When we started a politics website, we invested in the best equipment money could buy, because we knew we’d need to guard against double standards ourselves as well as measuring them in others. The Super HypocrisOMeter 5000 is an industrial-strength device, built to cope with the most extreme manifestations of a trait that is the stock-in-trade of all politicians. But this morning we switched it on and tried to run Labour’s reaction to a story in today’s Express through it, and look what happened:
Let’s be clear. We’re not especially fussed about the comments themselves. We’ve figuratively wished a few people dead in our time, and as we’ve recently noted, at the end of the day it’s just words on the internet. We’re deeply dismayed at the growing phenomenon where people can be prosecuted, fired from their job, or even threatened with prison just for saying unpleasant stuff that plainly isn’t meant in any threatening sense. Salmond Senior’s own admirable response strikes the perfect note of disdain.
We’re not even going to attempt to whip up any outrage about the fact that the Labour member in question chose to attack Alex Salmond’s 90-year-old father rather than the First Minister himself – that’s pathetic and despicable, rather than hypocritical. Nope, the thing that catastrophically overloaded the triple-locked shielding and emergency cutout protection of the Super HypocrisOMeter 5000 was Labour’s astonishing attempt to half-heartedly distance the party from the comments. As well as blithely and shamefully trying to insist that Mr Kelly’s views reflected a “substantive issue”, Labour’s unnamed spokesman offered the following high-handed dismissal:
“This desperate smear campaign falls at the first hurdle because this Facebook page is not owned, managed, or operated by Scottish Labour, and it will not detract from the rantings and ravings of SNP candidates – sacked or otherwise – online.
“Political parties are responsible for their candidates and officials, but members of the public must be responsible for their own behaviour.”
Those readers whose minds haven’t just boggled all the way into unconsciousness will very likely be struggling to reconcile this statement with Labour’s previous views on online extremism, at least when it’s practiced by the infamous “cybernats“:
“Mr Gray made a strongly worded attack on what he calls ‘vile cybernats’ during his final Scottish Labour conference speech. And today Mr Gray writes in The Scotsman that he has discovered ‘at least one post suggesting that a particular journalist should be shot’.
Mr Gray also accused the SNP leadership of a “tolerance of this culture”. He also said that all voters ‘should be worried’ by internet postings from some SNP supporters, who he says are ‘poisoning the vital debate we now face’ on Scotland’s future. There is also a claim from Mr Gray, who stands down as leader on 17 December, that the SNP internet posters are ‘undermining the decency of the country’.“
Iain Gray has, of course, been far from alone among senior Labour figures in insisting that the “cybernats” – a disparate group of largely-anonymous individuals, of whom all, some or none might actually be SNP members – operate under the explicit instruction and control of the SNP leadership:
“Labour’s Anas Sarwar said: “Everyone knows that Alex Salmond desperately wants a second question on the ballot and now he has left the door open for his army of cybernats to deliver the response he wants.”“
Ever since 2011, Labour and its tame media have ramped up the angle that the SNP leadership must “do something about the cybernats“. Prominent features are headlined with pious pleas or strident demands for the SNP to condemn their nefarious activities, even as elected Labour MPs, MSPs and councillors (rather than random internet users) freely compare Alex Salmond to Hitler, Robert Mugabe or Slobodan Milosevic or call SNP politicians and members ‘traitors” without the hysterical press opprobrium which accompanies “cybernats” doing the same thing.
The Facebook group on which Alex Salmond’s father was wished dead was not an open group populated by any old internet loonies who wandered along. It’s closed to the public and the controlled, vetted membership of 533 includes the Scottish party’s foremost and finest – as well as current “leader” Johann Lamont and her “deputy” Anas Sarwar along with Shadow Scottish Secretary Margaret Curran, former First Minister Jack McConnell, MPs Cathy Jamieson, Ian Davidson, Eric Joyce, Sarah Boyack, Tom Harris, Tom Greatrex and Tom Watson, and front-bench MSPs Jackie Baillie, Ken Macintosh and James Kelly, are all members.
(Most of the prominent online Labour activists whose names our readers will recognise also belong to the group, including John Ruddy, Aidan Skinner, Duncan Hothersall and Cllr Alex “Braveheart” Gallagher. Only the lovely Terry Kelly is unaccountably missing.)
We don’t think it’s dreadfully unreasonable to suggest that with a membership list like that, Scottish Labour has a lot more control and responsibility over what’s posted on the group than the SNP does over random anonymous Twitter users or comment-thread posters. In a world where suggesting that certain actions of rival politicians might be “anti-Scottish” generates hundreds of column inches and loud demands for resignation, we look forward to the blanket media coverage demanding that the leadership takes urgent action against this vile cyberBrit menace nestling in the very bosom of Scottish Labour. We’re certain it’ll be along any minute now.