Its quixotic readiness to go on crusade against every perceived wrong, hampered at every turn by its lack of maturity and inability to systematically think through some of the most basic tenets of civilisation — the presumption of innocence, for example — has turned it into a mob and created an environment in which unaccomplished yet entitled youths are readily masking their personal failures and inadequacies behind complex webs of manufactured and appropriated grievances.
‘Someone on the internet said something mean about me,’ joked Paul Kavanagh a couple of years ago as he recounted to me his experience of negative comments online. And this is true; no matter what we do or say, there will always be someone lurking somewhere online — invariably hiding behind an anonymous profile — who will go out of their way to say something biting and nasty. Here we’re not talking about trolls. We have come to expect them and when we realise this is what they are up to we can dismiss them without much thought.
Yes, there are serious issues affecting the independence movement, and independence politics is a passionate politics touching so many of us right at the heart of our identities. In an instant, arguments and insults are accelerated to accusations of treason and unionism. It was when I saw one prominent antagonist describe his fellow independentistas as ‘former indy supports’ that it really struck me that things have gone too far. We cannot continue to be this rigid and unforgiving. Independence demands the hard work and dedication of hundreds of thousands of people.
This question is important because it expresses rather succinctly the sense of uncertainty and worry which is right now spreading like wildfire over the independence movement. While support for independence and the Scottish National Party remain high, a growing number of independentistas are arriving at the conclusion that something stinks in the SNP. Most, as yet, can’t quite put their finger on exactly what it is, but something is wrong. Something is rotten, and the rot is spreading.
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.
Honestly, we didn’t think they thought like that – not really, and not so ordinarily. We had our suspicions, but we had no way of knowing just how idiotic and wonderfully deluded the opinion of the average Englishman is. Boasting of empire and the conquest of half the world, taking pride in something analogous to robbing half the houses on Highfield Road, is a special kind of craziness. It betrays the ignorance at the heart of England’s memory of empire, an obnoxious and dark period of British history in which thoughts of racial supremacism led to genocide and ethnic cleansing.
Regularly on social media I and others are called fifth-columnists for openly criticising the SNP, for having the audacity to air our disagreement with ‘Nicola.’ The suggestion is that by doing this we are undermining independence, the implication being that we are traitors or British government ‘plants’ sowing seeds of discord. Certainly, this has made my own commitment to independence one of the most frustrating and painful political experiences of my life – but it has not shaken my resolve.