We’ve spent a fair bit of time over the course of this website’s existence documenting the multi-media witch-hunts that invariably arise in the Scottish media whenever some obscure and/or anonymous independence supporter on the internet says something slightly intemperate (or even just expresses an unpopular opinion).
We especially enjoy contrasting it against the way that the elected, taxpayer-funded representatives of major political parties can get away unremarked with comparing the First Minister to dictators and genocidal mass murderers (of the sort “Better Together” donors like to give hundreds of thousands of pounds to).
The vast difference in the amount of media weight given to abusive behaviour from British nationalists and that from the independence side (the infamous “cybernats”) has long been a feature of Scottish political debate, but over the last 12 hours the phenomenon has seen an intriguing new twist.
Today’s Scotsman carries no fewer than THREE articles on the same subject – the, and we quote, “shit-storm of aggression” that apparently befell comedian Susan Calman after she made a few mild jokes on Radio 4′s News Quiz last week.
The most prominent piece runs under the quite extraordinarily hysterical headline “Susan Calman: Death threats for independence satire“, and there’s also a typically idiotic opinion column from the reliably-poisonous Brian Wilson AND an editorial leader bemoaning the “unacceptable”, “vindictive” and “malevolent” “abuse” of Ms Calman.
Half of last night’s Newsnight Scotland was also devoted to the issue – along with a passing and swiftly glossed-over mention of the events of last week’s “Have I Got News For You” which focused not on the controversial comments but the apparent inability of Scots to take a joke – as part of a wider debate on the lack of Scottish political satire.
(We’ll deal with that one right now just to get it out of the way – there isn’t much Scottish political satire in the media because [a] the BBC haven’t commissioned any, and [b] the only Scottish politician most people have heard of, including Scottish people, is Alex Salmond. The last opinion poll we saw suggested that a third of Scots still didn’t even know who Johann Lamont was, despite her being leader of the Holyrood opposition for almost a year and a half, and running “The Salmond-Bashing Show” every Friday night might be a bit unsubtle even for the BBC.)
All the coverage was based on a blog by Susan Calman complaining about the reaction to her News Quiz appearance. But the odd, and new, thing about the latest terrible cybernat “outrage” is that absolutely none of the coverage actually quoted or sourced any of the alleged abuse. Calman herself said only this:
“I’ve been told that someone has written a blog which is pretty abusive towards me after my performance on News Quiz (there’s probably more than one, no need to point them out to me). I haven’t looked for it, and won’t.”
She’s been TOLD that someone wrote a nasty blog, that nobody can identify, which she hasn’t read. Crivvens, hold the front pages! Every single atom of the media hype that’s been hastily whipped up appears to be based on a blog whose very existence is only a rumour, and whose subject definitely hasn’t seen it either way.
Ms Calman does also make vague reference to being accused of racism (gosh, how awful – we can understand why the Scotsman would be against that sort of thing) and in one instance having a single swearword directed at her, though again there are no actual quotes or links to the alleged insults. We’re still not sure that would qualify as “bullying”, a “shit-storm of aggression” or a “barrage of abuse”.
(She also speaks rather obliquely of “death threats (real or otherwise)” without actually saying that she’d received any, though that didn’t stop the Scotsman blaring them across its story as a fact.)
We spent some of last night and a chunk of this morning trying to find this alleged “abusive blog”, or indeed anything that would constitute any of the descriptions used in the media. We’ve had no luck. If anyone can direct us to it, we’d be most grateful. Because otherwise, it would start to look awfully like an orchestrated smear campaign based entirely on a hypothetical situation.
But even if it were true (which it might be – the whole point is that we’ve been given no evidence with which to verify or otherwise), the shock-horror reporting would be based on a very curious premise. Brian Wilson’s typically unhinged, obliviously hypocritical rant concludes with a passage that begins:
“Politicians may be expected to have thick skins but academics, publishers, comedians, business people even journalists are not paid to be subjected to the kind of abuse which is now absolutely guaranteed in response to anything that can be interpreted, however wildly, as being ‘anti-Scottish’ according to a certain orthodoxy.”
Hang on, what? We’ll give you academics and publishers, but COMEDIANS aren’t expected to have thick skins now? Has Brian never been to “Late’n'Live” at the Edinburgh Fringe, or indeed any stand-up comedy performance anywhere on Earth? At the worst, so far as we’ve been able to establish, Susan Calman has been subjected to a bit of heckling, and if she can’t hack that she’s probably in the wrong job.
And one more thing. At its best, comedy is challenging and confrontational. Calman has pathologically avoided expressing an opinion, which is all well and good, but if you make an enormous fuss over your supposed neutrality – as she has – it’s hardly surprising that people will speculate about and scrutinise your motivations.
As it happens, the comedian earlier this year devoted an entire half-hour BBC Radio 4 show to the subject of “Nationality” – ironically in a series entitled “Susan Calman Is Convicted” billed as one where “the Glaswegian comedian explores issues on which she has strong opinions”.
She devoted a lengthy part of the introduction to emphasising that she was going to avoid the subject of nationalism, and then embarked on what amounted to a 30-minute virtuoso demonstration of the Scottish Cringe, with the full range of “Brigadoon” and “Braveheart” references on display.
You can listen to it here, and draw your own conclusions.