Jim Sillars writes in an open letter:
Bear this in mind: Scotland is involved in a great debate conducted democratically. That means freedom of thought has to be matched by freedom of speech, and that right respected by all. Freedom of speech does give licence to abuse. It is a wise person who does not use it for that purpose. Don’t start to respond by saying the other side are at it too. They are not going to get media coverage. You are.
In every campaign there comes a tipping point. Those of us engaged intelligently in this campaign, yes intelligently, can only hope that your stupid contributions through personal abuse do not lend themselves to a tipping point towards a Yes defeat. Stop playing the game that suits only the No side.
In this letter Jim Sillars recalls incidents of “false friends” – undercover policemen who infiltrated the independence movement and encouraged young enthusiasts to commit crimes with a view to making Scottish independence look like a bad cause. He says bluntly:
In 1979, with only a very weak assembly on offer, MI5 and special branch were involved, as was the CIA – with the US Consul in Edinburgh coming from the CIA stable. That was for a weak assembly, do you think that they will not be more engaged now that independence is on the agenda? Has it ever crossed your mind that by conducting a campaign of abuse, which plays into the hands of the No media, you are opening the Yes side to a dirty tricks campaign?
The Better Together campaign has been one extended smear operation and the permanent attacks on Yes supporters as abusive and aggressive has been part of that campaign from day one. They have sought to portray the independence debate as a nasty, hostile and scary one because they are actively trying to put people off from getting involved. It is a fundamentally anti-democratic practice and is beneath what is a wonderful and inspiring campaign.
Setting aside the professional party politicians with their focus on playing catch at First Minister’s Questions, most ordinary Scots involved in the referendum debate are largely willing to acknowledge that everyone living in Scotland has a right to their own views and that we all want what’s best for Scotland, even if we disagree wildly what that is.
J. K. Rowling’s views on independence were bound to attract public notice (especially followed up by a donation of a million pounds to the Better Together campaign – it may be dwarfed by the £100M+ she’s given to support single mothers and children in need, but it’s more money than most people who aren’t Euromillion jackpot winners or Sir Brian Souter could give). Rowling lives, works, and pays taxes in Scotland: unlike David Bowie or Eddie Izzard or Sean Connery, she’s no outsider or tax exile. But she’s also – especially for all voters under 26 – one of the most famous and most liked authors in the world.
Clare Lally, on the other hand, isn’t famous*. Nor can she rightly be said to be among the “political elite”: if that means anything, it means the kind of person who leaves university to be placed into the kind of job that will lead to being selected as a political candidate: often being selected early for a safe constituency because of who your family is. Jeremy Hunt and Ed Miliband are both members of the political elite. You could also argue that anyone who has been fortunate enough to become an MP has joined the political elite: one in twelve sitting MPs are from “politician families”. (I don’t think it would be wise to assume Scottish politics is immune from this just because we’ve only had MSPs since 1999.) Clare Lally entered politics not as a member of the elite but as a campaigner on carer support and for children with disabilities, not from university into a cushy intern job but as a woman who’d had to become a full-time carer for her disabled child.
(*You could say she’s becoming well-known in Scottish/UK politics. But famous, like J.K.Rowling or Eddie Izzard? No.)
Stuart Campbell, the games reviewer and designer from Bath, posted at 10am on 10th June on the Wings Over Scotland blog, taking offence at Clare Lally describing herself as an “ordinary housewife”. He felt she should have described herself as
“part of what the Record calls ‘the political elite’, a member of the Scottish Labour shadow cabinet, an experienced media performer or generations deep in the Glasgow Labour oligarchy”
His fans think of Stuart Campbell as a “balance” to “the pro-Union bias in the MSM” and claim he is “a better journalist than most”.
Stuart Campbell found that Clare Lally is living with a man named Derek. He swiftly concluded this meant she must be Claire, the wife of Derek Lally, the son of Pat Lally. Had he been a good blogger, even, he would have looked into this a bit more effectively and discovered that Clare’s partner’s name is Derek Steel, and she’s not even the same age as Pat Lally’s daughter-in-law Claire. (Campbell claimed later that “despite much confusing and contradictory information” (amazing, there being more than one Clare Lally in Scotland*) “after further investigation we’re now more or less sure” that, well, he goofed.)
(*It’s not as if Clare/Claire was something like the 15th most popular name for girls in the 1970s. Oh wait.)
Is Clare Lally actually a member of the Scottish Labour shadow cabinet? Not according to their own listing. She is not a spokesperson for the Scottish Labour party. She sits as a non-MSP on two cross-party groups, for Carers and for Children and Young People. Doing so isn’t a ministerial or a junior ministerial role. Clare Lally seems to be “in politics” in exactly the kind of grassroots way it was envisaged more ordinary Scots would get involved thanks to the Scottish Parliament. Whatever meaning “the Labour Shadow Cabinet’s Carers Champion” has, it does not appear to have any official Parliamentary or Scottish Labour party standing.
Go back and re-read Jim Sillars’ letter. Go on. I’ll wait.
You are helping the media ignoring her and other voices. If you were being paid by the No side to be cyber louts bringing the Yes side into public disrepute, you could not do a better job. With supporters like you, the Yes side needs no external opponents. Alastair Darling, must be smiling as he views you in the role of what Lenin called ‘useful idiots.’
What exactly did Stuart Campbell accomplish by kicking up a fuss about Clare Lally?
Multiple commenters to his blog kicked her name around a few times, accused her of obtaining a council house by fraud, accused the Better Together campaign of lying, and so on and so forth. Greatly pleasurable for them, no doubt, but how did this advance the Yes Scotland cause? “Clare Lally described herself as an “ordinary housewife” and Stuart Campbell says she isn’t, so I’m going to vote Yes” – said nobody, ever.
Campbell Gunn, Special Adviser to Alex Salmond, read the Wings Over Scotland blog and did a very foolish thing. He assumed – without checking – that Stuart Campbell had got the facts right. And based on that erroneous assumption, he emailed the Daily Telegraph to correct them. The BBC timeline acknowledges that Wings Over Scotland’s blogpost was the primary source for the misleading information.
But the story the Daily Telegraph made out of that injudicious Gunn email reversed the information flow, claiming that Campbell Gunn’s story was echoed by Wings Over Scotland, which they do not link to or name:
But Campbell Gunn, a senior special adviser and political spokesman for the Scottish Government, emailed this newspaper that she was a member of Labour’s Shadow Cabinet and the daughter-in-law of Pat Lally, a former Labour Lord Provost of Glasgow.
His attack was echoed by a prominent nationalist website and other separatists on social media, one of whom described her as: “A liar now and forever whatever the outcome of the vote, a known Quisling and collaborator.”
Stuart Campbell himself, in a comment on this blog:
I have, to the very best of my recollection, never had any contact of any kind with Campbell Gunn. I’ve certainly never met or spoken to him, or emailed him or had an email from him, and if we’ve exchanged a tweet or anything else I don’t remember it and it certainly wasn’t this month.
Stuart Campbell apparently made a bit of a name for himself within the gaming community – such a name that at this point, one online games mag summarises their Stuart Campbell era as: “You useless cretinous morons”.
Another magazine let him go because he wanted to run a front cover pic of a red poppy with the strapline “War has never been such fun” to hit the shelves on Remembrance Day, and when the British Legion objected, Stuart Campbell reacted publicly “Old soldiers, I wish them all dead.” He wrote a blog which he has since deleted about his legal campaign against former employers, and a blog still extant called “Wings Over Sealand” in which he describes himself as “the Rev. Stuart Campbell, a semi-obsolete neo-culture journalist.” (Reverend of what sect? Apparently he’s never said.)
But in 2011, he launched Wings Over Scotland. This is presented – and believed by its fans, who up until 10th June undoubtedly included the unfortunate Campbell Gunn – to be a credible alternative to “mainstream media journalism”. Stuart Campbell ran two crowdfunding campaigns to support his writing for WoS, and seems to have used at least part of the money to launch ads for his blog on Strathclyde Public Transport, which were pulled because Wings Over Scotland had been incorrectly described as a charity. (Who by? No one seems to be quite sure.)
In any case, by March 2014, Stuart Campbell had run the most successful crowdfunding campaign for a blog in history – more than £100,000 in about two weeks, breaking records. On 5th June, Wings Over Scotland was registered with the Electoral Commission as an “Unincorporated Association”. This means that any and all “donations, loans, and spending” made to or by Wings Over Scotland from 30th May to 18th September, must be reported to the Electoral Commission. The two hugely successful crowdfunding campaigns and the attempt to buy ads on SPT do not fall inside that period and so need not be reported.
I don’t read Wings Over Scotland. I don’t like Stuart Campbell’s homophobia or his transphobia or his misogyny, and I don’t choose to give him my clicks.
But over the past few days I have been looking at his blog, and it feels like reading the Daily Mail. There is the same sense of constant anger and outrage. The commenters mostly seem to enjoy the rage and share it. If Stuart Campbell’s goofy lack of research about Clare Lally is typical, how could anyone have ever got the idea he was a good journalist?
Because he feeds them the feelings that they want. Not the positive side of the Yes campaign, the people who are thinking of a better Scotland and who hope that a Yes majority in September will be the first step on the way to achieving it: but the kind of people who look at a council house with a wheelchair ramp for a disabled child and assume it was obtained by fraud.
Stuart Campbell worked himself up into a rage in 2012 at the injustice of MSP Bill Walker being called on to resign just because three ex-wives and a stepdaughter all said he had beaten them.
Reading Jim Sillars’ letter, of course I’m not suggesting that the videogames journalist turned from a failed career as a games reviewer [Update: Stuart Campbell has left a rather intemperate comment: I am happy to correct this from information received that he was in fact “a very successful” games reviewer.] to become an undercover agent provocateur for the British government. I’m sure he got his funding via indiegogo quite honestly. But seriously: how can you possibly suppose that a man who makes a huge angry deal out of Clare Lally describing herself as an ordinary housewife is even a good campaigner, let alone a good journalist? It’s a kind of backbiting bitterness, a how dare she reaction.
If you compare a wordle of Wings Over Scotland with wordles from other Yes-supporting websites, there is an interesting contrast. (Wordle gives more prominence to the words that appear most frequently in the source text.) I chose A Better Nation, Bella Caledonia, Lallands Peat Worrier, National Collective, and Newsnet Scotland.
Which one is the Wings Over Scotland wordle? It’s the only one where the word Campbell has more prominence than the words Scotland, Scottish, independence, or referendum.
I have made clear which way I intend to vote on 18th September, and why. But I’m not in fundamental disagreement with any of the blogs listed above: I respect their convictions very much. I hope that the imagination and political will expressed by those who are imagining a better Scotland continues to work in Scottish politics after the results are in.
One thing I am sure of: if Yes gets the majority, J.K.Rowling and Clare Lally will stay in Scotland, will continue to live, work, and campaign as they have done already for a better nation and a better world. On 19th September, whether Yes or No gets the majority, Stuart Campbell will still be in Bath, still writing his poison-pen blogs, finding a new cause for hate.