Thursday, February 16, 2012

For the attention of George Robertson : a cut-out-and-keep guide to the difference between Cybernattery and fair comment

Not too long before Tom Harris made his infamous Downfall video about Joan McAlpine (which with delicious irony triggered his own downfall rather than hers), the two parliamentarians had an exchange on Twitter about 'Cybernats'. I can't recall the exact words used, but basically Joan was pointing out that there were just as many online unionists making abusive comments about the SNP, which led to a typical Harris Harrumph as he said something like this : "Oh yes, Joan. The problem here is too many unionists being horrid to the SNP on the internet. Dear God." The fact that the observation was intended to be sarcastic didn't make it any the less true - the abuse from one side of the divide is no more or less of a problem than abuse from the other side.

It reminded me of an interview John Major gave on daytime television as Prime Minister, when he defended his party's obsession with "pro-Labour bias" at the BBC. The interviewer pointed out to him that there had been a poll showing that the public felt that the BBC were in fact biased towards the Tories. Major laughed, and said with an air of incredulity "well, I'd be interested to see the poll". But of course the poll existed, was a serious one, and reflected what people really thought. The Tories had made the mistake of buying into their own mythology, and couldn't believe that the public at large were capable of seeing beyond it. So it is now with the unionist parties and the 'Cybernat' mythology - what the public actually see on online forums is unacceptable language being used by all sides of the political debate, not just one.

So George Robertson is whistling in the wind with his latest rant about Cybernats, although what leapt out at me more was the paragraph in which he gave examples of the 'vile language' that had been used about him, which represented a brazen attempt to lump together lots of genuinely abusive language with quite a bit of absolutely fair comment, and to paint it all as being one and the same thing. For George's benefit, here is a cut-out-and-keep guide to the difference. An important disclaimer : the observations that potentially belong in the 'fair comment' category are of course still very blunt and derisively expressed, and wouldn't wisely be uttered by a representative of the SNP itself. But of course they weren't - and neither George nor anyone else knows whether they were even made by card-carrying members of the SNP. And to answer your question, George, that's why comments on online forums aren't usually disowned by political parties - they were never 'owned' by those parties in the first place.

'Robertson is an idiotic, pompous traitor to Scotland and the Scots' - ABUSIVE.

'the vermin who inhabit the House of Lords' - ABUSIVE.

'establishment lackey' - Derisive, but hardly an unusual use of language, and with a serious point to make.

'Westminster traitor-jock-Lords' - ABUSIVE.

'keep his Westminster polished nose out of Scottish politics' - A bit rude, but if Robertson can't cope with this on an online forum he's in the wrong trade.

'two-faced liars and deceivers' - ABUSIVE.

'unelected hypocrite' - Well, Robertson certainly is unelected, and it's scarcely beyond the pale (outside the confines of parliament) to accuse a politician of hypocrisy. It's probably better to say someone is 'being hypocritical' rather than directly calling them a 'hypocrite', but there's a potentially legitimate point here, rather than a mindless insult. Borderline.

'American puppet' - FAIR COMMENT. For heaven's sake, George, you were one of Tony Blair's Defence Secretaries - that's practically the dictionary definition of 'American puppet'.

'inbred arthritic Labrador attempting to complete the Total Wipeout course' - Highly abusive, but special dispensation for also being extremely funny.

'Lord Gormless' - Abusive, but most seven-year-olds have to put up with playground taunts far worse than that.

'yoos Unionist trash' - ABUSIVE.


  1. You have had worse on PB.

  2. 'inbred arthritic Labrador attempting to complete the Total Wipeout course'

    just lolville

  3. The problem is that unionists are convinced it is their RIGHT to be abusive to Nationalists. How dare anyone complain when they compare Alex Salmond to Hitler or Mugabi (and the implied insult to the Scottish electorate). They consider that normal discourse.

  4. George Robertson wrote an article in Scottish Review about the cybernats in which he said a number of highly offensive things including this:

    “I often joke that after my four-year stint as Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, everything else – the Balkans, 9/11, Macedonia, Russia, Saddam – was a piece of cake. After all whatever you say about Milosovic and his poisonous crew they never pretended that they were on your side”.

    The sad thing is that he will never understand just how offensive that is.

  5. But funny, for which James gives special dispensation

  6. "inbred arthritic Labrador"

    "ethnic cleansing dictator"

    Er, sorry John, not quite seeing the comparison in the hilarity stakes there.