media



For anyone who hasn’t seen it Bella Caledonia is a web site that says it’s ‘an online magazine (launched in 2007) exploring ideas of independence, self-determination and autonomy.’ Whatever it was in 2007 it’s gone beyond exploration to being a sort of up-market intellectual cheer leader for the Scottish independence ‘Yes’ campaign.

They make great play of the high quality of debate about Independence, although they claim in a recent article (Doubt? by their editor Mike Small) that ‘the No campaign has a track record of constant disengagement.’ So, the high quality of debate is on their side only. Still, as they say,

just about everywhere you go, everyone’s talking about the same thing: the referendum, our collective future.

Or trying to. I tried to comment on this article when it appeared. My comment was held ‘awaiting moderation’ for a few hours while other, later comments were published. When I checked about ten hours after submitting it, my comment had disappeared. It has to be said that ALL the comments they published supported their point of view. But if one attempt to comment that didn’t fit their world view has disappeared, perhaps others have too.

Here is my unpublished comment in full:

Bella Caledonia consistently praises the quality of the independence debate from the ‘Yes’ side and consistently denigrates the quality from the ‘No’ side. The one thing I’d agree with about this post is the challenge of conducting a ‘nuanced complex argument’ on Twitter. So perhaps in this less-constrained space Bella could hitch her skirts up and answer a question I asked a couple of weeks ago on Twitter.

In a response to someone else on or before 23 April (I don’t have access to that discussion now) @bellacaledonia used the phrase ‘hate apologist.’ I asked:

‘Perhaps you could clarify what a “Hate Apologist” is? Or is it just a new term of abuse?’

You did not answer and when you posted a flattering reference the next day to an article in The Scotsman about Noam Chomsky’s view on Scottish independence as an example of the quality of debate I asked:

Hello, is that the @bellacaledonia who didn’t answer my query the other day about what they meant by “Hate apologist”? #qualityofdebate’.

The Twitter incarnation of the lovely Bella then replied:

@rogerlwhite zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz’

And I couldn’t resist commenting:

@bellacaledonia Exactly my point #qualityofdebate So what *is* a hate apologist? If you use unexplained terms you really should explain them’ [perhaps not the most elegant way to express my point but I’m sure you see what I mean].

So, third time lucky from me to Bella – what is a ‘hate apologist’? I genuinely don’t know and would love it if you could maintain what you perceive to be the high quality of debate by telling me. Otherwise I’m afraid it will be zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz from me.

Is that negative or, heaven forefend, abusive? I was merely trying to get Bella Caledonia to say what they meant by ‘Hate apologist,’ because I didn’t have a clue, and still don’t.

You see, it’s not good enough to say how high the quality of debate on a subject is then go around calling people ‘hate apologists’ and not explain what you mean.

Meantime, here is the language used in some of the comments they have published on their ‘Doubt?’ article

  • the tame jock journalists and the lamentable bbc…
  • the amoral, policy free, running on empty machine, that is Scottish Labour
  • the feartie mongers of Better Together
  • pure mischief making [an article by composer James MacMillan referred to in discussion]
  • [David] Torrance [a ‘No’ supporter] is an agitator … a devious manipulating bar steward.

High quality debate? You decide.


Bad language warning

What standards should we expect in public debate about an important issue, and what constitutes public debate?

The questions have been prompted in my mind by online discussion of the Scottish independence referendum and the Collaborative Scotland web site. They urge ‘respectful dialogue’ and this seems to me a pretty good principle for discussion of such an important issue. These are their guidelines:

  • Show respect and courtesy towards all those who are engaged in these discussions, whatever views they hold
  • Acknowledge that there are many differing, deeply held and valid points of view
  • Use language carefully and avoid personal or other remarks which might cause unnecessary offence
  • Listen carefully to all points of view and seek fully to understand what concerns and motivates those with differing views from our own
  • Ask questions for clarification and when we may not understand what others are saying or proposing
  • Express our own views clearly and honestly with transparency about our motives and our interests
  • Respond to questions asked of us with clarity and openness and, whenever we can, with credible information.

They strike me as sensible and when I across public comments that I think are abusive I try to gently let the person concerned know about these guidelines and leave them to draw their own conclusions. Most of the material of this sort I come across is on Twitter, but I see a fair scattering of it on Facebook and individual web sites. Some of my exchanges end in what I regard as a redirection of abuse (and, occasionally, implied threats) from the original target to me. At this stage I just stop. Some people are so unbalanced and blinkered that no comment they disagree with will do anything other than convince them of the rectitude of their own point of view.

Some however are different and should, in my view, know better.

Yesterday I saw a tweet that read

“@[name] Aw, sad for poor Jose-Manuel Barroso tonight.” Maybe he’ll turn on Cameron and say In ye come Scotland fuck the Tory bastard

I don’t know what action or remark by Barroso prompted this comment but I know what the words (excuse me) ‘fuck the Tory bastard’ mean.

I remonstrated – gently I’d say – with

Not sure ‘F the Tory B’ helps #indyref debate – a suggestion: [link to Collaborative Scotland web site as above]

Our exchange then went:

Him – no but it’s on Twitter, it’s heavy with irony and guess what? People laugh. That’s because it touches how they feel. New media

Me – Still, I find it sad you reduce the high aspiration of national self-determination to ‘Fuck the Tory bastard’, ironic or not

Him – sorry roger. That sounds like sanctimony. This is Twitter not Thought for the Day.

At which point I gave up.

Funny my correspondent should mention Thought for the Day because ‘he’ is not some anonymous internet troll. He’s an ex-BBC journalist who presented a BBC Radio Scotland current affairs programme, amongst other things, for a number of years.

Is it unreasonable of me to expect ‘respectful dialogue’ on Twitter about the independence referendum, especially from public figures? Am I sanctimonious or just a wimp who needs to man up? Should we accept standards on some media we wouldn’t on others? What do you think?


Apparently as the result of a spoof phone call by two Australian disc jockeys to a hospital in London a nurse has died, assumed as I write to have committed suicide, ashamed at having inadvertently allowed the disc jockeys to talk to a colleague about the health of a member of the British Royal family.

A Google search just now for ‘2day fm royal prank’ returns 261,000 results, #royalprank seems to be the Twitter hashtag to use, and there’s very little that can be said about the specifics of the case that hasn’t already.

But the use of the word ‘prank’ in the circumstances is interesting.

2Day FM and its owners have made various statements over the last few days.

On Saturday, before he became more remorseful under the pressure of both listeners and advertisers withdrawing their support, Rhys Holleran, the chief executive of Southern Cross Austereo, 2Day FM’s owners, was quoted as saying

As a craft in radio, [prank calls] have been going for decades and decades…They’re not just part of one radio station or one network or one country, they’re done worldwide.

As usual, the Oxford English Dictionary is enlightening

‘prank.’A malicious trick; a wicked deed; a deception or scheme intended to harm, a hoax. In later use chiefly… A practical joke; a lark; a capriciously foolish act … usu. with modifying word indicating the negative connotations.

Got it? ‘Malicious…wicked…deception…intended to harm…capriciously foolish…negative connotations.’

The use of the word ‘craft’ for prank calls sticks in my gullet, but on one thing Holleran is right.

These calls are widespread, mostly on the more inane sort of shows hosted by the more inane sort of disc jockeys on radio stations similarly inclined. On the occasions I’ve heard them they are usually perpetrated to the accompaniment of exaggerated smug laughter of the ‘How clever I am’ variety.

A prank always has at least a tinge of cruelty about it and is designed to hurt and humiliate, maybe but not always through what passes for humour.

I’m up for actions that speak truth to power and its pomposity but as far as pranks go, count me out.