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Supporters of independence are just the boy or girl next door
Fascist. Nazi. A traitor to Britain. Not a true Scot. These are just a few of the online pleasantries I have personally been subjected to over the years after expressing my pro-independence views – and I've also been called just about every obscene name under the sun, which obviously I can't repeat here.
There does seem to be something about the independence debate which attracts the headbanger tendency. Perhaps national identity is such a visceral thing that anything which touches upon it so powerfully is bound to excite those who infinitely prefer spewing bile to engaging their brains. Self-evidently it's a problem on both sides, but people on my side of the debate have long suspected that there are more idiots to be found among No supporters – after all, we're the ones with the bruises to prove it. That suspicion was borne out by a Survation poll earlier this year, which discovered that 21% of Yes voters have suffered abuse, either online or face-to-face, because of their opinions on independence. The equivalent figure for No voters was just 8%.
The events of recent days bear out that pattern. There have been a number of allegations of physical assaults on Yes supporters, while a man was convicted for issuing death threats to Alex Salmond. By contrast, the worst thing that I know of that has happened to any No supporter recently was the terrifying ordeal suffered by delicate Jim Murphy, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, who was...er, hit by an egg.
But naturally the actual conviction for death threats against Alex Salmond will have been what dominated the headlines, and not the fantastically trivial egg incident, right? Oh, don't be daft. This is the British media we're talking about, who are all too keen to lap up each and every anti-independence 'Big Lie' they are presented with, the most outrageous of which is that only supporters of independence have ever abused anyone. It's brazen, it's cynical, but it's also remarkably easy to get away with. As already noted there are idiots on both sides, so all you have to do is report the abusive incidents suffered by No supporters, and ignore the substantially greater number of abusive incidents suffered by Yes supporters.
This has been going on for years, ever since Labour's George Foulkes started the moronic 'Cybernat' meme – which ironically is itself a term of abuse, used to dehumanise those of us who go online to voice our support for a self-governing Scotland. But to my mind a new nadir was reached on Sunday morning during the Murnaghan show on Sky News. Jim Murphy was indulgently permitted several minutes to rehearse his ridiculous allegation that the Yes Scotland campaign had been sending organised "mobs" to disrupt his speaking tour, and that they were therefore culpable for the apocalyptic egg incident. Alex Salmond was then given a right to reply, but clearly his role was supposed to be solely that of a man on the defensive – which is precisely one of the forms of subtle media bias in this campaign that were identified by an academic study from the University of the West of Scotland earlier this year.
Salmond isn't regarded as the greatest political communicator of his generation for nothing, though, and he effortlessly turned the tables on Murphy, who he pointed out had been going out of his way to provoke people on his finger-jabbing tour. The implication, which scarcely seems to be unjustified given the song and dance that the No campaign have made about the "eggpocalypse", was that Murphy had been desperately hoping for an incident like this to happen. Sky News then did something astonishing. As Salmond reached the end of his remarks, they put a caption on screen without his knowledge of a tweet from the Political Reporter of City AM, which claimed that Salmond "wasn't doing himself any favours" by being so "vindictive" towards Murphy, given that vindictiveness was precisely the charge that Murphy had made against the Yes campaign. Oh yes, of course. The London media's approach is fast starting to resemble the "Jehovah" sketch in Life of Brian – they report only the allegations made by the No campaign, and then immediately shriek "look, they're doing it again!" if the Yes campaign dare to fight back.
Leaving aside the breathtaking bias in the decision to post that caption, it was beneath contempt to do so in a way that undermined Salmond as he was in full flow, without informing him or offering him the chance to reply. In the fact the word for that tactic is 'cowardly'.
But perhaps the Yes campaign have only themselves to blame for allowing the media to get away with only reporting abuse on one side – after all, it's only the No side that ever bleats about it. Why would that be, though? To my mind the explanation is that the "Better Together" campaign team have long realised that they cannot win the independence debate on the merits of their own arguments, and that their best hope is instead to suck the life out of the campaign by inviting voters to shut down all thought.
Don't think about the appalling levels of child poverty caused by Westminster rule – just vote against the baddies who throw eggs. Don't think about the fact that parts of Glasgow have lower male life expectancy than the Gaza Strip – just look at the media spin on the opinion polls, and go back to sleep. This whole strategy was perfectly encapsulated in the notorious "patronising Better Together lady" TV ad, in which a long-suffering wife tells her husband to stop talking about the referendum, and to "eat his cereal" instead.
Ironically, it was an opinion poll which this week heralded the utter and abject failure of the strategy. YouGov, so often the pollster to give No their best results, are now putting the Yes campaign within just 3% of victory. And really, any strategy which relied on painting independence supporters as a scary and often violent "other" was destined to fail. This isn't the late 1970s anymore, when Donald Dewar and George Robertson successfully invited the people of Scotland to tell the alien "separatists" to "get lost". These days everyone knows a Yes supporter – and they're just the boy or girl next door.