So Bella Caledonia
's future seems secure after all, without even needing to take up Craig Murray's offer to work as editor for free (although, after the overwhelming result of our poll the other night
, Craig will forever be known as "the people's choice for Bella
editor"!). From my reading of the announcement, it seems that Mike Small will continue as editor, but only for a transitional period while new arrangements are put in place. I suspect that even Bella
's most trenchant critics will be happy enough with the outcome, because most of them regard 80-90% of the site's output as exceptionally good - it's just been the editorial stance in respect of RISE and tactical voting (and the denials that there has been any editorial stance on those subjects at all) that has got quite a few backs up.
With a localised crisis having been averted, this may be a useful moment to reflect on the broader state of the pro-independence alternative media as we approach a probable (admittedly not certain) independence referendum over the next couple of years. As you may remember me mentioning, about three months ago I was invited to a 'separatist dinner' along with a number of other Yes people who have a decent following on social media or in the blogosphere. One purpose of the event was to have a collective think about how we might go about neutralising the problem of what our opponents would describe as 'Cybernat abuse' during the next referendum. I don't think there was any intention to deny the fact that abuse from the unionist side is either equally bad or in some cases much worse. There was simply a feeling that if we could find a practical way of reducing the problem on our own side, it would be a good thing in itself and also helpful for the Yes campaign.
I was, I must admit, a wee bit sceptical about how effective a 'disapproval of community elders' approach can ever be. Really hardcore abusive trolls are not going to be impressed by that sort of thing, and may become even worse if they feel persecuted by both sides. But if it is to have any chance at all of working, there would have to be a reasonably united front, and that's where the idea really starts to fall down. Ironically, a few of the people who were at that dinner, including myself, have since ended up having bitter disputes with each other on social media - not necessarily abusive disputes, but certainly very unpleasant. So there's a part of me that's inclined to say : to hell with clearing out the nutter trolls, the first priority has got to be to stop ourselves from damaging the cause by knocking lumps out of each other. The disagreements are probably not doing any harm at the moment, but in the heat of battle it could be a very different story.
As a result of the Bella
crisis, GA Ponsonby has reiterated a vision of a united pro-indy alternative media that he's outlined before - as I understand it, the proposal is that there should be a pan-Yes co-operative with a central fund to aid all writers who need to be compensated for their time and effort. I struggle to see how that would work in practice, because if absolutely anyone could access the fund for absolutely any form of writing, the money would often not go to the best use. But as soon as you bow to the inevitable and introduce editorial control, you're assuming that all parts of the Yes movement are capable of treating each other with mutual respect and tolerance, without trying to silence certain voices or shut down certain views. I have to say that I feel my own experiences over the last few days have tested that assumption to destruction.
As long-term readers know, I'm about as left-wing as they come, and when I fill out 'Political Compass'-type questionnaires, they often end up telling me that my own politics are actually closest to the Greens rather than to the SNP. So in theory at least, I should have a great deal of common ground with people involved at CommonSpace
, or in the Greens, or in RISE. But one reason I'm not a Green, of course, is that I regard independence as an overriding objective on its own merits. No-one could ever reasonably dispute the authenticity of Patrick Harvie's commitment to independence, but it's not what brought him in to politics. Many people in the radical left parties are, quite understandably, most passionate about the environment, or about citizen's income, or about LGBT rights, or about radical feminism.
For the most part that needn't cause any flare-ups, because there's considerable shared ground on many of those issues across the Yes movement. But I think we have to be grown-up enough to recognise that there are some points of contention that 45% of the population (let alone 51%) are never going to be able to resolve amongst themselves or reach a shared view about. Radical feminist ideology is one obvious example. Please note that I'm using the term 'radical feminism' advisedly - I'm not referring to a belief in equality between the sexes, which in this day and age is a shared value across the vast bulk of the political left, and most of the political right as well. Radical feminism goes well beyond that, with some strains of the ideology regarding women as the inherently superior gender. (Even when that view is not expressed explictly, it's betrayed by the constant spitting out of words and phrases such as "mansplaining" and "what about teh menz", which frame the word "man" as if it's somehow derogatory. It would never be regarded as acceptable to use the word "woman" in the same way.) Self-evidently, that worldview is not one that's shared by the great mass of the population, either female or male. It is therefore totally unrealistic to expect the Yes movement, which ultimately is drawn from that population, to speak with a single voice on the issue.
So what is the test of tolerance and mutual respect here? I'd suggest there are two approaches that ought to allow people with diverging views to rub along with each other. One is just not to engage with each other at all on the subject, and the other is to engage in a comradely way that acknowledges the right of the other person to hold an alternative position. Several people involved with CommonSpace
(belatedly including the editor herself) failed that test when I dared to express my own view on the John Mason episode the other day. Instead of debating or challenging my views in the normal way, they tried to shut those views down and pathologise them - and indeed to pathologise me. I was a mentally unstable, "weird", "creepy", "auld guy", who was "harassing younger women" simply by speaking to them as I would speak to anyone else, and who wasn't respecting their right to withhold "consent" (the latter being a cowardly way of implying that answering them back was somehow equivalent to sexual harassment or rape). I should have just "shut up". Make no mistake about it - I thought that use of language was disgraceful at the time, and with the benefit of having had plenty of time to reflect on it in the cold light of day, I still think it's disgraceful now. I know that quite a few other people received similar treatment. What I find disturbing is not so much that I will almost certainly never receive an apology, but that the people involved probably don't even privately have the first glimmer of understanding of why using those words about another human being, whether female or male, is dehumanising and profoundly hurtful.
Depressingly, I therefore see no prospect of there ever being sufficient mutual respect and tolerance across the Yes movement for it to be possible for particularly sensitive and contentious topics that don't directly relate to independence to be openly debated in a constructive and comradely way. So to avoid harmful disputes, perhaps what we need to do is just embrace the fact that in many cases we're in this game for very different reasons - in the terminology of warfare, we're 'co-belligerents' rather than 'allies', with independence being the common objective. As far as the alternative pro-indy media is concerned, we can certainly complement each other and make sure we don't tread on each other's toes as the referendum gets close - for example, the radical left can recognise that Wings
reaches a great many people that CommonSpace
never will, and vice versa. But even that will require a kind of grudging mutual respect - an acceptance, even if it's never spoken aloud, that the bits of the pro-indy media you personally dislike are nevertheless part of the solution in hard-headed electoral terms, rather than part of the problem. That more limited mutual respect isn't there yet (witness the latest attempts to brand the huge popularity of Wings
as "problematic"), but it's a more realistic goal, and I think that's probably what we should be working towards.