There’s no escaping the irony. The people who accuse nationalists of abuse have turned to vilification in place of argument. There’s always going to be a background of jibe and accusation and it’s a key part of what we call debate, although it is dismissed as contemptible by the pious who nevertheless find space in their condemnation for the odd dismissive barb themselves.
Personally, I enjoy it. My rule of thumb is not to write anything I wouldn’t say to someone’s face and that mostly gets me by, allowing tart, sour and borderline hurtful comments while making sure I could justify them if challenged. I also believe the internet allows a more expressive form of writing than the mainstream and is closer to a conversation reflecting what real people actually say to each other away from microphones. You have to be there when the camera lights go off and the microphones are removed to hear what politicians really think. The rest is mostly an act.
I reconsidered my Twitter opinions in the light of Alistair Darling’s remarks that some of us had shamed Scotland (over Bill Munro of Barrhead Travel’s staff warning) at a time when the eyes of the world were upon us, a businessman was entitled to speak out and everyone had to have a say. “Frankly, the sort of behaviour, the sort of things that have been said in the last 24 hours have no place in a modern Scotland of the 21st century.”
Here are my tweets. ‘Jim Murphy backs Barrhead boss scaring staff into voting No with a lie-laden document. The No campaign in miniature. Labour in microcosm.’
‘How will Barrhead Travel fly me to Europe if we’re outside the EU? We won’t get landing clearance. It’ll be Millport again. Vote No’
‘Barrhead Travel offers Better Together holidays in sunny Ruritania. Use the Pound. Meet the Royals. Boss the locals. Watch the Proms. Bingo!’
I daresay others were more forthright but do these statements amount to abuse?
Possibly they do, if you’re in awe of employers…if you believe that a boss has the right to influence the votes of staff – in “modern, 21st century Scotland” – and if you accept at face value any inaccurate, biased information presented as fact and over-written with hyperbole. And if you are the kind of stuffed shirt conservative who reveres management, corporate pork barrels, the markets and the right to rule.
Companies have a duty to consider the implications for their business and their staff, although it’s interesting that Standard Life made much of the threat to the profits and virtually nothing of the threat to jobs. The problem Bill Munro has is that he didn’t get an objective assessment, something that could be offered as balanced and fair on the facts of the case, caveats and all, to which he could reasonably offer a personal indication of his preference. No workers would be surprised that a millionaire businessman wanted everything to stay exactly as it is.
Instead, he complied his own data based on his prejudice and issued dire warnings of the consequences including the inability to trade for three years, displaying a depth of ignorance for which he should be disbarred as a director. He presumed the right to let his ill-informed and bigoted opinions influence his staff in a democratic vote about the future of our country. Was he justified? Of course not. We know that from the desperate rescue operation mounted by the company to claim corporate neutrality and the promise that these were personal views, which, if true, is exactly why they should never have seen the light of day in a company document. From their own mouth, they are guilty as charged.
This was a little disaster for the company just as we head into holiday-booking time and Scots, already wound up by the debate are in a febrile mood and unforgiving of business bullies, as we see from the minimal effect of financial sector scaremongering. Many Yes people will refuse to give them their business and they. Will now be associated in customers’ minds as a pro-Union firm. That is divisive and I suggest Barrhead will, as we speak, be upping their marketing budget to counter the ill effects.
Is this all the result of cybernat threats? Surely what we are seeing is democracy in action. People are voting with their keyboard and telling the business big shots who assume so much moral authority that they have a single vote like everybody else and if they choose to misuse their position, there are consequences. It’s what Brian Wilson calls sinister – people making up their own minds and instead of saying silent and accepting what their elected betters tell them, pushing back and being heard.
Darling was speaking at another company when he objected to people using their rights in a free country. It is White House Products in Renfrewshire which makes hydraulic machinery. Its boss, Alastair McMillan, sounds horrified at the idea of his country being independent as it would be ‘shooting ourselves in the foot’ and would ‘create trade barriers’. If you look at his website you’ll see it is translated into Spanish, French and Portuguese because of course Alastair exports across Europe. It’s just that he won’t be able to export from Scotland…that’ll be because were uniquely un-European or cut off or nobody will want us, or something… so his master plan is to relocate to Northumberland.
He has 22 employees who are loyal and they shouldn’t have to suffer because of the ‘vanity of politician’. Are you getting a picture of what we’re dealing with here? First he thinks Scotland won’t have access to the Single Market so he’ll move to England where, whether Scotland is in the UK or not, they plan an in-out referendum on the EU in 2017. Does he know the result in advance? Or will he find himself stranded outside his export market?
Second, how loyal is it to your workforce to relocate 90 miles away from their homes?
But it’s his last point that tells it all. Independence is the vanity project of Alex Salmond…that is everything No stands for boiled down into one vicious little lie. It’s the same lie Labour tells at Holyrood and the one John Robertson uncovered in his research into BBC and Scottish coverage of the referendum…personalise and deride. You know what that is? It’s political abuse, not from online amateurs but from one of those pillars of the British state, the businessman.
Out of touch may be overused as a phrase but reading what Bill Munro and Alastair McMillan think confirms that parochialism and deep-rooted anti-Scottish sentiment is alive and kicking throughout our country and a clever company would ensure a measured response – either way – instead of letting supercilious executives spoil their image.
The other irony today of course is that just as Alistair Darling was pretending to be appalled at the threatening behavior of cybernats, his Edinburgh Labour colleague Ian Murray was being exposed by Wings as a charlatan ready to use a political motive to whip up division. His laughable and pathetic efforts at blaming local ned vandalism on the Yes campaign exposed him as an exponent of what Alistair calls Scotland’s shame. We’ll await Darling’s condemnation of Murray’s behaviour as unacceptable…and we’ll wait. Remember, these are Labour MPs, committed to, as the party states: social justice, strong community and strong values,reward for hard work, decency, rights matched by responsibilities. Well done, Ian. Well done, Alistair.
What the MPs and the bosses are really complaining about, as one of my posters says on the right, is that through the internet citizens have found a voice and use it to expose the lies and hypocrisy of the machine politicians who rarely face scrutiny in the conventional media and use their elected position as a cow catcher to force their passage through the inconvenient blockages like accountability and telling the truth. It isn’t cybernats they hate, it’s the internet and its ability to find them out and hold them up to ridicule on an hourly basis, not just once a week at PMQs. This has shifted the power away from them and loosened their control and in this debate, where they are singularly outnumbered and weak, they can only moan and object as they take a beating.
Incidentally, if Alistair’s worried about shaming Scotland maybe he’ll tell us if, as an advocate, he asked to see the legal advice on invading Iraq before voting for the war. If not, I suggest that is a cause for real shame.