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.
In hiding behind this myth that we, “middle aged men,” are “a-l-w-a-y-s” chasing women with pitchforks – like angry and uncouth villagers, the gender politicians are wilfully ignoring the truth. Men argue with men in politics all the time. This has nothing to do with the sex of the belligerents, but this fact is deliberately overlooked when the picture is drawn of a club of men – obviously all members of the same secret society, “the patriarchy” – rounding on a woman who is portrayed in the most sexist way; as weak, fragile, and defenceless, against their bullish behaviour.
Yesterday the decision was made by the Disciplinary Committee of the Scottish National Party to rescind the party membership of Gareth Wardell, the well-known and much respected author of The Grouse Beater blog. This decision was made as a result of an article he published addressing the issue of the GMB, a London-based trade union, acting in Scotland to deny people their democratic rights. Owing to the author’s reference in the blog to the Nazis’ attitude to trade unions in the 1930s and 40s and his quotation of the term “the Jew” – in the context of citing Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf...
To put this is Texas terms: We’ve struck oil. We are rich. We are richer than our wildest dreams! But, wait, we’re not. We are not an independent country. We voted No to independence in 2014, believing we were broke, and that the oil was running it. We bought the lie that what oil we had left wouldn’t be worth a pittance. The same people who were laughing at us then are laughing at us now; that oil bonanza – which they knew was in the pipeline – will not be coming to us. It will be going right where it has always gone, to London.
It is no accident that from 1999, with the opening of the Scottish parliament, there has been a marked increase in the popular cultural use of the symbols of Britain and Britishness. Before then, with the exception of a minority of nationalists and republicans, the union flag flying over council offices and other public buildings in Scotland hardly raised an eyebrow. The flag of the UK was a simple and largely inoffensive statement of political settlement and reality. It was rare, if ever, it was featured in popular entertainment.
Antisemitism – the hatred of Jews – is real. It is a real form of racism. As, arguably, Europe’s oldest racism, antisemitism is pervasive throughout western society. As it affects all of society it is unarguably true that there are anti-Semites and people who, for whatever reason, pass on anti-Semitic ideas, conspiracies, and opinions within the SNP and the wider independence movement – as these entities reflect broader society. But Fiona Robertson is right, we need a better definition than is to be found in the dictionary. How then do we define this particular racism?
It is a source of immense frustration to me that the grassroots of the independence movement have been completely left to their own devices since 2014, rather than being kept under some form of structured leadership or guidance by the pro-independence political parties. Naturally there are those who would not like this. There are those who see party-political involvement as a threat to movement autonomy, sure. Others imagine it would leave the SNP open to attack for every infraction committed by some over-enthusiastic bampot, sure.
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.