Conservative leadership hustings: Why shouts of 'Tory scum' are a threat to democracy – Scotsman comment

The vitriolic abuse hurled at Conservatives attending the party’s leadership hustings in Perth and the BBC journalist James Cook was as appalling as such violent language always has been.

Some of the remarks used were perhaps once part of a tradition of politics that owed more to pantomime than any real attempt to incite genuine hatred.

But this makes it all the more important for everyone to recognise that times have changed and what could once be brushed off as relatively harmless ‘rough and tumble’ is now much more serious, to the extent of posing a threat to democracy itself.

Social media has provided political extremists, once isolated, with a platform and an organising tool, creating an upsurge of prejudice, lazy rhetoric and the demonization of people they disagree with.

Cynical politicians, such as Donald Trump in the US, have sought to ride that wave to power, whipping up their supporters to unthinkingly hate their opponents. Even a staunch Republican like Liz Cheney has been ousted as her party’s candidate in Wyoming because she bravely chose to take on Trump over his incitement of the US Capitol riot and his attempt to overturn a democratic election result.

So the condemnation of the abuse directed at Cook by Nicola Sturgeon and other leading SNP figures was heartening to see. Those responsible may not have been SNP supporters, but the First Minister chose to defend him anyway, rather than ignoring what happened or adopting dishonest, Trumpian tactics.

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After calling Conservative MPs “scum” last year, the deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner initially refused to admit this was wrong and say sorry, but after time off on bereavement leave, she said she had reflected on the state of political debate in this country and apologised “unreservedly”, promising to be “more careful” about her rhetoric in future.

Protesters outside the Tory leadership hustings in Perth (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

The rise of hate-filled extremism means that everyone must now engage in similar reflection and realise that demonising politicians is far more serious than it once was.

We need a backlash of vocal, but polite condemnation from all to prevent such behaviour becoming increasingly common and adopted by all sides. And we need to rediscover a basic level of respect for fellow democrats.

Screaming abuse wins no one over, it is more likely to be a prelude to a fight.

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