It’s time for Salmond to act on cybernats

Alex Salmond needs to address the growth of aggressive cybernats.

Alex Salmond needs to address the growth of aggressive cybernats

The rise of the so called cybernats has become an alarming phenomenon as Scotland heads towards its independence referendum in September.

I have myself been subject to them in the past and, chillingly, so as Harry Potter author J K Rowling.

In announcing her support for the Better Together campaign yesterday, Rowling declared:

“there is a fringe of nationalists who like to demonise anyone who is not blindly and unquestionably pro-independence and I suspect, notwithstanding the fact that I’ve lived in Scotland for twenty-one years and plan to remain here for the rest of my life, that they might judge me ‘insufficiently Scottish’ to have a valid view.”

Sure enough, almost as soon as her statement had been uploaded to her website what followed was a barrage of ugly abuse.

The New Statesman picked up on a tweet from the account of a Scottish charity called the Dignity Project, also known as the African Child Education Programme, which declared after the Rowling statement:

“What a #**** after we gave her shelter in our city when she was a single mum.”

Whilst those who run the charity have made clear their disgust at the tweet, it highlights the lengths some will go to intimate those speaking out.

Indeed, Rowling was also described on twitter yesterday as a “specky b******”, a “Union cow bag” and a “disgrace”.

It would be ridiculous to suggest that Alex Salmond can be expected to know what every supporter of independence may or may not be about to tweet, but he can and should be leading by example, first of all with a robust condemnation of the latest wave of attacks as well as sacking his special adviser, Campbell Gunn.

Gunn was yesterday forced to apologise after he sent an email in which he appeared to attack a mother who spoke out in favour of a No vote in the independence referendum.

On Monday, Clare Lally, a mother of two who is also a carer for one of her daughters who suffers from cerebral palsy, addressed a Better Together event at which she expressed her concerns about what would happen to the NHS if Scotland became independent. She declared:

“I’m just a normal person but I want to do something extraordinary. I want to do my bit to help keep people together.”

What followed was an attempt by Gunn, a senior special adviser and political spokesman for the Scottish government, not to engage on the substance of Lally’s concerns but to launch an all-out character assassination of Ms Lally in a CyberNat manner.

In an email to one journalist following her contribution, Gunn declared:

“You are no doubt aware that the ‘mother-of-two’, who described herself as ‘just a normal person’ in the Telegraph today is actually a member of Labour’s shadow cabinet and daughter-in-law of former Labour Lord Provost of Glasgow Pat Lally…”

It has since transpired that what Gunn said about Lally being the daughter-in-law of the former Lord Provost is untrue, and she herself has refused to accept Gunn’s apology, telling BBC Scotland that she had been subjected to “disgraceful, shocking and disgusting” abuse by “keyboard warriors” on Twitter after the suggestion was raised that she was linked to the former provost.

Whilst Alex Salmond might sweep the issue under the carpet, the reality is that allowing his Special Adviser to seemingly get away with a shoot from the hip email that was not only inaccurate but completely disgraceful in its character assassination serves only as fuel for the CyberNats fire.

The first minister now has a decision to make, stay loyal to his Special Adviser or do the right thing and make clear the such actions have no place in a debate as serious as whether Scotland should leave the UK or not. But could this be a monumental moment in the campaign over Scotland’s future?

As Hamish Macdonell observes in the Spectator:

“This tale is intricate, it is a bit beltway but that does not mean that it is unimportant. For a start, Lally’s contribution marked the first really effective Better Together contribution to the debate for some time. But it also sparked a series of events which led to Salmond being thrust on to the defensive in the desperate hope of saving a special adviser from the axe.

“Not only that, but it put the activities of those anonymous cowards who abuse others from the safety of their own basements into the spotlight for the first time.

“As a result, this could actually be one of those pivotal moments in the campaign that we shall look back upon, after September 18 and only realise then quite the momentous effect that it had.”

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.

17 Responses to “It’s time for Salmond to act on cybernats”

  1. KampungHighlander

    I wonder if JK Rowlings decision to describe supporters of Independence as “Death Eaters” and Alex Salmond as “Voldemorte” was in fact designed to provoke the abuse that she claims to decry?

    While I condemn personal attacks as having no constructive part in this debate and Campbell Grant was right to apologize to Clare Lally for getting her Father in Law wrong, I must also point out that your blaming of the cybernats while ignoring the constant references by Unionists to the SNP being Nazi’s and Alistair Darling comparing Alex Salmond to Kim Jong Il shows that the decent into the gutter has been a phenomena of both sides.

    We need a more reasoned and civil debate, something I don’t see in your article.

  2. Shinsei1967

    The trouble is that Salmond leads by example. He never mentions Cameron’s name without an unnecessary snide comment. In a way that he would never refer to leaders of other countries he is supposed to be on friendly terms with.

    Compare Cameron’s references to Salmond, nothing but politeness and “but he’s mistaken”.

  3. Shinsei1967

    She didn’t refer to Salmond as Voldemort.

    Why don’t you read her letter again and then offer a correction. Or even an apology.

  4. swatnan

    Its an example of cyber bullying and Gunn should have been shot, or at least sacked immediate effect. We’re waiting Salmond. Its just harms the Scottish cause, which deserves a proper hearing and a move towards Independence.

  5. cynicalhighlander

    Like this one!


    This whole media frenzy is orchestrated to deflect from A Darling and his comment of “Blood and Soil” relating to all those voting yes.

  6. uglyfatbloke

    Could n’t agree more. I’d like to see an end to this sort of shite from both sides; it’s embarrassing as well as offensive and stupid.

  7. Alec

    Personally, I think you should be banned for posting that.


  8. Alec

    Please identity comparable behaviour from t’other side. Until you do, it is nothing but the sourest of grapes and the baddest of grace at both YeSNP’s favourite blogger (and now official YES campaigner), Wings Over Scotland and the FM’s own thug-in-chief being shown to have broken every rule.

    Gunn should be resigned (and if Housdon doesn’t wield the axe, Kerslake should and then resign Housdon) and Wangs reported to the Electoral Commission.


  9. Alec

    She didn’t describe “supporters of independence” as Death-Eaters… you’re making that up.

    When people ask why women voters have a problem with YES, they’re talking about the treatment meted out to JK and Lally.


  10. KampungHighlander

    “However, I also know that there is a fringe of nationalists who like to demonise anyone who is not blindly and unquestionably pro-independence and I suspect, notwithstanding the fact that I’ve lived in Scotland for twenty-one years and plan to remain here for the rest of my life, that they might judge me ‘insufficiently Scottish’ to have a valid view. It is true that I was born in the West Country and grew up on the Welsh border and while I have Scottish blood on my mother’s side, I also have English, French and Flemish ancestry. However, when people try to make this debate about the purity of your lineage, things start getting a little Death Eaterish for my taste.

  11. Alec

    Yes, the “fringe of nationalists who like to […]”… can you not read? Not all pro-YESers, whom she goes out of her way to say can be thoughtful and generous souls.


  12. Alec

    I wonder what LGBT activists would think of Stuart Campbell’s views on sex-changes.


  13. L Trotsky

    But Salmond can be compared to any number of dictators and no apologies are necessary. Have a look on Twitter any time Salmond or Sturgeon are on the telly and you’ll see some pretty personal abuse. Attacks are common on both sides and it’s disingenuous to suggest that it’s solely cybernats.

  14. Alec

    Rather than telling us to go away and look for evidence of your claim, why not posting it here?


  15. uglyfatbloke

    The Weirs have had more their share of offensive behaviour, but have a look at the postings on the Scotsman or the Herald sites.

  16. Alec

    Such as? Go on, it must be really easy to identify it from the the core pro-Union support.


  17. Julian Gibb

    I object to all abusive posts. We need to be open and honest about the use of the internet. All political parties engage in personal attacks. Supporters of all political parties engage in it.

    The attack on the Weirs (lottery winners who donated to the SNP) was as disgraceful.

    I happen to be a supporter of independence(but not SNP). However I can put forward sound socialist arguments in support of that stance.
    Reduce the gap between rich an poor.
    No nuclear weapons
    Renewable energy ahead of nuclear
    Re- industrialisation by growing the manufacturing industry.

    I joined the union at 17 and the Labour Party a year later. I left the party as New Labour developed.

    I attend YES events with people from Radical Independence, Scottish Socialist Party, The Jimmy Reid Foundation, the Greens. All of us have strong socialist values and a desire for a fair society.

    You are entitled to your view and I hope you will afford me the same right.
    I would hope we could accept that emotive language by a few is not unique to any group.

Leave a Reply