If you were to believe some of our more excitable unionist friends you would think that we are currently living in some sort of dreadful conflict zone; a fearful, intimidating place, inhabited by ‘vile’ ‘cybernats’ waiting for the next twitter post to crush the ‘yoonionist’ enemy with their insults, barbed comments and parody sites. It’s a world where multi-millionaire business leaders cower behind their B&Q shelters as they remain ever fearful of the ‘Salmond hordes’ that roam the land keeping them from speaking out in support of their treasured union. How can anyone possibly survive this ravaged and divided land?
The truth is that no nation has indulged in a debate about its future as maturely and respectfully as Scotland has, and this is to our immense credit. It is a debate that has gripped and energised the nation, reinvigorated town hall politics with the possible participation of some 80% of our population in the vote itself. The cause of Scottish independence is probably the most peaceful independence movement in history and the police have been barely bothered by the arguments (online or not) far less street demonstrations or violent confrontations. When there have been issues they have been so unusual that they have become a story because of their peculiarity!
Yes, there is some awful stuff said online and I personally wish that it would just stop and that people could be respectful to each others point of view but that is unlikely to happen in a debate where passions are easily aroused with people new to the cut and thrust of political debate. People say some dreadful things from the anonymity of a computer screen but this is a modern phenomena not confined to politics – try taking even a cursory glance at Scottish football sites, particularly involving the Old Firm. Personally I just laugh off the abuse I regularly receive and wonder what on earth it’s trying to achieve and why people bother?
But what the unionists have cutely done is to turn this into an indy ref issue. They have been able to effectively build the caricature of the ‘cybernat’ in an attempt to demonise the whole online Yes community and suggest that all the abuse is down to them. The thing is, if you were to actually examine the evidence, the bulk of the abuse, and particularly the more serious stuff like the FM and DFM’s death threats, comes from those opposing independence. Just put the name ‘Alex Salmond’ into a search, for example, and watch the bile come flooding out.
The Nos and their right wing press ‘cybernat’ witch finder generals don’t care about that side of the equation, though. Unable to find any real sort of ‘dark’ side to our civic, inclusive independence movement they create the ‘cybernat’ as a means to build the picture of the intolerant ‘nationalist’ that inhabits some sort of twilight zone waiting to pounce, bully and silence the innocent, honest voice of the Nos. Assisted by some of the more unhelpful of our online contributors the ‘cybernat’ has almost become an online folk demon with a reputation as fearful as it is exaggerated. The creation of the ‘cybernat’ also serves a much more sinister purpose and that is to attempt to silence criticism of the unionist case. We have next to no support from the main stream media and the arrival of citizen journalism and the many Yes supporting websites has immeasurably helped promote the Yes case. Many of these new commentators are not the polished voices of the MSM and any indiscretion means that they are immediately ostracised and conveniently lumped in the category labelled ‘cybernat’ in an attempt to diminish and undermine their contribution.
But for all their efforts this just passes the public by. They remain bemused by an inconsequential online skirmish that is so far removed from their everyday experience of how the debate is actually being conducted. This is why our debate is so remarkable. Even with all the attempts to try and talk it down and create these online bogeymen the debate about our future remains one of the most positive, exciting and engaging debates that we have ever conducted as a nation. Instead of denigrating this incredible exercise we should all be celebrating it.
There is also all sort of talk about what will happen when the debate is concluded with all the stuff about ‘bringing the nation together’. Where one side will naturally be upset about the outcome of a debate that so much effort has been put into, we as a nation will accept the result and a democratic conclusion. I sincerely believe that we will win the referendum, but if we don’t, the first thing I will do is to write to Alistair Darling and David Cameron congratulating them on their win and offer my support in any initiative to bring everyone together. Maybe if everybody in the front line of the debate could similarly make a pledge to the other side it would help satisfy any concerns that people have about a post referendum rancour.
We are all citizens of this remarkable country and we will work together in the future peacefully and with respect to each other regardless of the result. Let’s show the world that Scotland can do this, and do it well.