In December 2013, the editor of this site – who knew nothing of the secret this article is about to reveal – tweeted “When we write the chronicles of independence, I hope there’ll be a whole chapter on @A_DarlingMP”.
Well, this is as close as we’re going to get.
@A_DarlingMP (which morphed into @A_LordDarling last year) was created in January 2013, back in the days when many people in the oil industry got paid a decent amount to do next to nothing. I was one of those people, having found myself sitting in a portakabin on a Hamburg shipyard, in a year-long job created just for me. As I stretched out my limited number of tasks each month, I got sucked into the Scottish independence debate online, knowing that I’d be back home in 2014 to campaign and vote.
I was beginning to get the hang of Twitter and was amazed at the speed with which information could be presented. Spend half an hour on the site and you could quite easily have a good laugh, a good cry and a good scream. I discovered Tweetdeck, which fills your computer screen with columns customised by the user. I was getting news, sport, politics and more directed straight to my face.
No longer did I have to search for interesting tweets, images or links – I trusted the accounts in my columns to send them to me. No longer did I have to put up with the main Twitter site suggesting I follow Eddie Izzard or Stephen Fry or some other celeb I couldn’t give a toss about.
Parody or spoof accounts, on the other hand, could bring quite the comic relief to your day. The Queen has one, God has one, even the cone on the Wellington statue had one. In 2013, the top emerging parody account in Scotland was @AngrySalmond. He was funny, but he wasn’t realistic. Nobody could fall for it as the real Alex Salmond because it was crude, unprofessional and silly.
Salmond’s main rival at this point, at least according to the media, was Better Together campaign chair Alistair Darling. His parody on Twitter would be realistic, I said to myself one day. Dry, but realistic. So I went in search of him.
There were, I think, two fake Alistair Darling accounts but neither were being used. They’d been pretty much dormant since the very beginning of the referendum campaign. Around this time the real Darling was beginning to carve out some catchphrases, intended or otherwise, thanks to his No campaign speeches. Darling was performing the same speech on a daily basis – the same empty, dull, unoriginal rhetoric spewed out at campaign events and dutifully, endlessly re-published in newspapers and magazines.
None of it was funny, but there was an opportunity to simply re-post what Darling was saying thereby demonstrating the hollow repetition of his message, and quite often the hypocrisy of it too. It took a while for @A_DarlingMP to get off the ground, but once I got the hang of deadpan tweeting (and making use of “funny Alistair Darling” search results on Google Images), the account pretty much took care of itself.
With each television interview or debate, more and more people were noticing Darling’s repetition, his incessant blinking, and his fondness for the word “frankly”. The tweets began to write themselves. “Look – the nationalists have got to understand that, in reality, oil won’t last forever, frankly. It’s about jobs.”
Before the independence vote, the tactic was simply to re-post the lies Better Together and the No campaigners were tweeting, and sign them off with “frankly”. After the referendum, I just had to take something the Tories were messing up and tack “We’re better together” on the end to get people riled up.
As things started to heat up during the long campaign, the actual Alistair Darling appeared on Twitter. I was pleased, but it was clear from the outset he wasn’t enthused about the whole thing – either that, or he had a social media staffer more boring than he was.
At first, tweets from @TogetherDarling (account now deleted) were few and far between. Soon afterwards my account was suspended because of a complaint about re-posting the tweets of others word-for-word. According to the bods at Twitter all I had to do was put the word “parody” in my profile bio, and it also helped to change my Twitter name away from plain Alistair Darling, to help avoid confusion. It didn’t help.
At the beginning of 2014 I was suspended again, and this time it wasn’t so easy to get reinstated. After a dragged-out email exchange with various faceless Twitter people, it was obvious there were complaints that the account was aggressively trying to be a person it was not. Deadpan, serious spoofing was not on, apparently. I was too much like Alistair Darling.
Did I have to be sillier? That couldn’t have been it, because at the same time they also instructed me to remove the background of my Twitter profile, which was a harmless mock-up of Darling as Indiana Jones. I can’t find the image anywhere but it had Ruth Davidson, Johann Lamont and Willie Rennie on it too, so you know it was funny. Someone found it offensive enough to complain about it.
The suspension hit the two-month mark, during which time I played Grand Theft Auto V instead. Weirdly, in all that time, the real Alistair Darling hadn’t tweeted once. It wasn’t hard to tell that they didn’t want to anyway, but with the spoof vanquished it seemed like his job was done.
But then out of nowhere, I was reinstated! My version of Mr Darling quickly blamed it on a dirty tricks campaign concocted by the nationalists (of course) and continued with his doom-laden ways. Hilariously, and to my surprise and delight, the real Alistair Darling began tweeting again – the very next day!
It was only a stupid parody account on Twitter (with not even that many followers), yet it wasn’t hard to conclude that someone at Better Together was spending their time – in between trying to save the United Kingdom – deciding on how to deal with it, and instructing the chair of the campaign or a representative to get back onto Twitter and bloody well tweet! This cracked me up greatly. I’m only shocked that they still remembered the log-in details.
We were getting closer to the referendum – it was time to ramp up the nonsense. The official debates were taking place, giving me the gift of being able to tweet-spam everyone with “BUT WHAT CURRENCY ARE WE GOING TO USE?” and “WHAT’S YOUR PLAN B?”
Every single little inconsequential thing was “vile, frankly” or a “blow for Salmond”. Anytime a foreign country was mentioned Darling would insist on not wanting to be them for six minutes, as he’d bizarrely announced about (not so) poor old Panama.
One of my favourite series of tweets would be posting “Great response for Better Together/Scottish Labour” accompanied by images of increasingly-larger crowds, in numbers that would never in a million years be out campaigning for them. “But that’s a picture of Woodstock,” I’d get in reply.
Better Together’s 500 Questions farce was easily re-worded for Darling. “What will the price of a first-class stamp cost in the year 2054? The nationalists just can’t answer.” Or a particular favourite: “Andy Burnham is right to ask what side of the road we’ll drive on with separation. Will we even have roads? Salmond won’t tell us.”
I’d make Darling explain how much of a burden North Sea oil was, then tweet immediately about making a speech in London on how great North Sea oil was. I’d repeat his words about there being no way back after separation then repeat his other words that, with currency and then political union, going back would be inevitable. It was too easy. Using Tweetdeck I could schedule tweets days or weeks in advance – handy for the holidays.
To keep the complainers at bay and a possible third suspension in the run-up to the vote, I slapped a Yes Scotland badge on Darling’s profile pic, explaining that it was a mistake by his personal assistant. It stayed there for months, yet people still thought I was the real deal.
In the run-up to the 2015 general election I put a massive SNP badge on instead – many folk still didn’t twig. I started calling SNP voters “Yesticles”. The more I tried to be unrealistic, the more people would send me angry Tweets about speaking pish. You can put “parody” in the profile and mess around with images, but if just part of a tweet reads like something a real person would say, people are going to assume it’s them regardless.
From that point on, the account mostly copied dodgy tweets word-for-word from prominent unionist political and media figures on both the Labour and Tory sides. I don’t actually want to name them all here because they don’t deserve the promotion. Darling would reference the daily SNP BAD articles flooding the press, but forget to attach the link to them. Now that the referendum was over, nobody seemed to be complaining about me copying the tweets of others.
In truth I should have quit after the general election (I tried, actually, and got hundreds of messages saying they’d miss it – it obviously wasn’t for everyone, but those who got it really enjoyed it), but after a break Darling returned for the next step – the Labour leadership contests of 2015. Unfortunately this wasn’t anywhere near as fun as the independence campaign, as I was reduced to tweeting about Liz Kendall. A low point, frankly.
The amusing abuse only increased, however, with Darling being called a giant feartie for quitting as an MP before being voted out, and then a massive sellout for entering the Lords as Baron Darling of Roulanish. It was always fun to log on and see great responses such as “Roulanish isn’t even a f*cking place, Eyebrows!”
The last funny period (for me anyway) came during the Forth Road Bridge closure. I had Darling protest at the bridge until it re-opened, posting the exact same image each day. It was ludicrous, but variations of “That’s the Kessock Bridge, you badger-faced traitor!” continued to fill up my notifications for weeks. Joyous.
It’s been well over three years now, and the account has overstayed its welcome. The man himself is either in the Lords or hanging out with his Morgan Stanley pals, and should rightly be slowing down after a hectic decade. If you saved the banks and then the Union you’d deserve a quiet life too.
I was no Angry Salmond – the furthest I got to fame was having a tweet published in The House, the magazine created and edited by the MPs of the Commons. While independence for Scotland remains a possibility there’s always a space for Lord Darling to point out there’s no oil left and we wouldn’t have money or banks or clothes or eyes – but the scaremongering just gets a tad boring after a while, doesn’t it?
I only told a very small handful of people over the years that I was behind the account, and as far as I know they kept it to themselves. Only one other person had access to the account for a short period – I think it’s worth noting that more than one person can control an account, which can often make trying to unveil identities of notorious arseholes on Twitter a lost cause.
(I actually slipped up a couple of times and posted personal tweets as Darling, but quickly deleted them before anyone noticed. Or if they did, they didn’t spill.)
During the independence campaign the man himself probably found it slightly irksome to have a Twitter account ripping the piss out of him – I got that general vibe from some in the Better Together camp at least. I don’t hate him, but I got very angry with some of the things he said during campaigning. I’m sure he’s a nice man in private.
I don’t really know much about him, to be honest – I didn’t even bother to buy his book. Finding an image of him as a guest speaker at the Tory Party conference was enough material for me. I also stayed well clear of his wife on Twitter, so he should probably thank me for that.
It would have been the mature thing to ride off into the sunset, ditch the account and not announce it to anybody, but I hadn’t seen many articles out there describing what it’s like to run a parody account, in Scotland or otherwise. And this site, which genuinely didn’t know who was behind it until I wrote this, had promoted fake Darling a fair bit so I wanted to give a little back.
For those of you who don’t use Twitter, if you’ve managed to read this far, give it a go! Don’t listen to those who say it’s just for telling nobody in particular what you’re having for dinner. It’s not even for following celebrities (because all celebrity tweets are classed as hard news items now – you’ll see ’em elsewhere). If you’d like to find out things as they happen and not a day or two later, have a browse, follow accounts that will link cool things to *you*, and from that point you barely have to lift a finger.
So thanks – to those who “got it” for sharing the tweets; to the Yes and No voters who fell for it, to the Labour MPs, MEPs and activists who followed me thinking I was really Alistair Darling; and for the hilarious and inventive abuse that often made me laugh out loud. Mainly, though, thanks to the unionist commentariat for the constant barrage of SNP-bashing, hypocritcal nonsense that anybody could lampoon with their eyes closed.
As for me, well, the main reason for quitting is that I’m leaving for a new adventure which will involve much less internet access and a completely different time zone to boot. The option to pass the account on to someone else was toyed with, but in the end I decided to kill it off.
I kept a fairly regular blog during the independence referendum (it was actually cited by Alex Salmond both on Sky News and in his book The Dream Will Never Die, which I also have never bought) and it will return under a new guise as I leave Scotland, possibly never to return.
I’d like to say the blog will contain sex and drugs and guns and stuff, but in reality my future is deeply uncertain – I don’t even know what currency I’m going to be using. And hear this, Baron D – the uncertainty feels f*cking great!
So, Lord Darling will regenerate into something new in the near future but for now you can follow me, the real me, on Twitter. After all, you and me – we’re better together, frankly.