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By Jason Michael
Police forces around Britain wear a crown in their insignia for a reason. So when we hear of pro-independence activists being arrested – and released without charge – we can take it with a pinch of salt. It’s part of the game.
Wings Over Scotland creator and blogger Stuart Campbell was arrested last Friday by Avon and Somerset Police at the request of the Metropolitan Police in London following a complaint from an unnamed woman. According to various reports in the media this woman in her 30s complained that she had been the subject of abuse and harassment by Campbell over a two year period. Apparently no one informed her that Twitter had a block button. Campbell, however, strenuously denies the allegations, stating that all his tweets are still visible and are not in any way abuse or threatening.
There are at least three possibilities here. One is that Stu has been awfully rude – as he frequently is – to this poor woman and she has overreacted and gone to the police rather than simply block the Wings Twitter account. It is possible, although there is no evidence of it on Twitter, that Campbell has been abusive and threatening. But then it may also be the case that something else, something more sinister is going on. Overreaction is always a possibility. Stuart Campbell can be awfully naughty in his use of the vernacular. Yet in the five or six years I have been following Wings I have never seen him engage in actual harassment or make a single threat.
I know Severin Carrell isn't a Wings fan, but suggesting I've lived in the police station for 26 years is a bit of… twitter.com/i/web/status/9…—
Wings Over Scotland (@WingsScotland) August 22, 2017
When we put all this in the political context of what is happening around Stuart Campbell at the moment, it becomes at least possible that he has become the target of political soft criminalisation. What is this? Criminalisation is the process by which there is a change in legislation making certain actions illegal and therefore punishable by the courts. Soft criminalisation is when the impression of criminality is manufactured – typically with the help of the media – in an effort to inflict legal reputational damage on an opponent – typically a political opponent.
Most recently we witnessed how this was expertly done by the BBC to the SNP MP – now former MP – Michelle Thomson. She had committed no crime, but in the going about of her legal private business as a property developer she employed a solicitor who was later implicated in mortgage fraud entirely unconnected to and unknown by Ms Thomson. Yet her mere association with this man was enough for her unionist political opponents and the British media to set about fictionalising a legal case against her. She was never under suspicion, she was never arrested, and she was never interviewed under caution. None of this mattered. The BBC, in particular, framed its coverage of this story so as to create the impression she had been involved in criminal activity.
Once this impression has been made the victim is criminalised de facto in the court of public opinion. It worried the SNP leadership enough to put pressure on her to quit the party, and has subsequently completely railroaded her political career. This was a job well done by Scotland’s unionists and the British media machine.
Soft criminalisation is a very effective political weapon in the hands of any state establishment, and has been used countless times against people and organisations which have become too great a threat to the status quo. One never needs to break the law to be the target of soft criminalisation and therefore thought a criminal. After all, in a democracy, it is the thought that counts. What the public think – quite independent of the facts – is what credits or discredits people.
We may be under the illusion that our reputations are protected by the law and that false accusations can be proven to be untruths in the courts. They can of course, but what a court finds has no bearing on what the media choose to report. The accusation can make headlines; emblazoned on the front page of every newspaper in the land, the lead story on all news broadcasts, while the eventual decision of the court can go unreported or misreported – as was the case with Michelle Thomson. If the papers make a [deliberate] mistake, retractions can be printed months afterwards in small print on page whatever – only, not the front page.
No charges need to be brought against Stuart Campbell. The police can investigate and find the accusations to be utterly spurious. This doesn’t matter; the headlines have already been printed and read. The damage – insofar as his credibility is concerned over the rest of Scotland and the UK – is already done, and there is no way for him to effectively respond. The one who throws the mud always wins. When asked how one responds to such mud-slinging attacks, Noam Chomsky said: “You really can’t. There’s no way to respond. Slinging mud always works.”
Wait, so Wings being arrested makes BBC News, but *proven* bigoted, homophobic, racist councillors paid out of the… twitter.com/i/web/status/9…—
Guffers (@gavmacn) August 22, 2017
Following Campbell’s arrest and release it was surprising to discover just how many pro-independence activists said on social media that they too had had visits from the police in relation to accusations made against them. In every case no charges were brought. The mere mention in the press – at any future date – that someone had been arrested and questioned in relation to “CyberNat” abuse online is enough to discredit them.
Given that the unionist press in Scotland – practically the only press in Scotland – has already fabricated the stereotype of the “CyberNat troll,” it is already well understood that such soft criminalisation is an option in the unionist arsenal against independence supporters. Once we take into consideration the fact that Stuart Campbell is taking Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale, the darling of the BBC in Scotland, to court for defamation – a case he will in all likelihood win – his threat to the establishment becomes more apparent.
During the 2012-14 independence referendum campaign Wings Over Scotland was – and largely remains – the most influential politics blog in Scotland. It goes without saying, then, that the political establishment, with the help of some useful political policing, would stand to gain a great deal with the removal of Stuart Campbell. Naturally some – even some independence supporters – will urge caution. What if he is guilty? What if he is?! If he is then he will be punished, but if he is not then one more key player has been victimised by this malicious unionist set piece. Our only response must be nothing short of innocent until proven guilty and unwavering solidarity until the facts – and only the facts – say otherwise.
Paul Murphy TD: What is political policing?