On Abuse of Politicians
02 June 2018
I've not blogged much since my ill-fated prediction that Tim Farron would win the last election, but a Twitter conversation last night has spurred me into action.
As I've mentioned before, I try to follow a wide variety of people on Twitter - supporters and opponents of independence, some (on both sides) thoughtful and measured, others (on both sides) not so much. If you don't make an effort to follow different viewpoints you'll get a false view of the world.
Anyway, Scottish political Twitter has been exercised over the last day or two by a story about a taxi firm in Dumfries. Whoever runs their Facebook account decided to post a picture of Nicola Sturgeon photoshopped as Wee Jimmy Krankie. This has lead to much uproar from her supporters and calls to boycott the firm.
I decided to get involved by joining a thread about it - I tried to make my point in 280 characters, but very quickly found myself in a minority of one. So I'll try to explain my views at more length here.
This blog post isn't about boycotting the firm, but in the conversation last night it became clear that many of the unionists I was talking to know wanted to know my opinion. Boycotts can be a good thing - if you're running a worldwide campaign against, say, Nestlé due to practices you disagree with, a boycott call is perfectly acceptable. If you're campaigning against the Daily Mail by getting their advertisers to boycott them, I'm 100% behind you. But a national newspaper calling for a boycott of a small company who say something stupid on Facebook? Nah, that's not propotionate and I don't agree with it. Having said that, I've not found that the National actually has done so, they've just reported on the story.
That's not to say that individual people shouldn't take their business to a different cab firm if they're offended by the post - of course we can all decide which companies we give our money to for pretty much any reason we want. So that's my position on boycotts.
The thread on Twitter which I joined was one between some unionists who I follow complaining about calls for a boycott and fake reviews for the company over what they described as 'criticism' of the First Minister, or a 'mild joke'. That's what got me angry. As I've mentioned above, I follow thoughtful unionists and kneejerk ones - I'd expect no better from the latter, but in this case it was a conversation between two of the former - Gavin Hamilton and Alastair Cameron, both of whom's arguments I respect even whilst disagreeing with them.
Gavin seemed to think that portraying Nicola Sturgeon as Jimmy Krankie was 'criticism', and Alastair called it a 'mild joke'. There is no conceivable way you can call this 'criticism'. Just maybe, you can consider it a 'mild joke', but the problem with that is that in 99% of cases when this 'joke' is invoked, it's not done with the intention of being funny.
Since at least 2010 Twitter has been full of anti-SNP folk using this comparision - scroll through a few pages of this stuff and you'll see lots of examples. Over the years there are probably countless thousands of examples of this - it's not 'criticism', it's bullying which wouldn't be accepted in other circles. It's abuse.
I'm confident that neither Gavin nor Alastair genuinely believe that using a politician's appearance against them is an acceptable part of politics today, but they seem to want to defend it in this case.
Alastair refers to the portrayal of John Major on Spitting Image as 'the grey man' as an example of why we should accept this abuse. It's debateable whether that was a reflection of Major's looks, but even if we accept that, Spitting Image was a show in the late '80s and early '90s, when many of us were still making jokes about the Irish, the Jews or about peoples' sexuality. Times have changed and we should be changing too.
Would my own timeline stand up to scrutiny on this basis? I hope so, but I can't guarantee it. I think we should all be looking at how we behave, what we say and how we deal with what other people say.
Nicola Sturgeon is the main target for this type of abuse in Scottish politics today, but of course she's not the only one, and the culprits are not in any way restricted to the No side of the independence debate. Let's try to persuade those we deal with on social media to stop.