All of a sudden, the campaign of malicious reporting of pro-independence accounts looks less innocent. Britain’s internet and social media experts in the clandestine services – which clearly have something to gain from the disruption of the online independence movement – have friends in the Herald, and the Herald is up to its neck in the business of calling attention to pro-independence activists – and Twitter is not beyond being influenced by the suits in Whitehall. Whether Twitter has an understanding with London or not, accounts are being locked and deleted.
Wings Over Scotland has 53,000 followers on Twitter. That is a phenomenal social media reach, made all the more important in the context of a bitter ideological and constitutional struggle in which we still do not have a pro-independence media a fraction of the size of the BBC and with a fraction of its reach and influence. Taking down the largest and most popular pro-independence website from Twitter is a monumental tactical blunder, and it will cost the next independence referendum campaign dearly online.
Yet, the fact remains that the politics of independence is a national movement locked in an existential struggle with the British state and all the poison that that can bring to the fight. Not being the most social of people, “Jihadi Jason” – iScot Magazine’s witty new epithet for me – is all about winning the fight. Truth be told, I don’t feel particularly loyal to the Scottish National Party or to any pro-independence party. Political parties are useful instruments, but we mustn’t forget that they are also very human institutions. They attract professionals and careerists – journeymen.
It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that we are being spied on by the state. When Jim Sillars said in mid-2014 he was aware of the arrival in Glasgow of British Army intelligence officers from London, we had every reason to trust him. Even if he was lying it would have been the truth regardless; if military intelligence wasn’t watching us and actively working to undermine our campaign, it wouldn’t be doing its job. That is the job of the secret services.
Recently, I have attracted the attention of such a troll. This person, as is to be expected, has an anonymous profile and uses that anonymity to bully and intimidate social media users who happen to disagree with his “radical” political opinions. Over the past couple of weeks pro-independence bloggers have been putting out fires started by an accusation by Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard and the leadership of the GMB Labour-affiliated trade union that a blog published by the pro-independence blogger Gareth Wardell was an anti-Semitic attack levelled at GMB activist Rhea Wolfson.
Openness and transparency do not undermine unity. They strengthen it. Lovers, brothers, sisters, and friends can tell one another uncomfortable truths. They can exchange cross words. They can even – and often do – have open pitched battled. But real and authentic relationships are not destroyed by such openness. They are strengthened. Silence, avoidance of the hard truths, disequilibria of power, and abuse foster environments which are highly toxic and inimical to true unity.
Who exactly gives Mark Zuckerberg the right to say what we can and cannot express online? Sure, clear cases of hate speech and incitement to violence should – by law – be removed and offenders brought to book, but we already have laws for that. It’s upsetting that Facebook can remove content it arbitrarily finds unpleasant or distasteful. But it is a private company; it’s Facebook’s platform and Facebook’s rules. But what’s really concerning – even worrying – is that governments appear to have a say in what and what can’t be shared on the site.
Coming from the position that claims women are uniquely delicate and female politicians incapable of engaging with male members of the general public, we can accept this criticism. Yeah, we may think it a complete load of tosh, but this is where Woman for Independence – at least on Twitter – is coming from, and they are fairly consistent. Fair enough. What had me banging my head on the wall like a demented polar bear at the zoo in a heatwave were the hashtags that followed.