Freedom of Speech

Re: Cybernats Have No Place in Referendum Debate

In Yesterday’s Daily Record’s “Record View” section, a piece was published drawing attention to the “lunatic fringe” of the Yes campaign, telling us that the Yes side was riddled with lunatics lowering the tone of the debate and who should not be given a voice.

Cybernats Under the Bed. Image Credit- Leithal Yak

It follows the online abuse received by Clare Lally following an email by Campbell Gunn, special adviser to the First Minister, to the Daily Telegraph. The email told the Telegraph, quite correctly, that Lally was a member of Labour’s shadow cabinet and, incorrectly, that she was a relation of former Glasgow Lord Provost Pat Lally. Clare Lally, who came out in support of the Union as “an ordinary working mother” received a torrent of abuse via the social media website Twitter.

The Record, and indeed many other media outlets, have addressed this incident as the latest of many “Cybernat” attacks on individuals, following, most notably, the attacks on the author J. K. Rowling for her £1m contribution to Better Together. The Record, in it’s article, refers to these angry Twitter users as being part of the “lunatic fringe of nationalist opinion”.

The Record View states that “we cannot stand aside and allow such language and behaviour to become permissible”. Quite right, indeed we cannot.

But the Record, true to the stunning form of the British mainstream media, has completely neglected to address the other side of the debate. After all it’s not only the Yes side that has access to social media and let’s not for a moment pretend that the Better Together campaign is made up entirely of saints. However, toeing the line to exceptional standards, the Record wilfully ignores any hint of such misconduct on the part of the Pro-Unionist.

Let’s also not forget that the pro-Union attacks come thick and fast too with those on the other side of the border wanting to pitch their offensive remarks in too!

Two examples of such attacks appeared on my feed the other day, these are direct quotes:

@OfficialConny – “I want to punch Alex Salmond square on in the nose! Fuckin cretin of a man!!! #BetterTogether #FuckTheSNP”

@stevierfc – “I would gladly set that fat jumbo cunt salmond on fire & his shemale mate sturgeon”

The latter of these two could, quite easily, be viewed as a death threat. In the Record View’s own words; “Is this really where we have got to in the debate over independence?” Well, yes it is. Whilst I am under no illusions as to the vile comments made on the part of the Yes campaign, the mainstream media have to accept that this is, by no means, a one sided affair. The so-called “BritNats” are pouring out their poisonous filth and abuse onto social media too. Naturally, however, these people are standing up for what’s good and proper, so we needn’t worry about them.

The mainstream media, as I pointed out in an earlier post, are doing their level best to pain the Unionists as saints standing up for all that is great and righteous in the world, whilst the Yes side are made up of vile scum and villains to be chased away.

I agree with the sentiment that is being put across to an extent. We need to make sure that those who are campaigning for independence, or for the Union for that matter, are doing so professionally and that this kind of abuse is not allowed to lower the tone of the debate. It does, quite frankly, upset me whenever I see such remarks being made on either side of any debate; it lowers the tone of the whole debate and turns quite a few people off.

However, we can’t stop these people from voicing their opinions; to do so would be censorship and would undermine freedom of speech and political expression and hence the very core of the debate on independence. So what, then, can we actually do to stop this soiling of such a great political process?

It’s simple: Ignore them! I know that I sound like a mother talking to her bullied son at school “ignore them and they’ll go away, they just want attention.” Well, it works in this case and we know this from experience, don’t we? You’ve already proved it by ignoring the scum and bullies posting pro-Union hatred online. For all intents and purposes, nobody actually knows about the shite being slung around on the BT side of things.

But, of course, you have to ask why should you pay it no mind? Because it’s a non-story. People have been getting angry on the internet since it came about and they will continue to be angry online for the rest of time. It’s not like you have to pass a special test to be allowed onto the internet, anyone can get online and vent their ill-informed anger and stupidity via social media at anything and everything they see fit.

To the Record, and indeed the rest of the mainstream media, if there is one establishment lowering the tone of this historic debate, it is you! By giving these cretins – who in no way represent the views of the majority – the limelight, and thereby drawing attention to their vile and ignorant commentary, you are lowering the tone of this debate.

You, who sit up on your high horses, the mainstream media devoid of any kind of corruption or ulterior motives, have brought this “scandal” about.

So, if you want a fair debate you have two options: Broadcast the abuse from cretinous creatures on the No side in equal measure to that of the Yes side, or leave these comments and their writers where they belong – in the “lunatic fringes”, to be ignored as they should be.

The ‘Unbiased’ Mainstream Media

For anyone who holds any political views even remotely left of centre, supports Scottish Independence or thinks that UKIP are, indeed, a waste of space and air, it’s quite apparent that the mainstream media is quite useless. The idea that the main broadcasters should be impartial seems almost far fetched and the idea that there should be any kind of political balance is nought but a fantasy.

It sounds awful, but it’s sadly true. Let’s look at the past few weeks and this will be quite apparent. In the run up to the European elections in May we didn’t stop hearing about Nigel Farage and UKIP. They were plastered all over the BBC; the SNP, the governing party in Scotland, didn’t get anywhere near the coverage that UKIP got on the BBC. We were told that UKIP was the next big thing, that they had the radical new ideas and that they were destined to gain seats at the next elections (purely because you were told that they would).

Similarly small third parties, with sane views, like the Green Party were sidelined on the BBC’s coverage and, as a result, were unheard of by most people come polling day. UKIP, bolstered by the BBC and their new cheerleader, Nick Robinson, swanned into victory across much of the UK, gaining their first ever elected position in Scotland. It should be noted that none of UKIP’s policies around scrapping paid maternity leave, carrying on NHS privatisation, etc, was discussed.

Now, I’m sure that there’s something that the Greens and SNP have in common… Oh yes, they both endorse Scottish Independence. Let’s see, Labour and the Tories with their standard mass coverage don’t support independence, and UKIP, with their utterly disproportionate coverage, they don’t either. But maybe I’m just seeing patterns where there aren’t any.

Let’s now look to fairly recently. In the past couple of weeks, a protest was held outside the BBC’s Scottish HQ in Springfield Quay, Glasgow. Supporters of independence stood outside the building in large numbers, waving flags, banners and chanting slogans. What were they protesting? The BBC’s utterly one-sided take on the independence debate. Because it’s not just the European elections that bugs people, although that did admittedly finally tip things over the edge, but it’s a whole host of things that have been building up over the past weeks, months and years.

There is never anything positive to be said for independence. Anyone who comes onto a show in favour of it is systematically attacked, thrown trick questions and bullied into a corner. And those brave souls who come on to stand up for Britain are given the easiest interviews one could dream of.

But to go back to the protest. If any of you heard about it at all, I could almost place money on it not being on the BBC. Not a peep came from any of the Beeb’s shows that day regarding the protest. Just another bunch of daft nats waving their flags and shouting their insignificant opinions.

And it’s not just the BBC, many of our other broadcasting companies and newspapers will either shout down the nats or keep their mouths obediently shut. It speaks volumes that people were so taken aback when the Sunday Herald came out in favour of independence, the idea that an established broadsheet newspaper should support the cause of a country actually getting to govern itself was something that many of us were unprepared for.

The fact is that the media is not unbiased, it is not impartial and it is completely unbalanced. And the mainstream media has the greatest power over people, greater than that of any other politician. It can tell people what to think, what to say, what to do, and, most crucially, how to vote. Think about it, if UKIP had received the same level of media attention and support that any other party its size generally received, can you honestly say they would have done as well as they did at the Euros? If the Greens, say, had received that kind of attention, we may have been looking at twenty odd Green MEPs and only one or two UKIP fellows.

So why does the media use this kind of power to influence the people in the ways it wants, in our case towards a no vote? The answer is very simple; it’s in the best interests of the chaps at the top. If Scotland declares independence, that’s 10% of the population no longer paying TV licence fees, that’s a bit of a drop in pocket money for the BBC. If Scotland becomes independent, the paper companies (a.k.a. Rupert Murdoch) will have to work with a new government and work with new politics, maybe even print another paper instead. There may even be some shadier dealings going on, but I’ll not wade into that shit-pool, I’ll leave it to the politicians who know what they’re doing there.

But here we have it, the public opinion is being swayed wildly because those at the top of the media corporations have decided that it suits them better. I hate to sound like one of those conspiracy theorist nutters, and I won’t bring the Illuminati into this just yet, but it’s true. And it’s a sad day when we can no longer rely on the mainstream media to bring us the facts. Why do you think so much of the Yes campaigns support lies on small, independent blogs like “Wings Over Scotland” or “Bella Caledonia” and there exists very little such material on the No side? It’s because the No side already have the BBC and the rest of the big media on their side.

Please do give the chaps at Bella Caledonia and Wings Over Scotland a visit and a read. They both carry links to other sites and organisations in support of independence as well as a tonne of great content of their own.

The great joke with the BBC was always that they’d have two opposing views, no matter how ridiculous, “the sake of balance”. Rather unfortunately, they need you to go and do the balance bit for yourself.

Anyway, rant over for today. Have a grand weekend, folks!

Freedom of Speech = Freedom to Offend?

Hello, hello, hello. Last night I had the rather unique experience of seeing Jimmy Carr perform his new show live at the Dunfermline Alhambra Theatre. As usual, he was absolutely hilarious and the seeing him live made the whole experience so much more entertaining, my face was literally numb from having laughed so hard by the end of the night. However, as hilarious as he was, and indeed usually is, his humour is certainly not entirely for the faint of heart or easily offended. He did in fact make quite a point about the issue of telling offensive jokes, however being Jimmy Carr, he couldn’t keep it on a serious note for too long. But the whole thing got me thinking once more about how we perceive freedom of speech and whether freedom to offend is inherently a part of that or not. If you haven’t yet seen his new show, I apologise, there may be spoilers, but I will try to keep them to a minimum.

Jimmy Carr, around the “tax evasion” incident. Image Credit – Mirror, from Getty Images

It is indeed an age old question that has gone hand in hand with the question of the right to free speech; Do we have a right to offend others? Well, the simple fact is that if we truly advocate freedom of speech, then yes we should, after all, telling people that they can’t say something – regardless of its offensiveness or lack thereof – is censorship of speech. On the other hand, there are those who would say that we should not be allowed to offend other people and that in the interests of being kind and, god help us, “politically correct”, we must be prepared to face restrictions on our freedom of speech.

It is generally argued that the reason we should be willing to forgo full freedom of speech because we are too civilised to allow for people to go about offending others, and that in order to keep everyone happy we must censor ourselves in various respects. However, the idea that we need some group of people at the “top” to tell us how we may speak and what we may and may not say is simply a show that we are not civilised enough, in their eyes at least, to use simple common sense and have the freedom to say what we want. In fact, if if we are to be as civilised as these people at the top would claim, it would be precisely that which means we can say what we like, with common sense as our guidelines.

Still, there are always likely to be people to whom common sense does not come naturally, who will take things too far and offend everyone. Then there is also the matter of the touchy lot who are either looking for attention, wanting a fight or too damned dense to take a fucking joke. So where then do we rest with them? Do people have a right to be “offended”; and by that I do not mean that people should have not the right to take offence to a remark, but as to whether or not they should have the right to “be offended” – shouting at and abusing the other person and informing them that they have no right to say what they just said and should they deign to say it again things of an unpleasant nature may occur.

Now you see, I can find some sense in the idea that there are some ideas people don’t want being floated about by certain people. For example, the banning of certain groups with “extreme” views from expressing those views. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m never too happy to see neo-Nazi groups parading through the streets, waving their slogans of ignorant, ill-thought-through hate, but regardless of how we feel about them, they are legitimate political views, and to censor them would make us no better than what they are. I am a firm believer in the idea that if an idea is profoundly wrong and stupid, that society will reject it. Whilst there tend to be a fair number of nutters around, take the EDL and SDL as examples, the majority of society knows that they are crazy, and will eventually whittle away at them and the idea will die out. We don’t need governments to tell us that these things shouldn’t be said. Society is generally quite good at working these things out.

Secondly there is the matter of people who get offended on behalf of others, which Mr. Carr highlighted quite well in his show. As most people who are in a university will know, there are many crazy societies – may favourites in Glasgow being the Marxists (in fact all the left societies in Glasgow are a touch mental) and the Feminist Society. Now before we go any further, this is not to say that I don’t agree with some of the things these groups stand for, but the groups themselves can become a touch crazy from time to time. One thing that a number of them have in common is this self-righteous sense that they have a duty to be offended on behalf of everyone and anyone. A little pointer, you fucking don’t.

It really annoys me that white, middle class, reasonably privileged students can sit about claiming that I must retract statements as they are offensive to Gay Black Jewish Chinese Whales living in Russia or some shit like that. Because the simple fact is, you have no idea what you are talking about, and as a matter of fact are probably offending those you seek to be defending by deciding you can speak for them regardless of how far removed your two respective demographics are. I have found this out for myself first hand too; I was down in England, chatting with a number of English people, you tend to find them in England, and one of them made a joke about me being Scottish, doing the accent and everything, as you do. A rather self-righteous lady then stepped in, informing the people I was with that such jokes were offensive, then having the audacity to point out to me, as a Scot and the butt of the joke, that I should be offended by this. It was quite a belittling experience, to have someone I don’t know and who has no idea what I think telling me that I ought to be offended, as if she, and Englishwoman herself, knew better than I.

But I really have to say, what annoys me so much more, is when something intended as a joke, attracts the attention of the self appointed thought police. When people are not only getting offended on behalf of a demographic they are in no way tied to, over something intended as a joke to which the teller attached no real intent of harm. The good thing is that these people are quite small in number, at least here in Scotland where we are able to have a laugh at our own expense – a fact that Jimmy Carr took immediate advantage of, and very well at that. At the end of his gig, he asked if there was anyone in the audience who was genuinely unoffended by his material, and the response was quite a fair majority of people not offended. Most people know how to take a joke. The only problem is that the people who can’t tend to find themselves in charge. To those people I say pull the stick out your arse and lighten the fuck up.

As usual, please feel free to comment, keep the debate going, etc. If you haven’t seen Jimmy Carr’s new show, it’s called “Gagging Order” and he’s touring now and I would recommend it to anyone, especially the lot needing to lighten up. Thanks for reading.