By Martin Kelly
A Scottish Labour MP has controversially claimed that people who post online criticism of Unionist politicians should be prevented from attending public debates on Scottish independence.
In an article in the Daily Mail, East Renfrewshire MP Jim Murphy (pictured) attacked what he called ‘cybernats’ who he says post anonymous messages insulting and abusing Unionist MPs like himself.
Murphy told the right wing newspaper: “There is a real worry that these anonymous cybernats who hide behind the safety of their computer keyboards in their bedrooms will come out into the public as the referendum comes closer,”
The Labour MP suggested they should be prevented from attending debates saying that allowing them to attend public meetings or TV studio audiences was: “The last thing we need.”
“These people are as determined as they are obsessive and they will think nothing of attending every meeting and getting tickets for every TV and radio debate.” he added.
Mr Murphy’s comments were criticised by pro-independence site Wings Over Scotland, whose editor Stuart Campbell accused the Labour MP of trying to curtail debate and “vet audiences”.
Ridiculing Murphy’s comments, Campbell wrote: “At first we’d assumed he was demanding that no wicked ‘cybernats’ should be allowed to feature on the panel of TV debate shows. But on reading further it became clear that in fact this professional politician, this tribune of the people, wanted to vet the audiences.
“We’re not quite sure how that would work. ‘Are you now, or have you ever been, a cybernat?’ forms to be filled out before Question Time attendees were admitted to the venue?”
On the Labour MP’s claim that online Yes supporters are controlled by the SNP, Mr Campbell added: “Jim Murphy, of course, knows perfectly well that the SNP don’t control independence supporters on the internet, because he’s not a complete imbecile. The party has around 25,000 members, and according to opinion polls an absolute minimum of a million people – 40 times as many – will vote Yes in September.”
The Scottish Labour MPs outburst follows the growing interest in online citizen journalism which, in contrast to traditional media outlets, is far more sympathetic to the idea of independence with sites like Wings Over Scotland and Bella Caledonia attracting hundreds of thousands of readers.
The term ‘cybernat’ was coined by Mr Murphy’s party colleague, former Labour MP and MSP George Foulkes, who used it to describe online supporters of independence. However the term has been adopted by pro-Union commentators and politicians who use it to denigrate their online critics.
Several Unionist politicians, including Lord Foulkes, have themselves been caught posting imappropriate messages online.
In February 2012, Foulkes compared independence supporters who challenged his view on devolution, to Holocaust deniers.
In a tweet, the Labour peer said: “CyberNat myth that Devolution was forced on the Labour Govt.by EU or Council of Europe (stories vary) is akin to Holocaust denial”.
Another episode witnessed the former Labour MP and MSP use the shocking rape of a young girl to attack the SNP and independence.
He tweeted: “Horsemeat in school dinners,14 year old raped in City bus & Orkney firm in administration yet all we hear from SNP Govt. is more on Indyref!”
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.
In February last year 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 in 2012, 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.