SCOTLAND’S culture secretary has called for more responsible use of social media to debate the independence referendum after comic Susan Calman revealed she had been the target of abuse for her satirical contribution to a BBC radio programme.
Fiona Hyslop has urged more tolerance at the heart of the debate and said she wanted Scotland to be a country that embraced different perspectives and was “not afraid to challenge itself.”
Her intervention came after The Scotsman reported calls from Ms Calman for the end of the “name-calling, swearing and death threats” she said were marring the independence debate.
Ms Calman, one of Scotland’s leading comics, also won support from the Yes Scotland campaign and other SNP MSPs, as well as fellow comics and actors, for a lengthy blog posting, in which she revealed she had been accused of betraying her country and of being racist towards her own people.
Last night, the Yes Scotland campaign, which has been backed by a number of prominent figures from the arts world, said the abuse Ms Calman had received was “utterly disgraceful and unacceptable”.
The comedienne was rounded on for her contribution to BBC Radio Four’s News Quiz programme, when she made a number of light-hearted observations about the SNP.
She posted her blog after being accused of delivering a “mocking rant” about her own country and of talking down Scotland in online comments.
As debate continued to rage on social media sites about her blog, Ms Calman threatened to quit her own Twitter account, saying she was “really struggling to cope”, and announced she had shut her Facebook account down.
She declined to comment further to The Scotsman yesterday.
The controversy has flared just months after former First Minister Jack McConnell called for a “grown-up pact” between the main pro- and anti-independence campaigns, in which both agree to a “positive and respectful” contest and refrain from “personal abuse and threats”.
Hannah McGill, former artistic director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, recently complained the “hugely off-putting element of the referendum campaigns is both sides’ predisposition to snippy, nasty, personal modes of argument”.
Ms Hyslop told The Scotsman that politicians should not be immune to stick or satire, and insisted comedians and other artists should be free to enter the independence debate without fear of being abused.
“She [Ms Calman[ seems to have been attacked and had remarks made from all sides. I think people should be a bit more relaxed and be a bit more responsible with how they use social media.
“The Scotland I want to see is one that is inclusive, and embraces all different perspectives and is not afraid to challenge itself.
“Scotland is big enough to embrace all different arguments and to do so in a responsible and tolerant way. People just need to behave.”
A spokeswoman for Yes Scotland said: “It is utterly disgraceful that Susan Calman has been subjected to this online abuse. It is unacceptable and certainly does not reflect the views of anyone at Yes Scotland.”
Ruth Wishart, a pro-independence cultural commentator, who is also on the board of national arts agency Creative Scotland, wrote on Twitter: “Heard Susan Calman live on The News Quiz. Had a good laugh. Suggest online abusers try harder to locate their funny bone. Or get a life.”
Ms Calman, one of the main home-grown draws on the comedy strand of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, is a former corporate lawyer, who turned her hand to comedy seven years ago and has since won a number of industry honours, as well as landing acting roles. She makes regular appearances on BBC Radio Four and Radio Scotland.
Writing on her blog, she said: “Scottish people are meant to have a tremendous sense of humour. We do. Except when it comes to the referendum it seems.”