Tom Peterkin: Online abuse belies clean campaign talk

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WHEN Alex Salmond was in America recently, he spoke at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs – a New York based group set up in memory of Andrew Carnegie. He was giving his spiel about Scotland’s “constitutional journey”.

It was, he said, “an exemplar to the rest of planet”.

Explaining why, Salmond said: “Despite the passion of the argument, not a single person – not a single person has lost a life arguing for or against Scottish independence. Nobody has had so much as a nose bleed in this debate.”

If the First Minister was hoping for a round of applause for proclaiming that one of the great plus points of Scottish politics that no-one has actually died because of constitutional differences, he did not get one.

Salmond then went on to say: “The process has been peaceful, polite and constitutional.”

Polite? You could have fooled me. Polite is not the first word that springs to mind to those familiar with the poisonous abuse that has been peddled by often anonymous posters, which has passed for political debate on various websites, blogs and twitter accounts over the last few years.

In fairness, perhaps the First Minister might have used a different description had his American engagement taken place after the latest example of narrow-minded hatred directed against someone who dared to poke a bit of gentle fun at the political scene.

Sadly, the malicious, humourless and insulting online attacks that the comedienne Susan Calman has had to endure were entirely predictable. As the SNP always points out, the abuse flying through cyberspace has become a feature of both sides of the political divide. Nicola Sturgeon, for example, has had death threats from one cowardly troll.

Labour has made much of the so-called “cybernat” attacks but until now SNP condemnation of has appeared rather half-hearted.

At last, there seems to be a realisation that this sort of thing is a massive turn-off for voters.

Yesterday’s plea for more tolerance by the culture secretary Fiona Hyslop was welcome.

As was a tweet by another SNP minister Shona Robison, who defended the use of political satire.

There have also been helpful comments from the SNP MSP Mark McDonald, who has sympathy with Calman having himself moonlighted as a stand up comedian. The condemnation continued with Yes Scotland describing the online nastiness as “utterly disgraceful.”

If one positive thing has emerged from the disgraceful online treatment of Susan Calman, it is that politicians have woken up to an online exchange of unpleasantries that does little for Scotland’s reputation as “an exemplar to the rest of the planet”.