‘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.
Fifty to a hundred guys – and a few girls – dressed mainly in black, hoods up and faces covered, swaggering in a column towards a specified location in any city sends a very clear message! And we all understand what that message is. We don’t all button up the back. Regardless of how Police Scotland treat Loyalists, it was right for the police to intercept this little army – and it wasn’t wrong of witnesses and folk on social media to think this was a repeat of the last Loyalist day out. This brigade, this battalion, looked like a duck and it sure as hell quacked like a duck.
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.
Aware of this lack, the SNP is preparing not only to win the ideological war with the British government, but also to win the peace – in which it and its political ideology will dominate a newly independent Scotland. This is exactly why we are seeing it leave people like Grouse Beater, myself, and others out to dry. The strategists behind the SNP’s long game are right now actively purging those who will challenge them in the early days of independence.
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.