I would have liked to title this blog I Was a Teenage Cybernat – just like the ‘B’ movies of the 1970s – but I wasn’t, because I wasn’t a nationalist back then and there was no cyberspace outside of science fiction.
But now I must acknowledge the fact – I am what I am – a nationalist who uses cyberspace to try and get the independence message across. These days just about everyone under forty-five is a cyber-something-or-other, together with an increasing percentage of the older population.
The term is used pejoratively, like separatist, to beg the question, i.e. try to induce a conclusion without advancing any evidence. It is an attempt to stereotype a group, a class – rather like racist terminology.
It has been used in many ways, but rather spectacularly this week to justify the use of racist terminology on Twitter – a kind of double whammy.
The Ian Smart Affair doesn’t have the memorable theme song of The Thomas Crown Affair, nor the charismatic, glamorous leading man (if it had, it would be The Wind Turbines that upset the Nimbys) but it has Byzantine twists and turns to the plot that would have stretched the credibility of a Hollywood scriptwriter, with unlikely critics, allies, heroes, heroines and villains. The stellar cast included a Scottish Labour Lord and former First Minister of Scotland, a radio phone-in host, the indomitable – and anonymous - Gordon of Dundee, a host of powerful women, a quite a few spear carriers like myself – bit players in the drama – and mighty BBC.
Since the protagonist is a lawyer, well-connected and a past President of the Law Society of Scotland, I must choose my words carefully in describing the events that followed a tweet by Ian Smart. I don’t intend to go over the tweet and the ones that followed it – they’re all a matter of record – other than to say Ian Smart’s intention appeared to be to suggest that attacks by fellow Scots on two ethnic groups - members of the Scottish Polish and Pakistani community - would follow if an independent Scotland did not prosper economically.
This tweet was picked up by a number of late evening tweeters, including myself, who after initial horrified astonishment, tried to persuade Ian Smart to delete the offending words, something he was patently not prepared to do at that point.
What followed over subsequent days served to highlight the complexities of the great independence debate, and in particular, differences of opinion on how those committed to independence should react to the Smart tweets. I would identify three main strands in this – those who felt that it was a significant event and must be countered forcefully, those who felt that it should be ignored so as not to frighten the horses, and voices from Women for Independence who felt that acrimonious exchanges that were predominantly – but not exclusively – male (there was talk of testosterone in the air!) served as a turn-off to the female demographic among the Scottish electorate, a group that is vital to a YES vote.
(The little that’s left of my testosterone was pumping as best it could, and I was – and am – firmly in the counter forcefully brigade.)
By any normal journalistic standards, this was a story, and a story with legs. But normal journalistic standards rarely prevail in the pre-independence Scottish media, and I and others feared the worst. It was pretty evident that a dilemma existed for the Better Together media, or at least those embedded within in it in various roles ranging from proprietors through producers and editors to media presenters and journalists, namely, that the villains in cyberspace were firmly cast as nationalists – independence supporters – the cybernats – and Unionist Central Casting would be reluctant to induct a prominent member of the No Campaign into the plot as a villain. Quite simply, it didn’t fit the script …
So, fending off as best I could suggestions and mini-attacks from what I had thought of as my own side, I waited for the media. In one sense, I was pleasantly surprised!
Four newspapers carried the story – on 7th May, the Scottish Sun, the Scottish Express and eventually today the Herald and The Scotsman. Last night, Scotland Tonight carried the item in a discussion between Ian Smart and Natalie McGarry. Most bizarrely, Call Kaye carried the item inadvertently, to the evident horror of Kaye Adams, thanks to the formidable Gordon of Dundee, a caller who intended to do what he thought he had been invited on air to do – talk about the implications of prominent figures in Scottish Society behaving badly.
Kaye Adams, who has been presenting her BBC phone-in programme five days a week for many years, and is a presumably a weel-kent frequenter of BBC studios, said she didn’t know Ian Smart - a prominent lawyer, former President of the Scottish Law Society, Labour activist and frequent presence on BBC programmes such as Newsnight Scotland.
BBC Scotland, astonishingly to me, but all too predictably to its many critics, appears to have considered the story as either being beneath its notice, or beyond the pale for some other reason. I could, of course, have missed some vital news item of discussion …