09/2014 to hear people lament that they loved the SNP currency plan and they thought they’d be better off if Scotland were independent, but they voted No against their own best interests after witnessing a deranged man setting fire to a bag of snowballs.

The damned close thing of the referendum result and the huge SNP success that came on the back of that was delivered by a broad coalition of people. It wasn’t the fanatics who produced those results but, for fear of offending the true believers, Nicola Sturgeon has gambled away the support of those who were merely enthusiastic.

The percentage of people who support independence hasn’t changed which is an inconvenient fact that blows that theory out of the water.

Sturgeon doesn’t like fanatics but she is probably sensible enough to realise that they are not exclusive to the Yes movement, they don’t define it, they are not going to affect the result of a referendum and even they are entitled to have a voice. Something the Sun clearly agrees with given the standard of its comment pieces.

Yet, it’s worth stating again that Greer’s intervention wasn’t about the fanatics. It was about him not liking certain viewpoints that some of the people in our broad coalition hold. Views that may not be at the forefront of political correctness but which are not heinous and are quite widely held outside of the Holyrood media bubble.

The truly remarkable thing about Ross Greer’s decision to speak out against offensive fanaticism is that it has fallen to him to do it. A relatively unknown Green — a bloke you’ve probably never even heard of — is the one who has stood up to call these people out and tell them their ridiculous, hurtful, offensive behaviour is unacceptable and damaging to the independence cause.

Has Andrew Nicholl been in coma for three years? There has barely been a person of prominence within the Yes movement who hasn’t called out abusive behaviour. There has been about 500 stop the abuse blogs in the last month alone.

How much better would it have been if Nicola Sturgeon had been the one to do it — if she had told her MSPs to stop feeding the trolls on Twitter, stop retweeting their caustic nonsense, stop friending them on Facebook and start rebuilding from the centre, instead of picking away at an unravelling lunatic fringe.

What if Sturgeon cracked down on cybernats?

Yeh, what a world that would be.

A world in which journalists could do some research and didn’t get paid good money just for smearing newsprint with keich. Sturgeon, like every sane human with a platform, has on numerous occasions called out abuse. Not only that, she has been a constant victim of abuse at the hands of the strangely underreported unionist lunatic fringe.

If the thesis of this article was correct then those unionists threatening to rape and murder Sturgeon would have destroyed the case for union by now. If purveyors of abuse lost elections then we wouldn’t be leaving the EU and we wouldn’t have Trump in the Whitehouse.

The general public is too smart not to vote for their perceived best interests just because a handful of sad cases think that boycotting caramel logs is an act of patriotism. A solitary blogger refusing to use the correct gender pronoun isn’t going to override a Granny’s perception of what will happen to her pension. A five billion tweet philosophical rammy about what qualifies as homophobia isn’t going to register with the average shipbuilder worried about their job prospects in an independent Scotland.

So, let’s just stop all of this nonsense and direct our energy into making the case for independence. Because that is the only thing that is going to win or lose indyref2.

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Bobby Hainey

Joint founder of Autonomyscotland. In my spare time I enjoy Road Cycling, Munro bagging and beer.

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