Last week I was banned from the “Vote NO to Scottish independence and protect the union” page on Facebook. This is the Facebook page belonging to britishunity.org a pro-union organisation. Why was I there anyway you might ask – after all it’s a No Campaign page – surely I can’t expect to be tolerated. I suppose I can’t really but I always like to try to understand the other point of view in any argument. It helps me to think about and articulate my own arguments. I also have a whole two hours a day to myself as my smallest child has started nursery and so was experimenting with different ways of filling the time which didn’t include housework! Following links I found myself at the No Campaign page. There are pro-Independence comments on many of the Vote No pages… there are plenty actually but many of them say “Freeeeeedom” or “f*** the Union” or other such witty epithets, so I wondered what the response would be to more logical and developed debate. I was very careful not to break their rules which say:
“Comments that are deemed to be overtly bigoted in nature will be deleted and the offenders possibly subjected to a ban… If you notice a comment that is abusive in nature and you think the user responsible be banned you should contact the admin team immediately via a PM.”
Swearing and being abusive is not my style anyway and I don’t do bigotry, so I didn’t have to try very hard to be good. However it was not to be and after about a week of posting, asking questions and answering questions, I was banned. I tweeted British Unity asking why I received the ban and I got several replies – apparently I was “making repetitive comments about how bad the Union is without explaining why or explaining why ‘separation’ would be beneficial. Dismissing what we say as “scaremongering” etc. We don’t put up with that sort of rubbish.”
They went on a few tweets later to say I was a trouble causer (You can follow it on @squidge142 if you really want to). So there you have it, my calm and reasonable debate was stifled because I used a word that the admins didn’t agree with. The definition of scaremongering is “a person who spreads frightening rumours”. Actually, I was wrong to use that word – I perhaps should have called the poster a liar when they said that Armed Forces personnel on detachment abroad would not be allowed to vote in the Referendum and that we will all lose our British Citizenship on Independence. Then when he said it a second time, I shouldn’t have bothered to give the poster the link to the page where it explains the “service vote” or the link to the Border Agency page which shows the rules for British Citizenship. My reply was along the lines of “There is plenty of important stuff to be talking about rather than scaremongering about losing citizenship and the armed forces not being able to vote”. I certainly was not saying how bad the Union was – I don’t actually think it is that bad – I just really think that we can do better.
And so they deleted all my reasoned and sometimes humorous (well, I thought so anyway) responses to discussions I was having about 16/17 year olds getting the vote and about the economy and about Nicola Sturgeon’s new cabinet post. Then this week I found I was allowed back on the page. I posted reasonable responses to their questions and answered everything I was asked in a non-confrontational way. I laughed with good humour at being Christened “Susan the Separatist” and I was very careful not to use the banned word “scaremongering”. Still, this morning I found myself banned and my posts removed leaving several somewhat strange, one sided conversation. I had been accused of posting opinion and passing it off as fact – what I said was “We can expect the government of an Independent Scotland to focus on developing and growing industry in a way that the Westminster Government doesn’t do”. Judge for yourself.
All well and good – it’s easy to dismiss these pages as of no consequence but I also posted on the official Better Together page. Surely they are above this sort of nonsense you might think – so did I. They had shown a copy of a leaflet they are sending out about the BBC and the corresponding article said “We received lawyers letters from BBC copyright officials who had been pressurised by Nationalists to complain to us”. I searched and couldn’t find anything supporting their suggestion of pressure being exerted and so I asked them what evidence they had to support this allegation. I posted my question on their facebook page. It was promptly deleted and I was banned from the page. My comments remain on their web page and they have altered their article to read “We received lawyers letters from BBC copyright officials and we were happy to remove the BBC logo from our leaflets”. I suppose I should own up to having moderated and been an admin on one or two pages – I have only ever banned one person – this person was given admin rights to a page so that he could post a document. He then banned the page creator and cancelled the existing admins and took over the page for reasons which were never really clear. After a bit of persuasion he reinstated two of us and we promptly took his privileges off him and prevented him from accessing the page again.
This is all very amusing but is it actually serious? Well, why would these pages ban people who are not breaking their rules, who are polite and respectful in their posts and yet leave those which are unpleasant or ignorant? Why do that? Could it be that they don’t like seeing sensible arguments being posted as it counters the view of pro-Independence supporters that they prefer to show? I am not a conspiracy theorist and yet it looks a bit like the only pro-Independence posts that they want on their pages are the insulting and mindless ones – Is it too far a step to suggest they could be posting these themselves?
There are other places I post too – message boards and forums which are not specifically related to Independence but which do cover the subject. Here also, I have found that the anti-independence responses to my posts are often those that tell me I am ‘stupid’, ‘ignorant’, ‘vapid’ or otherwise ‘mentally challenged’. There are even special arguments which are reserved for women who support Independence. I have been accused of being so in love with my Nationalist husband that I have lost all sense of reason; of being romantically attached to an Independent Scotland. I have been told not to worry my ‘pretty’ head about it and that I should just concentrate on my family and stop being such a ‘zealot’. When you add to the mix the fact that I am English you soon find the word ‘traitor’ and accusations that I am not true to my ‘English’ roots. This is an interesting viewpoint – particularly because it is my northern roots that lead me to be interested in politics, encouraged my socialist views and which, I believe, laid the foundations for my pro–independence stance.
For us ordinary folk, the constant slog to deal with the never ending insults and derision is wearing and can suck away your time and your days in a mire of negativity. The whole week left me feeling a bit impotent and grumpy. Enjoying a dram at the home of a friend, I picked up a copy of the BBC History magazine which he had lying around. In it was an article by Jane Purvis on the use of postcards during the campaign for women’s votes in the early part of the 20th Century. I was struck by the similarities between the responses I have been getting and the postcards that I was reading about.
The Suffragettes were wholly unpopular amongst the political parties of the time – they were fighting for a freedom – the freedom to cast their vote, to be influential in the world of politics. The postcards used as propaganda against them were wide and varied but many used derogatory sexual stereotypes to make fun of and ridicule the campaign.
Fortunately we have largely moved away from the extremely misogynistic views of women expressed in the postcards of the time and we don’t have to endure the terrible physical abuse that many Suffragettes were faced with – force feeding and imprisonment. However it is interesting to see how the same types of arguments are being wheeled out to ridicule the Independence campaign.
Many postcards ridiculed the leaders of the Women’s Suffrage campaign – Emmeline Pankhurst and Christabel Pankhurst were fair game, portrayed as particularly masculine and ugly or as shrieking fishwives who had no feminine attributes. The same happens with Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon. The number of times I see “wee fat Eck” mentioned in a thread is huge. There are comments about his manner, his “girth”, his “smirk”; his “greed” and “avarice”, his “sneer” and his “smugness”. I have seen many comments about Ms Sturgeon which focus on her appearance in a negative way, her clothes, and her hair. This seems to be a bit of an obsession on the Unionist Facebook pages and Twitter feeds.
Postcards also suggested that Suffragettes behaved like a bunch of silly animals that followed their leader blindly without any critical thoughts – sheep and geese were popular in this type of portrayal and, lo and behold, we have the same point being made today. There are many accusations that Nationalists blindly follow the SNP line without thought or criticism. We are often accused of banging the same drum over and over again – never mind that we keep being asked the same questions over and over again. Although Christabel Pankhurst was an articulate and brilliant orator it suited those trying to discredit the Suffrage movement to portray the leaders as noise makers – the early representation of “yeah yeah yeah – whatever” although much, much more witty than we see today.
There are also postcards depicting women as troublemakers, needing to be silenced and to be shipped off to faraway places where they wouldn’t be trouble. Women were frequently depicted wearing a scold’s bridle or having their tongues cut out. Jane Purvis shows an image of a woman in a crate waiting to be deported. These all suggest that women need to be silenced. A bit like the Vote no page did to me; a bit like the hackers did to the VASI page a few days ago. These are all ways of silencing the opposition. Another frequently seen unionist argument is that those who are pro-independence should be rounded up and sent to somewhere unpleasant which is usually some dictator state with the adage that “see what real oppression looks like” or a deserted island where we can have our independent country and “see how they get on then!”
Then there is the absurdity argument. To many in the early years of the 20th Century it was absurd to even think about women MPs. Jane Purvis shows examples of postcards which show women knitting in parliament, feeding their babies and putting the teapot next to the mace. Another example shows a future meeting of cabinet ministers in 1978 – all sitting around in their hats and sipping tea, thus implying that women couldn’t function outside the home and were unable to understand the wider implications of politics. These too have parallels with today’s Independence debate. Billy Connolly called the Scottish Parliament “a wee pretendy parliament”. There were many comments about Scotland being too wee, too stupid, and too poor to participate on a world stage as an Independent nation and whilst these seem to have disappeared from the mouths of senior politicians, they still persist in the world of online “debate”. Many unionists on Facebook and Twitter have moved on to comment on individuals – intellectually challenged is the usual accusation – stupid, ignorant and unable to grasp the evidence that shows that Independence won’t work – that it is absurd to suggest that it might.
Why is this interesting? Well for us ordinary people who are pro-independence – slogging it out over the internet in our bedrooms, studies or using wireless in Starbucks on a quiet afternoon, it can be a bit exhausting be subjected to the derogatory comments and ridicule which forms the largest part of the Unionist argument. We can sometimes wonder if we are actually doing any good, actually making any difference and wonder whether it is as much use as banging your head off a brick wall. It is therefore, good to know that this is nothing different – nothing new.
We need to remember that Facebook, Twitter and discussion forums are the modern equivalent of the postcard. It is useful to understand that the noise is just that – noise and bluster. We know that the anti-Suffrage postcards were not true in their presentation of the women’s movement and that they were used as propaganda to poke fun at and ridicule when there was a lack of any sensible argument that withholding votes for women was the right thing to do. There is a lack of credible, positive arguments for the union and that is why we are facing the same sort of ridicule as the Suffragettes did.
When submerged in the dregs of the Unionist arguments we can feel better to know that it isn’t just us. It helps to know that other radical and necessary changes have faced the same arguments and attacks and yet succeeded. It is fear of change, fear of the unknown that leads to the responses we see – not the paucity of our arguments. We know that the Suffragettes used postcards to their own advantage, Norman Watson, in his paper, Text and Imagery in Suffragette Propaganda says “Women’s Suffrage organisations harnessed the propaganda value of picture postcards as a visual corrective to what they saw as a misleading image of their campaign orchestrated by anti-Suffrage opponents movement”. If we are to minimise the effect of the anti-independence scaremongering (and I use that word deliberately) and nonsense, we need to continue to say what we believe, often and logically, without resorting to name calling and turning ourselves into pro-Independence stereotypes. The more we do that, the more we use our own “visual corrective” on Facebook, Twitter and internet forums; the more we present the evidence patiently, logically and respectfully, the more we will reduce the effectiveness of the Unionist arguments.
That would be “Susan the Separatist” signing off!