I grew up in a single parent family in one of the most deprived areas in Scotland during the Thatcher years. Education and support of a loving family was what enabled me to now lead a relatively comfortable life. As was the case for many Scots, the independence referendum forced me to think carefully about my values and what kind of country will ensure young working class Scots had the same opportunities I had.
Last year when I looked at the SNP’s record in government, particularly on education, and the economic basis of their argument for independence, I could not conclude that what they offered would improve the lives of ordinary working class Scots. For that reason, I volunteered to support the Better Together campaign.
The very first event I took part in involved distributing leaflets at Waverley station with 10-15 other people ranging from students to senior citizens. We quite quickly discovered the pro-independence website Wings Over Scotland had asked its nationalist readership to photograph us. Although this was not illegal, many of the volunteers did find it intimidating.
My next brush with the ugly side of nationalism came when I was in the audience of a TV debate. During the show I was given the opportunity to ask John Swinney about the poor record of the SNP in funding and managing the NHS. Within 24 hours Wings Over Scotland had dedicated a page to me – including details of where I work, my email address and telephone number. Almost immediately, I was being emailed abuse by “cybernats”, with some even asking my employer to sack me.
The article on Wings Over Scotland was fantasy. It ranged from saying I had been planted in the audience to claiming I had tried to pass myself off to the BBC as an undecided voter. As these arguments fell apart the content was removed, but I received no apology. Eventually all that remained is text suggesting that I had sinister motives for openly having 3 Twitter accounts (work, personal & referendum). I can’t set the record straight on this as Wings Over Scotland offers no right of reply.
My story is not unusual. The final six months of the referendum campaign saw many people like me being attacked simply for daring to express an opinion. Just as with me, the attacks are hate filled and often simply designed to humiliate and intimidate, with those perpetrating the attacks often hiding behind anonymous internet accounts. Sad.
The intimidation of those who dare to question the SNP did not end with the referendum. I saw this first hand when I attended a Labour rally in Glasgow last month where Jim Murphy was due to speak alongside Ed Miliband, Margaret Curran and Kezia Dugdale. Outside the leisure centre where the event was taking place a sizeable mob of nationalist protesters, at least some of whom were SNP party members, had formed to welcome those attending the event.
Intimidation was their tactic. They angrily waved saltires, screamed “Red Tories Out” and swore in the faces of those attending the event and families intending to use the swimming pool. One protester took a close-up picture of every single person who entered the venue – men, women and children. Worst of all, I saw one nationalist make a sexual gesture towards a young female Labour Party supporter.
The irony of chanting “Red Tories Out” when Labour is not actually in power in Westminster or Holyrood was clearly lost on this humourless bunch. Likewise, the fact that the SNP apparently wants to work with Labour.
Inside the venue most people were bemused by the protest and grateful for the sizeable police presence. However, some people were clearly shaken and fearful. Children were crying. Personally, I felt a little disappointed that a group driven by hatred and bitterness, not a love for Scotland, were intimidating people whilst waving my country’s flag.
My most recent encounter with cybernats came on Sunday. During the BBC debate in Edinburgh I had a chance to make a legitimate point to Nicola Sturgeon about her party voting against the living wage five times. Almost instantly I was being attacked online as a “Labour Nazi” and “henchman” who had been “planted in the audience”. Not one of the dozens of comments mentioned the living wage.
I fundamentally believe in freedom of speech. I also have no problem with politicians being heckled where they are avoiding questions or misleading people – it is part of our political culture. However, there is a stark contrast between heckling and shouting people down. Furthermore, the type of personal abuse we are increasingly seeing directed at ordinary Scots by nationalists is sickening. I absolutely accept that the SNP do not organise these attacks on our streets or online, but I also believe that Nicola Sturgeon could do more to stop them. The SNP’s involvement in the attacks against Charlie Kennedy should have been a trigger for action by Nicola Sturgeon. The same could also be said about the comments made by and Michelle Mone.
Even in my own constituency of Edinburgh South the choice in the General Election was between Labour’s Ian Murray, who was attacked by Wings Over Scotland after he mentioned his office was vandalised by nationalists, and an SNP candidate personally endorsed by Nicola Sturgeon who was exposed as using an anonymous internet account to insult people. You can guess who I voted for.