Neil Mackay: Murdo Fraser’s online trolling sums up the parity of nastiness

UNLESS you’re registering high on psychiatric score-cards for narcissism, psychopathy, latent extremism or just pure-bloody-awfulness, then you’ll probably be of the mind that when it comes to conflict in our lives, the truth is usually found somewhere in the middle.

If you’ve had a row with your partner, there’s a good chance you’re both to blame. If you’ve fallen out with your pal, the likelihood is that the pair of you are at fault. It’s rare in any clash that one side is the thorough-going black-hatted baddie, and the other side a whiter-than-white all-suffering pearl. Morally, most humans are a rather sludgy shade of grey.

When it comes to the issue of abuse and hate around the Scottish constitutional question – back in the spotlight after the harassment handed out to the BBC’s Sarah Smith – this necessary balance, the fact that in life one side is nearly always as bad as the other, goes relatively unmentioned.

There’s a reason for that: most of the folk, with a media platform, who fall victim to online attacks are from the unionist side of the argument. Most commentators across the Scottish press are pro-Union, after all. Clearly, there’s pro-independence commentators – you’re reading one right here – but we’re a slightly rarer species among the flora and fauna of Scottish journalism.

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So, when the issue of online abuse in Scotland is written about, the narrative becomes skewed towards the notion that it’s only “cybernats” on the prowl bringing hate and fear to us poor scribblers. That’s not true. As with all matters in life, the other “side” – the “cyberyoons” (as online unionist extremists are called, and Lord, I hate these cringeworthy terms) – are just as bad.

I’m always loath to use myself as a case study but I reckon in this instance it’s worth breaking a rule because when it comes to digitised hatred in Scotland I get it from all sides. I’m a pro-independence columnist, but I often give the SNP and the Yes movement a hard time – pulling up my own “side” when I think it’s not good enough, and, in particular over the years, calling out the bad online characters bringing the independence campaign into disrepute with trolling, conspiracy, lies, abuse and intimidation. So when I write a piece that’s seen as pro-independence, unionists call me “Sturgeon’s lapdog” or “nationalist scum” (I’m not a nationalist incidentally – loads of Yes voters aren’t) and demand I should be sacked. Then when I write a piece saying the SNP has failed over this policy, or the Yes movement needs to get a grip over that issue, nationalists call me a “traitor” or a “Tory stooge” … and demand I should be sacked.


Sarah Smith complained about the toxicity of the Scottish political discourse

Sarah Smith complained about the toxicity of the Scottish political discourse


So I’ve a rather ecumenical view of the idiots who pervade our political ecosystem: they’re all as bad as each other. The same goes for left and right: there’s as many bullies and psychos who are red as there are true Tory blue.

A neat little vignette last week summed up this parity of nastiness which crosses the political aisle in Scotland. Murdo Fraser, the Tory MSP with an itchy Twitter finger, took to social media denouncing nationalist attacks on Sarah Smith on Wednesday evening, but come Friday afternoon he was acting like an online troll himself tweeting images of the Confederate Flag – you know, the one waved by slavers in the American Civil War – and describing it as the “new logo” of the Scottish Greens. The Byzantine slur related to rather arcane comments made by Green MSP Ross Greer over the whole pensions kerfuffle.

Flip it around, though: imagine the mock outrage, the snowflakey calls for resignations and apologies, that would go up from Tories if Greens (the folk right-wingers continually malign as “Marxists”) had dared use a slave-owning symbol about Mr Fraser or one of his political buddies? Sure, Mr Fraser’s defenders say it was just a joke. Fine, shall we just agree then that everything is “bantz” from now on – especially the next time hate comes the way of Tories?

The answer to my deliberately stupid rhetorical question is clearly “no”. It’s a case of what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. And the bottom line here is that all sides of the political debate in Scotland need to clean up their act, tout suite.

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Many folk in the Yes movement have had it with the hate mob in the pro-indy camp. There’s a new push now – at a grassroots level, because evidently naff all will be done by the SNP to clean up the campaign – to fix what’s gone wrong on the Yes side when it comes to abuse. The Aberdeen Independence Movement, one of the best of the bunch across the spectrum of pro-indy campaigns, has cooked up a “Progress to Yes Pledge”.

It’s asking Yes voters to live up to the standards they espouse. The idea is: if you say you want a better world, then walk the walk don’t just talk the damn talk. The pledge asks people to “reach out, not look inwards”, and “carry out our campaigning in a respectful manner, devoid of any abusive language”. The logic is simple: being a good egg wins people over. Hats off to Aberdeen’s campaigners, they want to make politics better. Only the serially loathsome would sneer.

I’d suggest unionists follow suit and clean house too. No voters wail endlessly about the mote in the eye of the Yes movement without once acknowledging the beam in their own. So, join the Yessers who want to rinse out the sewers. If Britain is great and noble, as unionists believe, then they should emulate that in their own approach to politics.

Look, nobody wants to be a Boy Scout about this. Politics will always involve anger and shouting – none of us is Mother Theresa. We’ll never make politics whiter than white, because politics is just another part of human behaviour and humans aren’t perfect. We’re morally grey. Let’s at least try to get our politics to colour-co-ordinate. Anything is better than the black as pitch flavour of debate in Scotland at the moment.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald

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