By a Newsnet reporter
A Labour councillor has caused anger after appearing to mock local people angered at the news the council were censoring the official Yes campaign in local schools despite allowing pupils to view the pro-Union rival site.
Councillor Stephen McCabe has come under fire after he treated the situation as a joke and suggested it would not be resolved until after the independence referendum.
The episode began when Caitlin Brannigan, a student at a local School, tweeted a picture showing that Yes Scotland’s site was blocked under content filtering from the Schools internal network but no such block was in place for Better Together.
On hearing this another tweeter Scott Gillan decided to raise the issue with the local councillor. He tweeted: “How long will it take to resolve Yes Scotland page being blocked in our schools clr ?”
Inverclyde council leader Stephen McCabe responded by tweeting “7 months I’m told Lol”. In a later tweet Mr McCabe described people who had challenged him, “conspiracy theorists”.
However, the Labour councillor’s response has caused outrage amongst users of social media who have accused the official of treating the matter as a joke and of condoning censorship.
The story has provoked controversy in Inverclyde with the local newspaper, the Greenock Telegraph reporting that the Labour councillor is at the centre of a “political storm”.
Speaking to the newspaper, Shona McQuarrie – who leads the Yes Inverclyde campaign – said: “This is inexcusable. Mr McCabe was asked a perfectly legitimate question and he chose to make a joke of a very serious matter.
“There’s been no hint of an apology for his flippancy, or a proper explanation as to what has actually been going on here. It would be different if both websites were blocked.
“We need to know why the Yes Scotland site was inaccessible, why it was so, and for how long.”
Mrs McQuarrie added: “This is a huge issue. Where is the consideration for what parents think?
“Pupils are not learning anything about the referendum in local schools if they are only being provided with one side of the debate.
“It is profoundly undemocratic and I have been told that loads of parents have been complaining.”
Newsnet Scotland spoke to one parent whose children attend local schools in the area.
She said: “I wasn’t aware of this until I read the ‘Tully’ [Greenock Telegraph]. It isn’t fair to ban one side but let pupils read the other one. They should either ban both websites or allow both websites.”
On the flippant response of the council leader, she said: “He should just fix it and say sorry.”
A spokesman for the local authority told the Greenock Telegraph: “Our IT service have sorted out the small glitch which appears to have caused this.
“There is absolutely no question of any site being deliberately blocked.”
The spokesman added: “The first line of the council’s content filtering system is based on website categories. The Yes Scotland website was categorised under ‘society and culture’, which is blocked by default for pupils in schools.
“No-one at the council or school was involved in deciding the category of the website, which meant that it was not accessible.
“As soon as we were alerted to this situation yesterday morning the site was unblocked by applying more detailed filtering rules, to ensure it could be accessed.”
However the issue is unlikely to die down with some questioning why the pro-independence site had been placed in a category that was blocked.
In another twist, the Labour councillor has now backtracked on an earlier announcement he would quit twitter over the issue.
Last night McCabe told users of the social media platform, “I regret to announce the immediate closure of my account. I can no longer take the constant abuse from Cybernats and fellow travellers.”
However within hours, the Labour councillor had reactivated his account and tweeted: “Following an overnight barrage from the Cybernats (when do these people sleep?) I’ve decided to resume tweeting with immediate effect…”
The Labour councillor also launched an attack on the local newspaper, complaining that he hadn’t been contacted prior to their article being published: “@greenocktele A manufactured “political storm” @hossack12345 Didn’t someone think to call me?”