I welcome Nicola Sturgeon’s recognition that some of her party members are abusive and intolerant. As somebody who is politically active, I have seen this abuse first hand.
The very first referendum 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 that a pro-independence website had asked its nationalist readership to photograph us.
My next brush with the ugly face 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 the NHS. Within 24 hours a pro-independence website had dedicated a page to me – including details of where I work and my contact details. Almost immediately, I was being emailed abuse by “cybernats”, with some even asking my employer to sack me.
My story is not unusual. The final months of the referendum campaign saw many people like me being attacked simply for daring to express an opinion, with those perpetrating the attacks often hiding behind anonymous internet accounts.
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. Outside the venue there was a nationalist mob, at least some of whom were SNP party members. Intimidation was their tactic. They angrily waved saltires, screamed “Red Tories Out” and swore in the faces of those attending the event. One protester took a close-up picture of every single person who entered the venue – men, women and children.
My most recent encounter with cybernats came during a BBC debate in Edinburgh where I had a chance to make a legitimate point to Nicola Sturgeon about her party voting against the living wage. 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.
These experiences tell me that Ms Sturgeon must do more to control her support and ensure tolerance, pluralism and respect guides the politics of the SNP grassroots.