Darren McGarvey: Unionists munch popcorn as Yes campaigners tear each other to shreds

As some of you may be aware, a massive square-go has erupted in the Yes campaign. In the blue corner, we have Stuart Campbell, a self-styled 'lie-detector' whose robust brand of fact-checking is somewhat undermined by his famously mean-spirited approach. Whether you love, loathe or grudgingly respect him, the Bath-based nationalist is the Yes movement's most influential opinion shaper '“ excluding Nicola Sturgeon herself.

Infighting among activists is causing serious damage to the independence movement. Picture: John Devlin
Infighting among activists is causing serious damage to the independence movement. Picture: John Devlin

In the red corner, we have an unlikely coalition of radicals, socialists, progressives, Blairites and Tories who smell an opportunity to bring Campbell to heel. The main catalyst for this latest running battle was the news that the Wings blogger, as famed for his vitriolic style as he is for his robust, landscape-shifting journalism, was to take Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale to court for accusing him of homophobia. The charge, laid at the door of the First Minister in the Scottish Parliament, received broad support across the political spectrum, but most notably, across the constitutional divide, from people, both Yes and No, who united to condemn remarks Campbell made on social media about Oliver Mundell, son of Scottish Secretary David Mundell.

Supporters of Campbell claim Dugdale deliberately weaponised his remarks for political gain and, while accepting his comments were mean-spirited, strongly disputed they were homophobic. Others accused Dugdale’s supporters, within the Yes movement, of elitism, short-sightedness and opportunism. As fellow Yes activists use the fledgling movement’s formidable apparatus to tear each other to shreds, the only thing unionists have been fighting over is the popcorn.

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If there’s one thing I know a bit about, it’s getting into a stand-off with another section of the Yes movement. Since 2014, I’ve been called (among other things) a traitor and a sell-out by Wings supporters and a dangerous, abusive misogynist by activists on the far left. Since publicly withdrawing my support for the SNP in 2015, I’ve become a bit of a pariah in the Yes movement, generally. That’s where independent mindedness gets you in the Yes campaign. It’s nearly three years after the referendum and I’m still picking bits of National Collective out from between my teeth.

I remember the night when it suddenly dawned on me that National Collective and myself had vastly different ideas about the role of political art and, more importantly, about the priorities for the Yes movement itself. Following my typically angry, scatter-brained diatribe about the link between child abuse and poverty, the audience of shiny-faced “creatives” seemed a little shocked and confused. The girl who went on after me, in her attempt to address the awkwardness, picked up her guitar before exclaiming: “For me, independence has nothing to do with poverty; Scotland and England are just . . . different.”

For her classless observation, she received a rapturous applause. I got up and walked out.

In the months that followed, the relationship curdled further as it became clear that National Collective (NC) was more aligned with the SNP than I thought.

Within months, I was involved in a very bruising ongoing feud with NC. At the core of the curdled relationship lay a simple difference of opinion about priorities. A difference of opinion, which became so distorted on social media, as well as coloured by my own personal resentments, that I genuinely believed they were a threat to artistic freedom and would not rest until the last wish tree had fallen. I probably had a point, but it can’t be denied that in the heat of the battle my judgment was severely impaired and many things were said – and done – that I would later regret. I’d hope some of them have regrets too, but I can only speak for myself. My digital crusade was not only driven by my sense of conviction, but also, more subtly, by a river of bad faith that coursed through me like a drug. I often invoked things like class, freedom of speech or democracy but was less forthcoming about my obsession to settle a long-standing score.

I’m sure you guys have no idea what I’m talking about.

Across Scottish political culture, I see a lot of people behaving disingenuously, perhaps unknowingly, like I did. People who live in a world where everything in society needs to change, but them. I see people using various noble causes, whether it be the plight of Scottish independence, the merits of the union, or the rights of minority groups, as Trojan horses to settle their own personal scores or advance their own political agendas.

It’s having a very corrosive effect on public life but can only be corrected when we aspire to cast our critical eyes inward now and then, as opposed to constant recrimination and finger-pointing. With respect to the Yes movement, I do think Campbell needs his wings clipped. We all do from time-to-time. But I also think it’s dangerous when prominent figures like Ross Greer (an activist I admire) or publications like the Sunday Herald, which have empowered themselves on the Yes movement’s back, engage in lazy generalisations about those who support Wings Over Scotland. On Sunday, thousands of people were shockingly dismissed as a “lunatic fringe”. This is as unacceptable as homophobia and deserves to be strongly condemned too. The truth of all of us, whether we admit it or not, is that we are often just as guilty of the flaws we point out in others. So much of our energy is spent on keeping up ideological appearances. Maybe, when it’s time to retreat from the battlefield and lick your wounds, a few of you might consider doing something unpredictable for once: write a blog about your own mistakes.

Darren McGarvey is also known as Loki, a Scottish rapper and social ­commentator @lokiscottishrap