THE Moderator of the Church of Scotland has revealed that he has been targeted by “cyber bullies” trying to exert pressure on him in the independence referendum.
Writing in The Scotsman today, the Rt Rev John Chalmers appeals for both sides in the debate to “turn down the volume on the rhetoric and refocus on the substance”. His intervention comes after author JK Rowling was subject to internet abuse over her support for the Union.
The Moderator writes that he has received emails from “determined characters using dubious tactics to pressurise, rather than persuade people over to their point of view” in the run-up to September’s vote.
Stressing that the messages have come from both sides, he adds: “If I was at all a sensitive chiel, I would think I was being bullied.” One email to Mr Chalmers accused him of complicity in deceit, while another said he was guilty of betrayal.
Mr Chalmers writes: “Modern communication methods are giving these people both a cloak of anonymity to hide behind and a profile far greater than they merit.
“They are a tiny minority of people and if they really cared about Scotland’s future, they would know that Scotland will never let such attitudes prevail.”
An email to Mr Chalmers from a Yes supporter warned that the Church of Scotland would be unable to justify its silence when it was later revealed that such bias was drawn to its attention, the Moderator said.
The email said: “If the Church of Scotland fails to [speak out] then it is complicit with those who are choosing to lie . . . by writing this email I take away any possibility the Church of Scotland can absolve its inaction on this matter because no one brought it to your attention.”
Another, from a pro-Union source, accused the Moderator and the Church of Scotland of betraying the Scottish people.
Although the Kirk has taken a neutral stance in the debate, it has staged discussions across the country, and published its findings in a report. The Church of Scotland also held a debate during its General Assembly in Edinburgh last month, and Mr Chalmers has said the Kirk will hold a “service of reconciliation” in the days following the vote.
Last week, Harry Potter writer Rowling was subjected to abuse on Twitter after pledging £1 million to the Better Together campaign. The row coincided with an alleged bid to smear Claire Lally, who hosted Better Together’s “100 Days” rally last week.
Campbell Gunn, a special advisor to First Minister Alex Salmond, contacted a newspaper to point out that far than being an “ordinary mum”, as Ms Lally claimed, she was closely involved with the Labour Party and was the daughter-in-law of ex-Labour Lord Provost of Glasgow Pat Lally, which was untrue.
The resulting controversy saw Ms Lally subjected to online abuse. Other victims of web bullies include comic Susan Calman, who last year received death threats after making jokes about independence.
Backers of independence including Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon have also been subject to death threats and abuse online.
A spokesman for Yes Scotland said: “It’s to be deeply regretted that the Moderator has found himself the target of online attacks from so-called cyber-bullies, but he is absolutely right about having a sense of perspective and recognising that the abusers are a tiny minority of people.
“We share his view that the public debate is being conducted for the most part at a very high standard and that online bullies are being given ‘a profile far greater than they merit’.”
A Better Together spokesperson said: “The Moderator is right to say that the debate we are having over Scotland’s future should be one of substance and everyone should feel free to express their view. There should be no place for any sort of bullying or intimidation within the referendum debate.”
He added: “The attacks on two extraordinary women, JK Rowling and Clare Lally, after they expressed their support for a No vote last week, shamed Scotland and all sides must ensure they are not be repeated.”
Yes Scotland chief executive Blair Jenkins yesterday told the BBC’s Sunday Politics: “When you looked at the accounts of some of the people who were posting these things about Jo Rowling, they were people who were using exactly the same language about football players, film stars – this was just part of their language on Twitter.”
Labour MSP Jackie Bailie said: “I think we’ve reached a new low this week.”
She added: “What we’ve seen is the most abusive, vitriolic, vile attacks, particularly against two women.”