By Jason Michael

Scotland’s unionist press is still banging on about “cybernats” while pretending that unionists don’t actually assault Yessers, issue death threats, and send packages of suspicious white powder to SNP constituency offices.

Everyone who knows anything about Scottish social media knows that “cybernats” – pro-independence social media users – are uniquely nasty, twisted, and evil. Scottish nationalists, separatists, and independentistas of whatever political colour hold an absolute monopoly on the use of foul language. Everyone in the United Kingdom knows this because the BBC and the British mainstream media – unionist media being practically the only show in town – make sure that everyone knows how dangerous, threatening, and vile cybernats are.

It comes as no shock then to read Ross McCafferty’s handy analysis last week in The Scotsman, “How big a problem are ‘cybernats’ for the SNP?” Alyn Smith has called for a code of conduct in the Scottish National Party to deal with party members found to be guilty of abusive behaviour and trolling online. Naturally McCafferty’s discussion is focused entirely on nationalists, even though his subheading acknowledges the existence of “Unionist equivalents.”

Social media presents a serious challenge to global political establishments because it equalises and fully democratises political discussion and opinion, pushing governments around the world – including the United States and the United Kingdom – to seek greater restrictions on access to the internet. “Cybernats,” a term deliberately coined and deployed to carry all the connotations of Nazism and vermin, behind their often anonymous profiles, are Scottish voters and members of the public. Collectively they embody the real grassroots of Scottish society, and thus give the lie to unionists’ claim to represent the opinion of real Scots. Unionism does not like cybernats.

What and who is a cybernat? In a word: everyone. Well, every independence supporters with an internet connection. It’s not the same as “troll.” Had the PR companies and hired astroturfers behind the Better Together campaign meant troll they would have used troll. As a compound of “cyber” and “nationalist” it was calculated to slight and delegitimise Yes supporters’ online activism in the broadest and most comprehensive way possible. The No campaign was run off the park online, and so the invention of the cybernat as a tactic became a political necessity. It became a favourite term of abuse levelled by the British media against all online pro-independence activity.

Had Better Together’s complaint be about trolling – of which these is no shortage online – it would have quickly blown up in its face. Unionists have been relentless trolls. Jill Stephenson, for example, a retired professor of Nazi German history at Edinburgh University, has been consistent in her classist, homophobic, sectarian anti-Catholic, xenophobic, and racist abuse of Yessers online. Yet never once has she been called out for her atrocious behaviour by the press. Instead she is a regular columnist and letters contributor to a number of high profile papers including The Scotsman and The Independent.

There is no need for a crackdown on “cybernats,” just as there is no need for a crackdown on our access to the internet. Free and open discussion on and off line is essential to the good functioning of any democracy. Alyn Smith’s proposal to sanction SNP members caught abusing others online is only to be welcomed. Nationalists are perhaps the most keen in Scotland to see the level of political discussion raised a notch or two, as – when it comes to crime and violence off-line – the unionists have shown themselves to be quite the monopolists with their violent assaults, death threats, and white powder attacks on SNP MP’s and MSP’s constituency offices. But you won’t get the likes of McCafferty calling for a crackdown on that, will you?


“CyberNats Exposed”

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