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.”

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