Alyn Smith MEP, Stewart McDonald MP and former SNP deputy leader, Angus Robertson, have said that abusive online ‘Yes’ campaigners are damaging the independence cause.
In an interview with the Herald on Sunday, Smith said that online pro-independence campaigners needed 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”.
He said: “We all need to step up. This is allowing us to be portrayed in a certain way that’s damaging.” Smith urged other pro-independence social media users to “call them [abusive users] 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”.
There is a growing concern among senior MSPs that the increasingly polarised political discourse online may lead to abusive behaviour in ‘real life’.
SNP MP Joanna Cherry has been assigned police protection to attend her weekly surgery after being inundated with “very unpleasant and upsetting” online abuse, including what was regarded as a death threat.
Glasgow Conservative MSP Annie Wells said she contacted Police Scotland over abusive social media posts, while Finance Secretary Derek Mackay said he had been verbally abused in the street by “aggressive” individuals.
Last year, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon expressed concerns that social media abuse could potentially be “putting the next generation of young women off politics”.
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.
“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?”
McDonald, who also experienced online abuse from “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.”