Leaders: Right move should not be damned

Critics of Nicola Sturgeon say her move to counteract 'cybernats' is too little, too late. Picture: PA
Critics of Nicola Sturgeon say her move to counteract 'cybernats' is too little, too late. Picture: PA
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NICOLA Sturgeon’s critics will say her intention to have party members disciplined if they make abusive comments on social media is too little, too late. That’s possibly true. But the familiar refrain also has another message, which opponents dare not speak: “too little too late” often means the politician is actually, whisper it, doing the right thing. All that is left to attack is the extent of the measure, and the timing.

On the issue of online abuse, the First Minister has taken a welcome course of action. Others would have denied the issue, or disowned it, or pretended it would go away if it was not acknowledged. Instead, Ms Sturgeon has accepted that there is a problem, and has pledged to take action wherever someone is found to have crossed the line between debate and abuse.

There was much pride last year at how Scotland had become one of the most politically engaged countries in the world during the independence referendum. But with that surge in interest has come an increase in activity in dark corners and an erosion of any sense of what is socially acceptable.

Evidence exists of SNP members who have let down their party with online abuse, including election candidate Neil Hay who made offensive comments on Twitter about elderly voters who could “barely remember their names”, while another member, Brian Smith, made abusive comments online about Charles Kennedy, before the death of the former Lib Dem leader.

And let it be clear: this problem is not unique to the SNP. Labour gave a warning to activist Ian Smart after he described Nationalists as “fascist scum”.

The First Minister is to be applauded for taking a stand on this kind of unacceptable conduct. No-one in her party can be in any doubt that they will be punished if caught – and the nature of social media is that they will be caught. Where the “too little, too late” rings true is that the First Minister’s predecessor had every chance to take such a public stance against online abuse, but did not seize the opportunity. While Alex Salmond would express disapproval, he was not strong enough in his condemnation of the offenders. This gave the impression, rightly or wrongly, that he did not take the matter seriously enough.

And ironically, his administration introduced the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Bill to clamp down on abuse, while equivalent unacceptable conduct raged on in the political cyberspace.

Ms Sturgeon deserves credit for this latest acknowledgment that not everything in the garden – or north of the Border – is rosy. All those in a position of political influence have a duty to eradicate online abuse, and the First Minister’s stance sets the tone required to name and shame the culprits.

Surreal story of the Methil masterpiece

It’s the kind of story that the producers of television show Cash In The Attic would kill for. An old piece of luggage stored away for decades, and only kept for sentimental reasons, ends up destined for the dump. But the late owner’s son gives the case one last look before it is ditched. Inside is a gift his mother – who he once thought was his sister – received from a secret Russian lover, who some years ago was revealed to be the son’s real father. It’s a piece of art wrapped in sack cloth. And when the cloth is removed, in the corner of this neglected heirloom is, apparently, the signature of one of the world’s most famous artists.

Too fantastic to be true? Time will tell, but “Picasso masterpiece found in Methil attic” looks on a par with “World War Two bomber found on moon”.

However, the seemingly impossible can’t be ruled out at this stage.

The cubist-style painting is to be assessed by auction house Christie’s over the next few weeks, for verification.

The finder, Dominic Currie – coincidentally, a pop artist in Fife – will be a wealthy man if the item is confirmed as genuine and he chooses to sell it. And if it’s not the real thing, he says he would still find room for it on a wall at home, even though he admits he is more of a fan of French artist Matisse.

This part of Fife is best known for its coal mining heritage and heavy industry, although it also has an art history of some

repute, from expressionist painter John Houston to contemporary artist Jack Vettriano and sculptor David Mach. But a Picasso original turning up here? That would be taking surrealism to a new level entirely.