By a Newsnet reporter
The SNP has called for an end to the “denigration of people” in the referendum debate following a row over claims by comedienne Susan Calman that she received death threats after poking fun at the SNP’s independence plans in a BBC Radio show.
In a statement following comments from Labour MP Douglas Alexander, an SNP spokesperson said both sides had to recognise that the problem spanned the constitutional divide and that Yes and No supporters were equally at fault.
Speaking at the ‘Judith Hart Memorial Lecture’, the Labour MP claimed that online abuse was carried out only by pro-independence supporters he called ‘cybernats’.
“This truly appalling episode is just the latest example of the hate-filled outpouring of the so-called cybernats, whose characteristic is general intolerance to everybody and anybody who does not share their outlook.” He said and added:
“How has Scotland — rightly proud of our openness and tolerance — arrived at a place where a comedian is smeared, bullied and even threatened for speaking out and making light of the pretensions of politicians?
“All of us in Scotland should condemn unequivocally statements that poison the well of public debate and demand a different and better conversation ahead of Scotland’s choice.”
Responding to the comments, an SNP Spokesperson said:
“We agree with Douglas Alexander – denigration of people has no place in the referendum debate, it doesn’t matter whether those doing it support Yes or No.”
The spokesperson condemned the online abuse aimed at Ms Calman but also challenged the view that the issue was exclusively a problem for the pro-independence side and highlighted several documented incidents showing similar threats and abuse from pro-Union supporters.
The spokesperson added: “It’s a matter of public record that Nicola Sturgeon has been sent death threats on Twitter, a posting on the No campaign’s Facebook page talked about firing bullets into SNP leaders, appalling remarks about Alex Salmond’s dad were made on a Labour Party website, and the abuse directed at Susan Calman was disgraceful.”
“All of it must stop, because the referendum debate needs to be a positive one with the people about what Scotland can achieve as an independent country – with the powers of independence we can build a fairer society and stronger economy, be a close friend and neighbour to the rest of the UK, and a good citizen of the world.”
In February it emerged that Nicola Sturgeon had received death threats on her twitter account that threatened to “Kill the bitch”. The Deputy First Minister did not report the incident to the police and instead blocked the messages.
Commenting at the time, Ms Sturgeon said: “I hate to see stupid, offensive, downright ignorant rubbish from people purporting to believe the same stuff that I believe in. But it is not just a problem from the Yes camp. Some of the most diabolical stuff comes from people on the No side.”
In another incident last year, a message posted on the official Facebook page of the No campaign contained a threat that bullets would be fired into SNP leaders.
The message from Gary Coburn, which read “I wish the vote was how many bullets do we get to fire into the SNP leaders.” was allowed to remain for three days before being removed.
Months later another sick message from a Scottish Labour campaigner targeted the father of First Minister Alex Salmond. Someone calling himself Daniel Kelly posted a message saying he wanted Mr Salmond’s father to die.
Offensive messages and comments have also been made by pro-Union journalists and some politicians.
In February 2012, Labour peer George Foulkes compared SNP supporters who disagreed with him over the path to Devolution as “Holocaust deniers”, ‘holocaust’ being a reference to the mass killing of Jews by Nazis.
In September 2012 Lord Foulkes party colleague, Labour MSP Michael McMahon published a photograph of Alex Salmond standing alongside media mogul Rupert Murdoch with a caption that read “Remember the 96 Mr Salmond”.
The ‘96’ was a reference to the 96 people who died in 1989 during an FA Cup semi-final match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.
The First Minister has also been compared to evil dictators by Unionist politicians and media commentators. BBC Scotland’s Douglas Fraser recently compared the SNP to the regime in North Korea …
… and Unionist MP Anas Sarwar, who leads Labour’s No campaign, earlier this year claimed that the Scottish government was a “dictatorship”.
The row over online abuse has witnessed several journalists single out the SNP for criticism, with pro-Union Herald reporter Magnus Gardham alleging the online abuse suffered by Susan Calman was the result of “SNP intolerance”.
Another to single out pro-independence groups was BBC Scotland presenter Gordon Brewer who has repeatedly used the derogatory term ‘cybernat’ to describe pro-independence online commentators. This week Mr Brewer claimed the online attacks levelled at Susan Calman had been carried out by “pro-independence campaigners”.
However there are questions over the veracity of the more serious claims that Ms Calman had suffered death threats. Despite being asked to provide details, the comedienne has steadfastly refused to provide evidence of the alleged threats.
Newsnet Scotland also revealed that Ms Calman had turned down a request from the BBC to appear on Newsnight Scotland to discuss her claims.
This week also witnessed the BBC embroiled in another row when satirical programme Have I Got News For You witnessed guest host, actor Ray Winstone, refer to Scots as “tramps” and invite the studio audience to tell Scotland to “bugger off”.