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By Jason Michael
At the outbreak of the American Revolution, the Massachusetts royalist clergyman Mather Byles famously remarked that he would rather ‘be ruled by one tyrant three thousand miles away than by three thousand tyrants one mile away.’ And while I disagree with this reverend gentleman’s politics, the validity of his observation is undeniable. Regardless of the many benefits of social media for popular political engagement, it has dangerously amplified the tyrannical impulses of the populist imagination — and this is something we are all witnessing.
Even fools who keep silent are considered wise;
when they close their lips, they are deemed intelligent.
— Proverbs 17:28
Paul Kavanagh has written an article explaining to his readers why he will be stepping back from the 2021 Holyrood election campaign, and the experiences he has described are truly sickening. As we are all aware, Paul suffered a stroke a number of months ago and is struggling to recover. While he was in hospital, unable to receive visits from friends and loved ones due to the pandemic restrictions, he lost his beloved friend — our beloved friend — Ginger the wee ginger dug. He has described the atrocious abuse he has been getting from those who have lost patience with Nicola Sturgeon and the current leadership of the Scottish National Party; ‘vicious remarks about the disabilities’ he has been left with as a result of the stroke, comments with ‘nasty unpleasant homophobic undercurrents,’ and one twisted individual wishing he had died instead of Ginger.
Despite our present difference of opinion, I believe him. I have no reason to doubt him. I believe him for two reasons; every political commentator with a large enough online platform receives abuse, and — knowing him as I do — Paul Kavanagh is one of the finest examples of a human being I have ever encountered. The anonymity of online interaction lends itself to a degree of licence seldom experienced in the real world and gives a certain type of person a sense of entitlement to speak to others in the most despicable and deplorable ways. In the cut and thrust of passionate political campaigns these people completely lose the run of themselves and actually believe they are doing something good — something to benefit their cause — by being hateful, vile, and abusive.
It is all very well to dismiss these arseholes as ‘trolls’ and ‘haters,’ but the constant stream of abuse, negativity, and bile does get to us. We may live in a digital age, in a brave new cyber reality, but sitting in front of the screen is just a person — a creature evolved to be sensitive to the behaviour and words of others. There is only so much abuse a person can take before it becomes too much and psychologically harmful. Of course, the haters and trolls know this. This is what makes their tactic so effective and powerful. But the damage it does to the recipient and to the cause is considerable — sometimes, and more often than we may realise, it is catastrophic.
No one needs me to remind them of the work Paul has done for independence. Without him and Stu Campbell — two very different creatures — we would have a very different independence movement. Sure, without them, we might have no independence movement at all. Agreeing with pro-independence bloggers is not a requirement for independence supporters, but the bloggers — whether we like their opinions or not — are the thought leaders of the independence movement. We each speak to our distinct — sometimes overlapping — audiences, and we put to them our thoughts and reflections on the state of play. Sometimes what we do is inform the movement, other times we challenge the movement, and even when people disagree with us we are helping people think for themselves and shape their own thoughts and opinions.
Like it or not, this is an essential element of the democratic process — and it is all the more important in a media environment entirely dominated by a mainstream media hostile to us and wholly aligned to the ideology of the British state. It may not always be apparent to the casual observer, but we have made massive personal sacrifices for the independence cause — and few more than Paul Kavanagh. Writing a thousand-word article requires research, thought, and revision. It takes me about six hours to write a blog post; that’s about thirty hours a week, 120 hours a month, and over 1,400 hours a year. I’ve been at this for six years. Paul has been at it longer. Once a month I donate about 2,000 words to iScot Magazine. Paul writes for The National and has made it his job to travel Scotland promoting the politics of independence. I suspect his stroke was one of the rewards for his tireless work for the independence cause too.
And so what, we get donations?! Right now 17 generous people donate to my Patreon account. They donate a total of about £57. But — as you can see — this is hardly a lucrative project, working out to somewhere in the region of 48p an hour. Would you take that wage? This money keeps the blog going and pays for other small projects. It doesn’t feed me. But we would do it for nothing! And why? — because we believe in independence and we believe we have a part to play in the struggle for independence. This is one of the greatest things I have done with my life. I cannot think of a more worthwhile thing to do with my time and my gifts. I really can’t — and I know it is the same for Paul Kavanagh, Peter Bell, Roddy Maclead, Iain Lawson, Grouse Beater, Stu Campbell, and all the rest. This is the stuff of passion and we are passionate about it. Give us a little credit, eh?!
What we are about is independence and the many ideas and visions of what independence means for our country. Independence is not a simple thing; it is not merely a matter of independence from England. This is about how we can achieve independence, about what kind of independence we should have, and who and what this independence will benefit etc. There are a lot of moving and complex parts to this strange dance. But right at the heart of this idea of independence is the concept of freedom — our struggle is to be free, and that means the right to be free to agree and disagree with one another. It is in reasoned argument that we are led to truth, and not stubborn intractability. Those who stand in the way of this process, who feel they can abuse people like Paul Kavanagh are no friends of reason, democracy, and independence. They are no friends of Scotland’s finest tradition. These idiots are the three thousand tyrants a mile away we can well do without.
Paul Kavanagh interview
12 thoughts on “Three Thousand Tyrants”
Very well said, in the run up the 2014 referendum and beyond Until his stroke Paul was a giant for our movement, I had the pleasure to hear him speak at a couple of very well attended events on Arran And at Rallies on the Mainland. A passionate advocate of Scottish Independence, he will be missed from this campaign but its more important he gets his health back.
I also disagree with his support for The SNP 1/2 Strategy but we are on the same side and all families have minor disagreements. We both want what is best for Scotland that is what matters.
Get well soon Paul.
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Just awful behaviour and what makes it worse is that we are supposed to be on the same side. The First Minister needs to look at herself and her ongoing assault on Alex Salmond. It’s abuse pure and simple. Some will think if she can take pot shots anyone can. It’s ridiculous having to ask adults to play nice. Those who have abused Paul should be ashamed of themselves. I wish him well.
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Excellent Jason, very open and honest, Oh to have the very politicians you write about with such an honest outlook. Carry on doing what you are good at, it is definitely working.
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Very well said, Jason.
Each & every one of us takes responsibility for our words & there is no excuse for the vile things that were written to PK (or to any other blogger).
But the mass populace are guided by the actions (or inactions) of our leaders & the political leaders within the Independence movement have been pretty vile themselves at times. We need a better standard of leader & part of achieving that is for ‘thought leaders’ (aka bloggers & other journalists) to call out bad behaviour when the encounter it. Some are better at doing that than others & some get piled on when they do.
I struggle to understand the vileness. I work with the public day in & day out. I’ve encountered thousands of individual Scots in my working life, often in stressful situations that would excuse a lot of rudeness. But nearly always the Scottish public are pleasant & polite & interact with a smile. When I walk along the streets of the towns near where I live people smile & say hello to each other. Even the neds in deepest, darkest Glasgow (or Kilmarnock) are usually pleasant enough.
Yet there is this horrible undercurrent in online politics & in the media where people (including some of the bloggers you list above) are rude & dismissive towards one another or those who have the temerity to comment BTL. Or their devoted accolytes pile on to those commenting in a critical fashion & are often given free reign to do so by the blog owners.
But one thing we shouldn’t lose sight of is that the overwhelming majority of interactions we all have online (& in real life) are actually pretty decent. It is very easy to only see the negative comments (especially if they are directed at you & feel deeply personal) & not notice the positive or simply neutral. But that is human beings for you; we are hard-wired to notice threats & nasty comments are threatening at a deep level.
I would add one cautionary not in all this, absolutely awful as it is.
Where was the outrage when Alyn Smith and his Flying Monkeys launched equally offensive abuse at Craig Murray.
Very similar venom came from Smith’s ex partner directed at Twitter user Mr Malky after she posted a tweet of her former dog who had passed.
I don’t intend this any kind of Whataboutery; Paul’s treatment is simply wrong, but we must also be careful that his case is not used to manufacture consent for the HCB.
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I love that Jason sees the best in people – it always gives one hope.
However, in a time where no-one reads below the headline we know that one single line will be used as a weapon against any and all who critique or associated in any way with those who do. Hells bells “once in a generation” was a throw away line 7 years ago and that haunts YES to this day.
The ability of people to spew out vile and abusive comments is made so much easier with the internet because there is little to no face-to-face contact, but it always happened in the past, too. People used to stand around hustings and scream and shout abuse and throw missiles at those who were trying to get their point across. We are ruled by our passions, and intellect and reason take a back seat rather more often than is comfortable or desirable. Almost everything nasty and vicious can be fairly laid at the door of all-consuming passion, even when that passion is wholly at odds with the truth.
I have disagreed with Paul on occasion, and I find his sentiments questionable sometimes, too, but Heaven forfend that I would hurl abuse at him because of his choice of lifestyle or out of spite. It has absolutely nothing to do with me, and neither puts me up nor down, and I adored that wee doggie, too. It is the same with the trans community: their lifestyle is entirely their choice and must be respected, unless it starts to impinge on my life or the lives of those I hold dear or, at a societal level, those whose lives should not be subjected to interference without evidential material as to the greater good, when, at the point, it does become a legitimate topic for questioning. However, even there, there is nothing to be gained unless you also have evidential questioning at your fingertips.
The saying: sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me, is one of the silliest, because, of course, being called names and hurt in your psyche is as equally damaging and devastating as physical assault. We can strive for social equality, for equality under the law, for human and civil rights to extend to all, but we do also require laws that prohibit certain behaviours that are proven to be detrimental, even if only to a minority of people, or when we can extend our faculty for probable outcome into the future and ‘see’ very probably adverse consequences of certain behaviours. Rights and obligations. Many shout about the first, but forget the latter.
The idea – philosophically – of absolute freedom to be who we are, to do as we choose, has to be mitigated to an extent by the rights of others to have exactly the same freedoms and choices. In any human society, that will cause tensions and will necessitate the prohibition or, at the very least, discouragement, of various behaviours. For example, my right to live as I choose must, of necessity, not destroy the boundaries that others have set up for excellent and evidential reasons, and, of course, this is where the trans ideology comes head-to-head with feminist (and even just female) sex-based boundaries. Same with children’s rights not to be molested by adults, not to be brainwashed and harmed by adults in myriad ways that could and very likely would, affect and inhibit their normal physical and psychological development
In the independence movement, the justified anger of those who want independence soon, precisely because the evidence shows that delaying will very probably be detrimental to Scotland’s longer-term well-being, and, therefore to their own, could be catastrophic. Their ire is directed at: a) those who brought us to this situation (Unionists and rUK voters in 2014 and Leavers in 2016, two-thirds of who had also voted NO in 2014); b) those who are foot-draggers and always looking for the perfect opportunity to go for independence (which usually means, never, in reality); and c) the SNPG which appears to have done absolutely nothing to advance independence since 2014. The evidence exists that these ‘targets’ are capable to some extent, but we need to be able to put the past behind us in order to progress. Enter Alba stage left.
The anger is spilling over and is being directed towards those who seem to be saying that we should wait, that we should vote SNP 1 and 2. Those who advocate waiting and voting SNP 1 and 2 may be right, but the evidence suggests otherwise, and they are probably very wrong. Therefore, we have increasing anger, augmented by increasing frustration and it is being direct towards ‘our own’ on both sides of the divide, as much as towards those who are continually (apparently) stymying our efforts to regain our independence (Unionists of all hues). It is probably necessary for this to happen so that we come out the other end much more determined to do what it will take to achieve independence, but it is extremely negative and nasty in its expression before we reach that stage.
For those with sensitive natures, it is probably best to leave the scene or take a back seat, and I think that Paul must be one of those because his writing certainly gives that impression. This will blow itself out, but not before there are ‘casualties’ on both sides. If we are lucky, and start to understand each other better, we might all come out the other side still highly motivated. It is for both sides – particularly those who speak for each side – to tone down the rhetoric and start to co-operate because we know that the evidence is correct: that making the absolute best of the Constituency and List votes together is the way forward.
The deep cruelty that human beings are capable of is never, ever comfortable to witness, much less to endure, and, until the internet companies demand certain conditions of use and stop people from repeating this type of behaviour, even if it is as the result of anger and frustration, it will not stop. The real dilemma is: where to draw the line between fair comment and abuse; between hate speech and freedom of speech; between behaviour based on evidential detail and sociological projections based on that detail, and that based on conjecture and speculation with no underlying support of evidence. I hope we can recover the spirit of 2014 because it was a time of huge hope and embracing of everyone.
Lies and exaggerations have deliberately undermined the sheer joi de vivre of that time for independistas. Crushed hope is a psychologically damaged fellow traveller and there should be no surprise at what has happened since 2014, but turning on our own will not heal that. All the best to Paul, and I hope that he finds another loving, four-legged companion like WGD, in the fullness of time.
That is so true.
And yes, words can be utterly destructive when used as weapons; something I learned young.
I try to live as much as I can by the philosophy of “Do as you will if it harms no one”; I think that’s a simple mechanism to balance freedom and responsibility.
As in deed, so in word though I’ll admit to being far from perfect in the latter context. Never other than in response to verbal aggression though
Jason – I don’t think anyone can disagree with your thoughts on this matter. I routinely read all of the blogs you mentioned and rely on them as a balance to the MSM. I don’t know what I would do without them. There is, however, a problem with some bloggers whose ego has taken them over. I have never been abusive to anyone on my posts but have had personal abuse from some bloggers. Bloggers can get carried away with their disciples constantly feeding their ego. Their disciples can see no wrong with their favourite blogger and may well be the very people that deal out abuse on other blogs with a different view. We should all remember that no-one is right all the time and a more humble and respectful outlook would help with the abuse.
Read not what is written but what lies behind it.
And in that sonething changed in Paul Kavanaghs writings.
Maybe the same type of change that persuaded him to put the Wee Ginger Dug down after Paul took his stroke.
That’s not nice, not nice at all.
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Well said . I don’t say much online but I have been a fan of paul’s for mony a year , do I agree with everything he says ? Of course not we are all looking at things from our own angle . But to abuse him in any way sickens and saddens me. Some people are just shitty . I wish him nothing but the best .