We are all commentators now. A response to Ian Jack’s Guardian comments on online vitriol, Anglophobia and other matters

Ian Jack (the Guardian 22 Feb 2012) is upset at the often furious responses to online journalism or ‘nasty’ comments as he describes them. In particular he is astonished at how much vitriol is extended by writers of such posts in ‘face masks’. Expect that includes me then, on two counts.

Andrew Marr labelled us face masked types as socially inadequate. It is true there is a great amount of virtual anger around but the message is surely what is important not the messenger (masked or unmasked). Dwelling on the anonymity of commentators is a distraction. Think of us as the equivalent of world wide web’s Batman or Lone Ranger challenging unsavoury columnists hitherto given free rein to pontificate on all and everything. Socially inadequate Mr Marr? Och behave yourself. At least I’m no forelock tugging sycophant. Woops there I go again.

Until bloggers filled the virtual airwaves we had to make do with the ramblings of professional journalists – some good, some bad, some very, very bad. It was hard to get a word in because, frankly, the odd letter to the editor just doesn’t have the same impact as a full page spread with headlines and highlighted quotes available to the columnists.

Pompous politicians who rate themselves so highly that they are bound to feel their comeuppance is wholly undeserved – ‘an idiotic, pompous traitor to Scotland and the Scots’ does not appear over harsh as a put-down of George Robertson (one-time Labour MP and Sec. Gen of Nato) – certainly not compared with the attacks public figures in history had to contend with. Thin skinned indeed are our current politicians while not being averse to dropping the shit on other people when it suits them.

I do not condone very nasty abuse (perhaps difficult to define as it is not a scientific category) of individuals and I avoid sites where I know this goes on but criticism of anyone who places him or herself in roles which have an impact on others can be justified – just because someone might find condemnation hard to swallow does not mean it is not deserved.

Robertson is guilty of deliberate mud-slinging with his use of ‘cybernats’ which is his pejorative put-down of nationalists who challenge his views and assumptions and a term offensive to many who give legitimate support to Scottish nationalism through a means readily available to them.

Jack appears to be suggesting that traditional media commentators have greater legitimacy over their virtual cousins but it is likely that online bloggers will be every bit as qualified in terms of life experiences and academic qualifications as any newspaper or TV journalist and in some cases more so.

I take issue with Jack that political nationalism was ‘relatively new’ in the 1930s but there was a strong Left-wing antipathy to nationalism then which equated Scottish nationalism with tartan Toryism. The internationalism of the Left largely prevented it from seeing anything good in separate national identities although John Maclean was a believer in Scottish socialist republicanism. There has been a major political shift among many of the Left in their attitudes towards Scottish nationalism today.

I am astonished when I look back at the extent of acceptable sexism, racism, classism even within the past forty years – the world so much loved by those who are quick to deride political correctness and who still love to snigger at offensive and stereotypical attitudes and jokes. The rampant sexism of the swinging sixties would not be tolerated by today’s women although there are still dinosaurs who revel in their reactionary attitudes. And when did you last hear the word Sassenach? A quarter of a century ago it was common parlance in the media. It never was an insult – coming from the term for Saxons or early settlers into England) but espoused a difference between Scots and English. No one saw it as Anglophobic.

The pull of the south has been hugely damaging for Scotland – justified by some as ‘just following the jobs’ as if this is a reason for preserving the Union when it is a clear reason for abandoning this unequal partnership which pours investment in the economy of the southeast corner of the UK so disadvantaging everywhere else.

Once Scots fell into the vocabulary of dominant (domineering?) England to the extent England came to stand for Britain or the UK. To us today in seems inconceivable that such a level of collusion could have gone on but as we are too often reminded the past is a foreign country and it was there where the Union’s rotten core went unnoticed by the majority. No longer.

Anglophobia is offensive but tell me, Ian Jack, what is the Scottish equivalent? Or indeed the Scottish equivalent of Anglophilia? I doesn’t appear to have occurred to you to ask the question.

Jack ends by asking if ‘every separatist movement in these islands have a murky Anglophobic current as a necessary component?’ I think this another case of the over-sensitive George Robertson syndrome. It is criticism that is being objected to – that someone has the audacity to question what they stand for – so the criticism becomes lost and the messenger casually disregarded as ‘Anglophobic’ thereby avoiding any serious debate over the issue behind the comment.

We can live by lists if you want Ian Jack. You love England for ‘Dickens, Shakespeare, Elgar, Broadstairs, my wife and children, relatively warm summers.’

I could equally write I love Scotland for Stevenson, Grassic Gibbon (irrespective of his views on independence (and note the patronising dismissive phrase Jack uses, ‘romantic international socialist’ while his own views are far-sighted? Comfortable?), Allan Ramsay, Burns, the Cairngorms, waterfalls, sandy beaches, people with time for each other, clear bright air of Aberdeenshire. I’ll even take Dickens – he travels- as do Huerta Müller, Käthe Kollwitz, Neil Young – my cultural borders are not confined within my nation’s borders.

We are not all Anglophobes and I do not imagine the bloggers in the south are all – whatever that word is for haters of the Scots. Assertiveness is not bad and by not wanting what you want is fine – just not for me.


5 Comments to “We are all commentators now. A response to Ian Jack’s Guardian comments on online vitriol, Anglophobia and other matters”

  1. Nice piece. I do still tend to fall back on stereotypes as a humour device because it excuses you of the need to think. My staple in this is to refer to BBC Alba as ‘Teuchter telly’. As for Robertson, I’d be the first to admit that he’s a wee jobby, but he did manage to run rings round Alex Salmond and Winnie Ewing in 1993 when those two voted with Major’s Tory minority government. Considering how shrewd Salmond appears now, it does make me pause for thought from time to time whenever Robertson shows himself up.

    • Thank you. I don’t think stereotypes are the reserve of bloggers masked or otherwise. As for your refs to politicians I think it just goes to prove that they’ll do whatever it takes. Opportunistic to a man or woman and morality rarely gets a look in. What we don’t need are po-faced journalists attacking the wrong targets.

  2. Thanks Willie. He’s not going to like it but I could never understand why he rose as high as he did politically. Never came across as anything other than pedestrian but maybe that was the point.

  3. Well said.
    “Robertson Syndrome” defines the article exactly.

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