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Cybernats need reining in

Cybernats need reining in

Was Scotland damaged by last year’s independence referendum? The answer to this depends on what side of the argument you were (are) on.

Most of those who supported separation regarded the campaign as positive, even joyous and were sad when the party ended, not just because their lot lost but because they were having the time of their lives.

However, those backing the Union tended to have a more jaded view of the whole episode, with many left disillusioned by the animosity of the debate and pessimistic about the country ever being able to heal itself afterwards.

The reason for such different perceptions of the same political process is clear and it remains the cause for much of the bitterness that is the legacy of last September’s ballot.

Treated as enemies

While the No camp conducted its campaign according to the usual conventions, respecting others’ right to disagree, many Nationalists treated opponents as if they were enemies of the state.

They still do.

More than a year after the vote, people who dare to question the SNP’s obsession with constitutional upheaval and who champion the benefits of Scotland remaining part of the UK, are traduced as anti-patriotic at best, or as traitors by the more unhinged secessionists.

The official line of the party is to toe the democratic line and distance itself from any offensive elements it harbours. However, it is a superficial distinction, as we have seen again this week.

Lyall Duff, a former SNP candidate suspended by the party three years ago for online abuse, has been welcomed back into the fold.

At the party’s conference in Aberdeen recently he posed for smiling photographs with Alex Neil, the Social Justice Minister, who he described as a “legend” for supporting him.

Duff has been allowed to rejoin the party despite his tirade in 2012 against two Catholic midwives, whom he called “money-grabbing old witches” after they took legal action in a bid to avoid carrying out abortions.

Although the SNP says he must “abide by our code of conduct”, there is nothing to indicate he has become a reformed character in the past three years.

There appears to have been no apology to the midwives and no assurance from him that he will temper his language and trolling in the future.

Duff’s return makes a mockery of Nicola Sturgeon’s warning last week to her cybernats.

Nasty attack

She was forced to speak out, not for the first time, when one of the most persistent and nastiest of her devoted followers attacked JK Rowling online, after the Harry Potter author tweeted her support for the defeated Scottish rugby team.

“You don’t think we’re a nation at all”, raged Stuart Campbell on his Wings over Scotland website, which he runs from his home town of Bath.

Rowling’s real crime is that she backed and helped finance Better Together last year which, in the eyes of the cybernat bullies, disqualifies her from expressing any opinions related to Scotland never mind that she contributes rather more than most to Scotland’s tax receipts, as she herself pointed out.

Sturgeon also had to disown one of the party’s Westminster candidates, Neil Hay, when he described Unionists as “quislings” (after the Nazi-appeasing Norwegian traitor), a favourite term used by less imaginative cybernats to undermine the opposition.

Hay also questioned the right of pensioners to vote, tweeting that some elderly voters “could barely remember their own names”.

The electorate in his constituency of Edinburgh South decided he was not fit to represent them and the seat was the only one held by a Labour MP in May. However, while Sturgeon had rebuked him, she did not kick him out of the party.

She cannot relish the damage to her party’s reputation caused by such jaundiced comments and would no doubt prefer it if all her acolytes expressed their thoughts in party-approved platitudes.

However, she has done no more than her predecessor to stamp out the curse of the cybernats. Alex Salmond always seemed to give the impression he found these bigots loveable rogues.

Shocking intolerance

Sturgeon at least recognised the shocking intolerance was mostly a Nationalist phenomenon but she seems either unable or unwilling to turn off the tap of spite.

Perhaps she believes the cybernats are a low priority, given the numerous other problems mounting up in her in-tray.

She should think again. If Scotland turns in on itself any more and it becomes normal and then acceptable to hate people for their politics, this nation will be beyond restoring to the enlightened principles for which it was once revered. That is some achievement for a party that claims to act in Scotland’s interests.