One rule for Yes and none for No

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  By G.A.Ponsonby
 
Better Together are in a mess.  As I write that sentence I have to double check to see what they are really called, are they still Better Together or are they No Thanks?
 
There have been so many rebrands and re-launches I’m not even sure any more.

  By G.A.Ponsonby
 
Better Together are in a mess.  As I write that sentence I have to double check to see what they are really called, are they still Better Together or are they No Thanks?
 
There have been so many rebrands and re-launches I’m not even sure any more.

To be honest it doesn’t matter what they call themselves, they’ve never really had a campaign to brand.  Better Together’s strategy has been to flood the compliant Scottish media machine with claim after claim.  They’ve a new vehicle now to go with their rebrand in the shape of Scotland 2014.

The media strategy though isn’t working and, devoid of the boots on the ground that make up Yes Scotland’s optimistic army, they are left with the sobering thought that the debate is lost.  The polls are closing as people start to tune into the real issues and tune out of the scares.

If you are losing the debate then the only thing left is to close it down.

Lally rally

That’s what happened last week when an innocuous but politically damaging email was sent to a reporter.  Campbell Gunn pointed out that the ordinary mum paraded by Better Together at a rally, was actually a member of the Scottish Labour Shadow Cabinet.

Gunn also mistakenly said the lady was the daughter-in-law of a former Labour Provost.  Untrue, unwise and a cue for a media led assault on Mr Gunn and pro-independence contributors to the independence debate.

Make no mistake, this was a media led witch-hunt against one side of the independence campaign.  If anyone doubts this then ask yourself why, despite appalling abuse being perpetrated by a minority of both sides, the headlines have focused almost exclusively on the Yes campaign.

The term ‘Cybernat’, when used by the media or those who favour the Union, is a term of abuse against people who favour independence.  It is a term that has no Unionist equivalent.

So prevalent is the use of the word that the BBC does not think it unacceptable.  The corporation has frequently used the term when referring to people who post pro-independence opinions online.

Indeed last week, when the BBC was promoting the Clare Lally story and trying to conflate online abuse with Campbell Gunn’s email, Newsnet Scotland was invited to take part in an interview with the Newsnight Scotland replacement, Scotland 2014.

The message containing the invite was interesting, here it is:

Hello, I was wondering if you could please assist me?

I am working on a film for tonight’s Scotland 2014 programme on cybernats following the article in today’s Daily telegraph about the mother of a disabled child who has accused the First Minister of leading a smear campaign against her after she spoke at the launch of the Unionists campaign earlier this week.

As I am keen to get a balanced view, I am aiming to get both sides of the argument on whether cybernats are an act freedom of speech or harassment?  I would be really keen to interview a representative of your organisation this afternoon with your views and was hoping somebody could get back to me as soon as possible.

Twice in this short message the BBC researcher refers to ‘cybernats’.  Indeed the programme was specifically about this group of people.

When we called back to accept their invitation, an excited and very happy researcher informed us that a film crew would be despatched to our editor’s home a few miles away.  The invite lasted less than ten minutes before it was pulled.  Time constraints we were told.

Anyone who sat through Sarah Smith’s one sided item would have thought that Campbell Gunn had been ordered by Alex Salmond to beat Clare Lally up.  I formed the impression that Smith, herself the daughter of the late Labour leader John Smith, had allowed her own connections to the Labour party to colour her handling of the issue.

The story rumbled on towards the weekend before fizzling out, although an announcement by Police Scotland that they are investigating alleged criminality involving the online messages sent to JK Rowling may give the BBC and some other outlets an excuse to keep the story going.

But what about claims this is an issue that afflicts the Yes campaign?  That’s when the story gets interesting and rather uncomfortable for the No side.

It’s worth reminding ourselves just what Campbell Gunn is being vilified for – mistakenly believing a Labour party spokesperson was the daughter-in-law of Pat Lally.

It’s not as though he had made offensive remarks about the Holocaust, Child Rape, Hillsborough, Child Murders and the Mass Murder of teenagers.  Had Gunn, or indeed any SNP politician, made offensive remarks on these issues then they really would face having to resign.  The Yes movement would have demanded it without the BBC’s help.

But some politicians have indeed made offensive comments using these issues in an attempt at scoring political points.  Why, you may ask, haven’t we heard about these incidents?

Because the politicians were all Scottish Labour politicians.

 

Michael McMahon
In September 2012, the Scottish Labour politician used the deaths of 96 people in the Hillsborough disaster to launch an attack on Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond.
 
McMahon published a photograph of Mr 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.  Mr Murdoch’s Sun newspaper notoriously blamed Liverpool fans for causing the deaths of the victims and claimed that some fans had pickpocketed the dead and dying.

It wasn’t the first time McMahon had sought to use a shocking event that led to the deaths of scores of people in order to attack the SNP.

Weeks before his Hillsborough tweet, the MSP for Uddingston and Bellshill posted another message claiming that Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill would not have jailed Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik, despite Breivik having been convicted of killing 77 people.

In a tweet, McMahon claimed that Breivik would have been given only a “few hundred hours community service” by the SNP Minister.

In 2011, Breivik murdered a total of 77 people.  Sixty nine people, mostly teenagers, were shot dead by the lone fanatic at an island summer camp after a bomb planted by Breivik had exploded in Oslo, killing eight others.

 

Duncan McNeil
McNeil caused fury after claiming that the tragic deaths of three children, who had been stabbed to death by their mother, may have been caused in part by SNP complacency over home-schooling.

The MSP for Greenock and Inverclyde claimed that allowing the children to be schooled at home may have left them vulnerable.

The bodies of the three Riggi children were discovered by firemen who were investigating a gas explosion at the block of flats where they lived, the children had all suffered stab wounds.  Their mother, Theresa Riggi, was to commit suicide several years later.

Furious supporters of home-schooling demanded the Labour MSP apologise.  McNeil refused saying: “I make no apologies for doing my job as an MSP.”

 

George Foulkes
In February 2012 the Labour peer caused outrage after suggesting that any scepticism of the Labour party’s historic claims on Devolution was “akin to holocaust denial”.
 
Former Labour MP and MSP, Foulkes, posted the remark in response to an opinion piece by Dr. James Wilkie of the SDA in which he cast doubt on claims by the Labour party that it was always fully committed to Devolution for Scotland.

Tweeting in response to the article, Foulkes said: “CyberNat myth that Devolution was forced on the Labour Govt.by EU or Council of Europe (stories vary) is akin to Holocaust denial”

Foulkes is widely credited as the person who coined the derogatory term ‘Cybernats’ in order to describe those he termed “insomniac Nationalist bloggers”.

One year later Foulkes again caused outrage when he used the shocking rape of a 14 year old girl in order to attack the SNP.
 
In a tweet, the Labour peer said: “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!”

The tweet followed news that a 14 year old girl had been raped on a Glasgow bus by two men.  The shocking story emerged one week after the alleged offence took place.

However the defiant former Scottish Labour MP and MSP refused to apologise for the tweet and responded to criticisms of his online comment by launching a further attack on Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill, saying: “Many people are getting fed up with Kenny MacAskill’s complacency as our so-called Justice Minister.”

The examples above are shocking and all have another thing in common in that they never resulted in front page headlines.  Not one national newspaper or broadcaster has ever reported these appalling comments from serving Labour politicians.

Yet these same journalists and presenters went into a frenzy when Campbell Gunn mistook Clare Lally for a relative of a former provost.

 

Johann Lamont
But just how far the media will allow senior Labour politicians to go in their quest to smear the SNP was demonstrated in 2011 when the then deputy leader of Scottish Labour, now leader, used a rape case in order to attack the Scottish Government’s record on rape convictions.

The video below shows Johann Lamont describe the harrowing experience a young rape victim went through when giving evidence at the trial of her alleged attacker.

Lamont detailed the shocking tale of a 21 year old rape victim called Louise who had attempted suicide after being subjected to humiliating questions and being forced to hold up her underwear whilst giving evidence in court.

There was only one thing wrong with Lamont’s graphic description of the episode … it was fabricated… it never happened.

Following investigations by the Crown Office it transpired that there was no such recent case.  A statement released by the Crown Office described the story of the rape victim as “unsubstantiated” and added:

“Should it be the case that this story has no substance it is clearly a matter of serious concern as to what the impact of this might be for those who are the victims of such crimes, but might now be discouraged from reporting such crimes as a result of what they have read in this story.”

The episode resulted in the original Evening Times article on which lamont had based her comments, being condemned by Rape Crisis Scotland who described it as “fabricated”.  The organisation also criticised the wording of a subsequent apology from the newspaper as “just as damaging”.

The fabricated rape case was believed to have lifted details from a very real case from nine years earlier that ended with the tragic suicide of the young victim.

No news coverage, no media scrutiny, no BBC bulletins, no with-hunt … nothing.

There’s one rule for the Yes campaign and its politicians … but no rules for No.