By Hazel Lewry
In the classical sense a troll is a big bogey man, a relic from the frozen past of Norse mythology, a mythology we in Scotland also partly share. Some might be forgiven for thinking it’s the place we find ourselves in the Union, it’s not easy to tell the difference between members of the House of Lords and relics and bogey men from the frozen past.
There is also the more commonly known version of the troll as portrayed in the recent Harry Potter films and books. Who stuffed a metaphorical wand up the nose of our latest incarnation of troll, the Lairdy Unionist? What has irritated it enough to make it venture forth into cyberspace, again.
An internet troll is described in the urban dictionary as: “One who purposely and deliberately (that purpose usually being self-amusement) starts an argument in a manner which attacks others on a forum without in any way listening to the arguments proposed by his or her peers.
“He will spark off such an argument via the use of ad hominem attacks … with no substance or relevance to back them up as well as straw man arguments, which he uses to simply avoid addressing the essence of the issue.”
The ultimate origin of the word may be a corruption of trawling, where a boat somewhat randomly fishes the ocean. Trolling the internet has in some ways replaced “surfing” to refer to random wanderings in cyberspace, although trolling has a decidedly more nefarious undertone to it.
On Sunday last, there was a tweet at 12:16pm from one George Foulkes, currently resident at Westminster. The good laird tweeted “Cybernat myth that devolution was forced on the labour govt by EU or Council of Europe (stories vary) is akin to Holocaust denial”.
The essence of the message was simple – Tony Blair, out of the goodness of his heart, despite being very opposed to devolution, just decided to let the Scots go for it on devolution.
Not required in the tweet was a reference to the Holocaust – that was trolling for a reaction.
Not required in the tweet was the phrase “cybernat myth” again trolling for a reaction.
Lairdy Foulkes got his reaction on both counts as the “twittersphere” briefly lit up in response to his outrageous provocation. The troll got his reaction, he was fed.
The tweet under discussion came about less than forty eight hours after a Newsnet Scotland article on the forces behind devolution. Coincidence, perhaps, but then again there’s that old Scots double affirmative which acts as a negative, “Aye, Right”.
Had Lord Foulkes cared to properly examine the situation, he was in fact the person most closely resembling a “denier”. He seems to be denying that the SNP are generally accepted as the driving force behind current UK constitutional change, although they themselves have no need to proclaim it.
The firestorm of denial continues when the individual in question sees it prudent not to mention it was Labour who brought in the 40% rule in 1979. The furnaces of denial are farther fuelled by the Labour cabinet meetings that buried McCrone and the same party minutes on devolution that dare not be released in case they prove too incendiary for the UK. The latest FOI refusal could well be McCrone mark II. There are many other examples, but these work well enough to pour cold water on George’s inflammatory mental meanderings.
This is not the Labour peer’s first foray into the realm of the internet and social media. He’s also a frequent user of the term “cybernat”. In this turn of phrase he’s been ably aided and abetted by one Tom Harris MP, also a denizen of the halls of Westminster.
Lord Foulkes is in an envious position; he can stir the seething cauldron at Westminster with no fear of electoral consequences. He has his place at the trough, possibly guaranteed for life, getting more in a day’s allowance than he expects many others to live on for a month.
We can’t kick out Foulkes, nor can we get rid of Michael Forsyth even though in 1997 Scots gave him their biggest ever electoral thumbs down and annihilated his party at the polls. Like a banker who gets his bonus for failure, Forsyth, has been “elevated to the House of Lords” where he continues to sup at our expense.
Lords Foulkes and Forsyth are the chief Scots trolls in the House of Lords, although they do appear to have their hands full keeping just a nose farther ahead than either Tankerness or Earl Caithness. In case any of these front four start to slack in their trolling at the trough, the Duke of Hamilton is at the forefront of those pushing from behind as he reminds us his ancestors were unjustly vilified simply because they found themselves bankrupt after Darien and chose to become that Parcel o Rogues.
Trolling legislation at Westminster is no different from trolling the internet. Acting as a troll at Westminster is no different from entering chat rooms or social media sites when your primary result is to cause consternation, upset and strong reaction without a meaningful contribution to the debate.
This is just as obvious at Westminster as it is in cyberspace. The various Scotland Bill amendments trolled onto the Lords’ legislative chatroom have no hope of becoming law. They will never be part of any finalised legislation, as the bill requires assent through both parliaments. That is a political reality.
These amendments, sham protests at vilification, infantile attention seeking and media grandstanding are therefore designed only to produce a reaction without adding to the issues surrounding the true constitutional debate. What they achieve instead is muddying of the waters and confusion of the topics. That is troll work.
Until the time London is finally forced into recognition of our aspirations and goals we should continue in our attempts to minimise the impact of the troll breeding den. The great echoing halls of Westminster seem to be such a den. The near incessant rumblings of Lords Foulkes, Forsyth and others give blunt testimony to this fact.
Today we can recognise this and stop feeding the trolls. In 2014 we can even remove their trough.