Prominent figures from the SNP have called out the “anonymous keyboard warriors” who abuse others online, and urged those in the Yes movement to condemn those that do so.
In an exclusive interview with the Herald on Sunday, Alyn Smith MEP, Stewart McDonald MP and the party’s former depute leader, Angus Robertson, said campaigners opting to engage in insults and attacks against those they disagree with should consider whether they believe they are helping the case for independence.
However, whilst they say Yes supporters should call out abuse on their side of the debate, action must also be taken by those who back staying in the UK with abusive social media users on their side.
Mr Smith told the Herald on Sunday that abusive online Yes supporters were “failing to attract and rendering us unattractive”.
He said the Yes community online had to address the social media problem “in the same way the Tartan Army had to clean up its act in the 1980s and then became a massive ambassadorial source for Scotland”.
“We all need to step up. This is allowing us to be portrayed in a certain way that’s damaging,” he said.
Mr Smith added he believes that when pro-independence social media users are abusive and insulting, all members of the Yes movement should “call them out and send them to Coventry. Make them persona non grata forever – off you pop, you aren’t one of us if that’s how you behave”.
The SNP’s former Westminster leader, Angus Robertson, said: “I’m expressly underlining the fact that this is an issue for both sides of the constitutional argument in Scotland, and more generally internationally where on social media, often because of anonymity, some people think that they can insult, attack and offend with impunity.
“I think these people are cowards and wouldn’t be prepared to continue posting in the same way if they were identifiable, quite often because what they’re saying and doing would be considered illegal. We need a cultural change.”
He added: “There’s been reticence by senior Yes supporters to call out abuse for fear of undermining the more general debate about Scotland’s constitutional future, and rather than highlight the levels of abuse they received [by unionist trolls] to let it slide, or to avoid criticism because one is wanting to protect the reputation of public discourse more generally.
“This can’t go on. People can’t go on thinking they can sit in front of their keyboards and do nothing but send abuse to people they don’t agree with. You wouldn’t do it in public, you’d be thrown out of a pub for doing it, you’d never do it at a family event, why on earth would you do it online?”
Only a vicious idiot would think it okay to attack a journalist who is honestly going about their job. It makes you no better than the extremist thugs that attended Trump’s rallies across America. If you’re ever minded to go after a journalist in this way, don’t. Plain. Simple. https://t.co/HkYBdMtCnE
— Stewart McDonald MP (@StewartMcDonald) May 1, 2019
Mr McDonald, who has been subjected to abuse from online trolls, said: “I don’t understand these folk who insist on spreading poison and cynicism. What is it they think they’re doing to help advance the case of Scottish independence? No-one serious engages with them, they aren’t changing minds, they aren’t persuading people, they all just seem to swirl around echoing each other.
“I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end – just because you support Scottish independence doesn’t make you any better… It makes you no better than the types of obnoxious thugs who turned up at Donald Trump’s rallies.”
He said that aggressive online Yes supporters needed to “just f***ing chill out a bit, and you can quote me directly on that… some of the anger is over the most absurd things”.
The MP added: “On the face of it you might feel that it’s a bit annoying that X wasn’t top of Reporting Scotland or this headline was particularly unfortunate – fine we all get pissed off with something like that but just chill out a bit and think about things in the grand scheme of things. I think sometimes they wind themselves up so much.”