Susan Calman: Death threats for independence satire

COMIC Susan Calman has called for the end of “name-calling, swearing and death threats” marring the independence debate after her satirical contribution to a radio show triggered an onslaught of online abuse.

Stand up comedian Susan Calman faced a barrage of abuse. Picture: Ian Georgeson

The Glaswegian comedienne has written a blog lamenting the aggression, bullying and sense of humour failure that many believe has characterised online discussion of the Scottish political scene.

In her blog, Ms Calman pledged to “keep laughing” about Scottish politics despite the poisonous criticism she received for daring to make fun of the referendum debate on BBC Radio 4’s News Quiz.

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On the programme, hosted by Sandi Toksvig, Ms Calman made some light-hearted observations about the SNP’s policy shift that has seen the party abandon the euro in favour of the pound after independence.

Also subject to Ms Calman’s gentle mickey-taking were Conservative ministers and the Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander (“like a ginger Supergran”).

Ms Calman made the point that the Scottish people needed to know what independence would mean for Scotland.

“At the moment it is just two people shouting, ‘Aye, we will have it’ and someone going ‘No, we won’t’,” she said.

A running joke throughout the show was fellow guest Miles Jupp’s attempts to get her to declare which way she would be voting in September next year.

The questions were studiously dodged by Ms Calman, who remarked sarcastically: “There is nothing that could cause me grief about saying if I was pro- or anti-independence in Scotland just now.” Her sarcasm was borne out by the poisonous online reaction to the show.

In her blog, Ms Calman said: “Being honest, I think the whole process surrounding Scottish independence is funny. There’s more propaganda, from both sides, than North Korea produces in a decade … I’ve talked about a lot of things in my comedy career – my sexuality, capital punishment, depression, cats.

“But nothing, and I mean nothing, has ever created such a sh*t storm of aggression than when I’ve talked about Scottish Politics.”

The abuse levelled at Ms Calman follows a stream of complaints against the actor Ray Winstone after his recent appearance on Have I Got News For You.

Around 100 viewers contacted the BBC and Ofcom after Mr Winstone joked that Scotland’s main exports were: “oil, whisky, tartan and tramps”.

Some of the less offensive comments directed at Ms Calman drew attention to the fact that she is the daughter of Sir Kenneth Calman, the medical professor commissioned by the pro-
union parties to extend the powers of the Scottish Parliament.

Other web users accused Ms Calman of “lying” over the currency issue, “talking down” Scotland, making “insulting” comments, “hating her country” and “self-loathing”.

Ms Calman’s blog observed that she had been accused of “betraying my country, of being racist towards my own people”.

She went on to argue that all politicians in Scotland should be fair game for satirists. “Comedy plays a vital role in informing and lightening the mood somewhat,” she said.

“We are over a year away from the vote. If we don’t start laughing soon it’s going to go horribly wrong. The idea that because I’m Scottish I should, in some way, protect my nation by not criticising it is appalling.”

She added: “If we could stop the random name-calling, the swearing, the death threats (real or otherwise) then perhaps we could get somewhere. Bullying is not a way to stop people speaking out. Bullying is the last resort of those who don’t want to enter into a reasoned argument.”

Speaking to The Scotsman last night, Ms Calman said: “I was hoping to give a reasoned response to explain why comedy is important and to address why everything is met with such aggression. After all, we are meant to have a great sense of humour.”