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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