Robin McAlpine: Kindness or cruelty, it's your choice

CommonSpace columnist and Common Weal director Robin McAlpine calls for a return to solidarity and kindness in the independence movement after a week of arguments and infighting

WHAT DO you want? What kind of Scotland do you want? What kind of independence movement do you want? What kind of world do you want?

I came back from four days working in the north of England (my poor kids think Sheffield is a summer holiday destination) to what is euphemistically called a 'twitter storm'. If I didn't know better I'd think that there was a substantial minority of you who want to live in a world of bitterness and mistrust and poison and smears and hatred and bullying.

Me? I love the independence movement. I've loved it since it sparked into real, beautiful, autonomous life during the referendum. But like every love affair, sometimes it really hurts.

I grew up with Bill Hicks and Chris Morris and Jerry Sadowitz and Irvine Welsh. I struggle with what seems to me to be the somewhat prissy standards of our time.

And yes, I kind of know that I'm a man out of time. On the one hand I grew up with Bill Hicks and Chris Morris and Jerry Sadowitz and Irvine Welsh. I struggle with what seems to me to be the somewhat prissy standards of our time. I'm probably wrong.

On the other hand, I was brought up believing that basic courtesy is the least another person is due and biting your tongue when you're angry is a small price to pay for decency. That may not be the fashion but I don't think that it will ever be wrong.

I managed a small team working at the sharp end of public affairs in Scotland for about 12 years. During that time I can't remember once having to comfort a distraught member of staff facing a public lynching.

Now? It almost feels like part of my job description. Cruelty is the new normal (and if you think this makes my team sound soft, you haven't met them...).

I don't think I've met anyone who has received such sustained, personalised hatred as Angela.

Angela Haggerty is, as you all know, editor of CommonSpace and a “self-promoting, arrogant bitch riding on the back of the independence movement to personal glory and riches”.

Except I know Angela well and she isn't. She's a kind and hard working and dedicated person with the highest personal moral standards. I don't think I've met anyone who has received such sustained, personalised hatred as Angela.

I didn't entirely agree with her Sunday Herald column, but that's just a personal opinion. She was hardly malicious.

There are no campaigners in Scotland I admire more than the Tie (Time for Inclusive Education) campaign which has been simply amazing, but I didn't entirely agree with my pal Jordan's article in CommonSpace either. But it doesn't represent an editorial position, we didn't commission it, he just submitted it and it met the criteria for publication.

Apparently people can't tolerate so much as a single article that they don't agree with without kicking off a campaign to de-fund the platform.

Apparently people can't tolerate so much as a single article that they don't agree with without kicking off a campaign to de-fund the platform. We were 50 donors short of our target for giving a job to another young journalist. Now we're closer to 100 donors short.

There were times in the past when money was tighter and I might have had to make a young journalist redundant. Is that really what you want? Perhaps its the social media age – we could tweet a picture of the three of them sitting against a wall and you could vote on who loses their livelihood.

We could even livestream them tearfully heading off to apply for Jobseekers Allowance. The thrill, the rawness, the sheer inhumanity, the clicks!

But I'm every bit as sick of Wings-bashing. On the basis of my personal communication with Stuart Campbell and anything I've read on Wings I simply don't believe he's the monster of lore.

On the basis of my personal communication with Stuart Campbell and anything I've read on Wings I simply don't believe he's the monster of lore.

Most of my personal friends are 'civilians' – construction, teaching, hairdressing, sales – and if I showed them the kinds of stuff that is supposed to make Wings 'untouchable' they'd stare back uncomprehendingly.

My partner Cristina is not white, not male, not British and not straight – she's told me many times that she's sick of being told she's too weak and timid for Wings.

This is just a vendetta masquerading as virtue (although even his biggest supporter would accept that Stuart sails too close to the wind sometimes). You may hate Wings – I'm not asking you to conclude that you're wrong. I'm wondering if you can't accept that others don't feel like you do and show them some respect and restraint.

In my head I wish people would stop submitting critical articles about Wings to CommonSpace, and also that Stuart would just take ten per cent off his extreme edges so they didn't feel they had to. But it stays in my head, not a running commentary.

Meanwhile Ross Greer is ripping into The National. I'm speechless. My admiration of what Callum is doing there with very limited resources is enormous.

Meanwhile Ross Greer is ripping into The National. I'm speechless. My admiration of what Callum is doing there with very limited resources is enormous. If you haven't met him, his commitment and effort are way above and beyond the call of duty.

Ross, you could have phoned Callum – he'd have taken your meeting and listened closely to your concerns. Not everything has to be a performance.

So cumulatively, between you all, once you've closed down CommonSpace and the National, what then? We're the only two independence-supporting daily outlets who employ journalists writing news (as opposed to platforms for opinion and analysis).

[In the original version of this article I said that Women for Independence had issued a tweet using the term ‘misogynist’ in relation to CommonSpace’s summer interns. This was a mistake on my part (I do not do social media). In fact WfI retweeted a tweet which criticised us. While I think the criticism remains a little unfair, it was made fun a perfectly respectable way and so bore no relationship to the purpose of the column and I am therefore very happy indeed to correct the record and apologise immediately for my misunderstanding.]
 

A blog accuses the open and inclusive Scottish Independence Convention of being crooked – fill in your conspiracy theory, use the word 'elite' a lot, click publish.

 

 

Meanwhile, Cat Boyd's ashes still smoulder by the stake she was burned at (again, I think she was wrong but deserves much better than to be publicly humiliated). And then a blog accuses the open and inclusive Scottish Independence Convention of being crooked – fill in your conspiracy theory, use the word 'elite' a lot, click publish.

This is all in the last week.

When, as people, did we become so narcissistic that we decided that destroying other people was a necessary price for us to 'get it off our chests'?

When, as people, did we become so narcissistic that we decided that destroying other people was a necessary price for us to 'get it off our chests'? What is so wrong with shutting the fuck up, just now and again?

There are people in the indy movement I can't stand – some genuine horrors, vindictive, nasty, snide, the whole works. Do you know when you'll find out who they are? Never. Not from me.

Why? Because once we've destroyed Cat Boyd and Angela Haggerty and Stuart Campbell and Jordan Daily and Callum Baird and Mike Small and Robin McAlpine and Bella and the National and CommonSpace and whomever is on my naughty list – what then?

The poison-mongers say someone from the 'real' movement will step forward. What do you think is going to happen to them?

The poison-mongers say someone from the 'real' movement will step forward. What do you think is going to happen to them?

I'm going to do something I seldom do which is veer into my personal life. I have now worked ridiculous hours since 2011. In that time I've had one holiday that lasted as much as seven days, none longer. I get paid £24,000 and don't claim a lot of my expenses. Cristina has volunteered for Common Weal tirelessly but unpaid, raising thousands in merchandise and doing our film work.

At times I have so many evening and weekend meetings that I don't see enough of my children. Many of these meetings are not fun – often they are long, gruelling and frustrating. But that's the price of building things.

(Of course, knocking things down can be done from your sofa. Well done.)

I'm exhausted. We're a 'just about managing' family – sometimes with the emphasis on 'just'. I've kept going because of the things I believe.

I can almost cope with the knives in my back, but pulling them out of the backs of friends and colleagues is starting to get to me.

I can almost cope with the knives in my back, but pulling them out of the backs of friends and colleagues is starting to get to me. Quietly, I sometimes wonder if I can do this for ever. If I should.

And if you're at this moment celebrating my demise, be aware that I can't think of a single figure in the independence movement who has done anything worth a damn who hasn't told me (sometimes in some distress) that at some point they have felt the same.

We all fail, we all make mistakes, we're not perfect. We're not even nearly above criticism. But we're not your punchbags on which you can take out your frustration at whatever the hell is bothering you today.

I despise nastiness, I hate bullying. Above all I value kindness and trust and good will. I'm really genuinely scared that I am woefully ill equipped for this new world of narcissism and routine cruelty which seems to grow unchecked.

“An old man howling at the moon” someone called me the last time I asked why all this nastiness is necessary. Fine, hear me howl.

“An old man howling at the moon” someone called me the last time I asked why all this nastiness is necessary. Fine, hear me howl:

Unless this changes it will corrode everything it touches. People cannot cope with being broken down and battered day after day, clinging to their friends and loved ones and wishing there was a safe bubble where they could just stay like that forever.

I know people from every part of the indy movement. Virtually everyone I know is basically honest and has good motives, whatever their flaws. It is those who call them liars, traitors and cheats who are the enemy.

You can't change people's minds with bullying, victimisation and persecution, you can only break them. Thugs don't win over neutrals. 'Pour encourager les autres'  is hurting innocent people to keep the others scared. Its disgusting.

Cruelty infects everything it touches, kindness transforms everywhere it reaches. Do you want to be a bringer of cruelty or a champion for kindness?

Cruelty infects everything it touches, kindness transforms everywhere it reaches. Do you want to be a bringer of cruelty or a champion for kindness? That's for you to choose.

Before you tweet, post, blog, ask yourself a question – how will this make the other person feel? Do you really mean to humiliate and hurt? If not, why not err on the side of discretion.

There is no part of the independence movement that I do not recognise as a thread of the wonderful tapestry that makes us what we are. I beg you to mistrust those who say this bit or that bit isn't the 'real' movement. 'We need each other' isn't a slogan but the truth.

I beg you to mistrust those who say this bit or that bit isn't the 'real' movement.

'Be kinder and more patient' is not a fantasy. Every single one of us without exception can make that choice – again and again, every day.

What do you want? What kind of Scotland do you want? What kind of independence movement do you want? What kind of world do you want?

It's entirely up to you.

Picture: CommonSpace

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