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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. Her latest book is Hiding in Plain Sight: Exploring Scotland's ill health. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 15/04/2012 | 10 Comments

In the wake of the controversy over the puerile Economist cover showing a map of Scotland as 'Skintland' the internet was ablaze with comments from 'cybernats'.

In September 2008, when leaving The Herald the political journalist Douglas Fraser wrote the following on his blog about this phenomenon:

These online discussion forums have taught me quite a bit – rarely about politics, but much more about the disturbing results you get from the interplay of anonymity, group psychology and bullying. This is not unique to The Herald’s website, or to Scottish politics, but as the content and tone of this conversation represents a daily injection of poison into the well of Scottish public life, we are all worse off for it.

When the term 'cybernat' is used it usually refers to someone posting anonymously on the web but when I was on Twitter at the weekend I was taken aback to see what people were writing under their own names. Take the following example - 

On Twitter there is a woman who gives her name and the area she inhabits in the north of Scotland.  I'm going to protect the woman's identity by calling her 'Fiona'  This is what Fiona tells us about herself:  She is a mother, grandmother and animal lover.  She lets us know that she is passionate about her country. She is also a member of the SNP.

From this is it is easy to imagine that Fiona is a fairly decent, caring woman (and I'm sure in some ways she is) yet her tweets are full of venom. She is incapable of seeing that people can hold contrary viewpoints to her own without being odious. For example over the weekend she tweeted:

♣    Suppose it is a waste of time expecting any unionist to speak up for Scotland, they are chattels of westmonster sold their birth right.

♣    What is this love in with westmonster by unionists? is it the tantillising thought of ermine around their treacherous shoulders.

♣    What I would like to do to the treacherous Scotsman is unprintable, people should totally boycott it, yes the enemy within the Scotsman

♣    This tonight just proves how low UNIONIST QUISLINGS are willing to stoop to insult our nation the time for pretty talking stops now

Some people reading this might form the impression that Fiona is (to be PC about this) a one off. But Fiona currently has 226 followers.

What is particularly worrying about some of Fiona's tweets is the inherent notion that Scots who are not in favour of an independent Scotland are traitors who do not love their country. Even more worrying is the way that she insinuates that they should leave or be sent packing:

♣    Scotland needs to look at her traitors within, who needs enemies when we have our own kind Scotland would be better off without them

♣    All the unionist traitors ridiculing AS, (Alex Salmond) seems in their book Scotland is worth nothing, they should just get lost then, they are not wanted

♣    Brian Taylor (political editor, BBC Scotland) should be drummed out of Scotland permanently, a quisling, treacherous little man, an insult to all independent thinkers

'Drummed out of Scotland permanently?' By whom?,  I wonder. What kind of kangaroo court does Fiona have in mind or does she just envisage Brian Taylor being hounded over the border by a mob?

Of course, I have seen plenty of offensive comments coming from some Brit Nats but there are generally fewer of them. I have never personally come across unionists communicating the idea that nationalists hate their country, are traitors or that they should be 'drummed out'. if they do then that is every bit as offensive as what I'm covering here. OF course, nationalists were in the wilderness for years and had to shout loud to be heard. But these days are over. The SNP now have the position, power and influence to set the tone for the political debate within Scotland.

The SNP portrays itself as modern nationalist party. I have little doubt that the leadership do not have an ethnic view of nationalism in that they are content to see anyone in Scotland as a Scot with a part to play in the nation. However, we know from Europe and Africa that nationalism can easily encourage hatred between groups and even lead to genocide. When people feel morally superior to other groups, as Fiona clearly does, it doesn't take much for the atmosphere to become ugly and extremely divisive.  Remember it is the 'isms' of nationalism, fascism and communism which have a sorry history of using language such as 'lackeys', 'traitors', 'running dogs', 'turncoats', 'quislings'. This is not a history we want to see repeated in Scotland.

I am not saying that if the SNP won the independence referendum that Scotland would degenerate into violence or 'no' voters would be expelled from the country. I certainly don't think that. But I do think that Scotland will be damaged by tribalism if nationalist leaders do not start challenging the language that people like Fiona are using.

Let's suppose for a moment that I am a neighbour of Fiona's and I am against independence. I have looked at her tweets and (probably overheard her conversations) and know that she is likely to see me as a quisling and traitor. This isn't going to do much for neighbourliness. Indeed it is the recipe for a hostile, divisive relationship that will spill out into the community and the workplace. Sadly this way of expressing political opposition will divide families and friends.

People, even hard-nosed journalists, have feelings: they don't like being called 'traitors' or their motives being impugned by others.  At the Aye Write! Book Festival this year I was interviewed by The Guardian journalist Ian Jack. At one point in the discussion he revealed that he has been called an 'Uncle Tom' as a result of one of his columns on Scotland. No doubt it was a casual remark by the man who made it, but Ian Jack was obviously sore about it. 

He is not alone. There are literally thousands of folk in Scotland, on both sides, nursing the wounds from verbal attacks. Politicians may scoff at this but, by definition, they are not typical:  they have formed a fairly impervious shell to allow them to survive in the cut and thrust of politics. But that isn't how most people operate - people do not easily forget personal attacks. Sadly countless more will simply refuse to express an opinion one way or another for fear of being denounced or rejected.

We have two and a half years until the Referendum and  if Fiona and other cybernats keep up this level of venom then no matter what the outcome of the poll, the culture in Scotland will be toxic and certainly not the basis for a positive future.  It will leave its mark on the country for generations to come and undermine the strong, resourceful, confident, positive Scotland the nationalists hope to achieve. 

While I have been writing this blog a phrase from the Bible has (unusually for me) kept playing in my mind: 'What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his soul?' The road to Scottish independence could be a soul destroying journey if the SNP leadership do not distance themselves  from the type of sentiments that people like Fiona are stating. They need to say clearly that Scots arguing against independence are not traitors and are no less patriotic than nationalists. If they have said this and folk like Fiona (and myself for that matter) have missed it then they need to shout it louder and keep shouting it.

Before any cybernat reaches for the keyboard to denounce me for my unionist views I'd like to make clear that I am currently agnostic. I do not know how I will vote come the autumn of 2014. My vote could go either way. But one thing I know is that I will vote for what I consider to be the best for Scotland. In judging this I won't just consider constitutional questions: I'll be just as interested in how the vote will affect our day to day interactions with one another. After all, that will have at least as much impact on the kind of country Scotland becomes as whether we win independence.   

FInally, I am writing this blog as I too love my country.

Please note that I  have now written another blog on the topic ... The Other Side

Comment By Comment
Joined: 18/04/2012

Comment Posted: 18/04/2012 11:04
If you're agnostic, why are you demonstrating such bias by focusing only on the 'cybernat' issue rather than the (at least) equally worrying 'cyberbrit' one?



(At least the 'We're having a party when Alex Salmond dies' Facebook group appears to have finally been deleted.)

The notion that only independence supporters perpetrate online abuse, or even that they're the worst offenders, is a totem of Unionist polemic that fails to stand up to the slightest scrutiny.
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Joined: 18/04/2012

Comment Posted: 18/04/2012 11:15
i have to say that your article is utterly bias, the SNP need to do something about the SNP im 44 years old and active in politics for 30 years i have been called all sorts by unionists treacherouse scum for instance i one had a bunch of labour supporters stand and sing at me ' traitor, traitor, hang him, hang him, hang him' i have been spat at punched, i have even had a pie thrown at me, here's some advice, look in before you look out
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Joined: 18/04/2012

Comment Posted: 18/04/2012 14:30
The interesting thing is that the abusive comments on the cybernat side come exclusively from so-called 'cybernats', ie random and nearly always anonymous members of the public over whom the SNP have absolutely no control, which is why all the calls for the SNP leadership to 'do something' about them are so misplaced.

I'm not a member of the SNP. If I called Anas Sarwar a paedophile who buggered the children of SNP supporters in the name of the Union (which to the very best of my knowledge he isn't and doesn't) on my Twitter feed tomorrow, what precisely could 'the SNP' do about it? They can't expel me from a party I'm not a member of, and they have no conceivable means of exerting control over me.

The startling difference between the two sides is that a large proportion of the abuse directed towards the nationalist side comes from *named elected representatives* of the three Unionist parties - MPs, MSPs, councillors and activists. You'll see several of them in the first of my links above, and you might also want to have a trawl through the work of people like this demented Labour councillor:


It's that crucial difference that so discredits anyone who focuses solely or even mostly on the 'cybernats' when it comes to unacceptable online discourse.
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Joined: 18/04/2012

Comment Posted: 18/04/2012 14:33
You have just made a pensioner a target on the internet, And I cannot say how incredibly unprofessional it is.

Ignoring all other comments on twitter instead choosing a woman in her late 60s caring for a housebound husband, I think this blog you have written is a very visible source of Cyber Bullying and you should be ashamed of your self,

Absolutely disgusted to be perfectly honest
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Joined: 18/04/2012

Comment Posted: 18/04/2012 14:49
Hi Carol

you mentioned on Twitter that you would be interested in seeing examples of abuse sent the other way - that is, the abuse unionists (or CyberBrits as some call them) send in the direction of nationalists. So I've come up with a few examples after doing a quick Twitter search for various permutations of 'Salmond', 'SNP', 'Racist', 'Fascist', 'Nazi', and 'National Socialist' (a favourite taunt as we all know what it implies, but it doesn't go as far as actually calling us Nazis, so it can be denied that this is what they mean). I'm surprised there are so few to be honest, but then it depends when you do it - I've seen the hashtag ScottishNaziParty doing the rounds at various points, and it should be remembered that the recent Economist article has agitated many nationalists, perhaps leading to a slightly unfair picture.


It's rather ironic that the ones that call the SNP racist and whatever very often have the Union Jack plastered all over their profile, making themselves look very much like small-minded 'little Englanders' from the BNP. They have a habit of displaying very racist attitudes themselves if you read their other comments. Pot, kettle, black indeed.

And this just scratches the surface. You'll be hard pressed to find an example of an elected SNP politician comparing a Labour MP to various fascist dictators, or even calling the Labour party 'neo-fascist'; but there are numerous examples of Labour politicians doing exactly that towards the SNP and Alex Salmond. Not to mention people like Jeremy Paxman doing so on the BBC's flagship news programme. Call me biased, but I find these to be far more worrying than a few online nutters (particularly as I have seen such language on other internet forums, none of which have anything to do with the independence debate - this is just what happens on the internet when people disagree with a faceless entity, so is in no way exclusive to the independence debate).

It is to be remembered, then, that the people who use 'unfortunate' language against unionists are doing so against this backdrop. Perhaps it's just a persecution complex, but as a nationalist, it can often feel like unionists are the horrid little child that bullies others behind the teacher's back, only for the teacher to turn round just as the bullied child decides to fight back.

On a related note, I remember someone going on about nationalists calling people 'quisling' a few weeks ago. It was on the same day that the Lib Dems betrayed their voters by backing the NHS reform bill in England, and there were countless examples of people calling the Lib Dems 'quislings' and 'traitors'. Where was the outcry then? It was nowhere to be seen, because just like the Labour party quite happily label the Tories 'anti-Scottish' but cry foul when the SNP do the same, it's one rule for the nationalists, and another rule for everyone else.
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Joined: 18/04/2012

Comment Posted: 18/04/2012 14:54
Excellent, not only have I managed to stuff up the links there and made the page width about 1,000,000 pixels wide, but they don't even work when you click on them because the hash sign has been removed from before the exclamation marks!
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Derick fae Yell
Joined: 21/04/2012

Comment Posted: 21/04/2012 12:06
Internet fora prone to flame wars. Shockarooni! Heath says No Surprise

being a regular contributor to internet fora, and a long term member of the SNP I suppose that makes me a Cybernat. Never been rude to people. Sarcastic often, rude never. Just keep patiently explaining that the UK underperforms on every possible international indicator, and our small independent neighbours don't.

The main reason the Unionist fraternity hate cybernats is that we have a right to reply, and use it. The days of The Herald or The Scotsman et al handing down news as, as Tom Leoanard had it 'thi Trooth', are past. So we can, and do challenge the propaganda. A cloud of Scottish midgies devouring the old lies. and they don't like it up them captain Mannering!

Ironically us Nats are the confident ones that CFCW seek to promote!

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Wave Machine
Joined: 21/04/2012

Comment Posted: 21/04/2012 12:45
Cybernats are loathed by many as they are not bound by restrictions imposed by vested interests. Historically the 'news' was delivered via the paper press, it still is, but it is a very heavily edited version of the 'news.'

The internet allows an unfettered mass of very frustrated Scots to pass comment on events, and we now do so as a matter of course.
We are frustrated because we have endured decades of enforced child poverty, lack of economic common sense, illegal wars, corruption and various others activities to numerous to mention that have dragged our society downwards. This has been imposed by a political body, Westminster, supported by a press that delivers the 'news' they want us to read and digest.

We are no longer going to accept this state of affairs. That's called freedom of speech and is is a counter to the state of affairs encompassed by those who pass negative comment on the activities of cybernats.
Cybernats are people who simply want to exercise a basic human right. Those who disagree occupy the counter viewpoint.
To sum up; we live in a controlled democracy, where the press is unbalanced, and the we are simply not presented with a level playing field where a reasoned debate can take place. So, in the absence of the playing field, we, the cybernat community, will take the debate to that other, more level playing field, the internet and new media, and we will cheerfully continue to exercise our basic right to challenge lies, spin and propaganda as churned out by the Unionist establishment and their friends in the press and main stream media.
So tough luck to those who don't like it, but then those who don't like it have a vested interest in seeing the lies and spin continue.

Carol, I welcome your comments and blog, but I do recommend that you do research the suggestions made by the other contributors here.
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Joined: 21/04/2012

Comment Posted: 21/04/2012 17:43
Has it occurred to you that just maybe some of the more extreme examples of cybernattery are being made under the cloak of anonymity by the other side?

Thanks for the help in bringing the term further into mainstream use though. Over at http://www.cybernats.com I can hoover up the extra Google searches on the word and redirect the people to some of the excellent pro-independence blogs out there. It's worth mentioning that I've yet to find one that exhibits any of the symptoms condemned in your article and, believe me, I've had a good look for them.

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