WE SHOULD PROSECUTE THOSE WHO PERPETRATE CYBER ABUSE

JOHN McGURK

The crime against humanity that was Scotland’s defeat in the dying seconds of the rugby world cup appears to have done no harm to the movement for Scottish independence.

It is clear that, in some peoples’ eyes, the result only compounded their political view that, despite a fight for justice right until the end, our plucky little nation has been done in again.

The cyber bullies were quick to take advantage of the Twickenham defeat prompting the First Minister to issue an immediate rebuke to those responsible.

After one intimidating tweet questioned why the author JK Rowling had the right to support the Scottish team when she had backed the Better Together campaign during the independence referendum campaign, Nicola Sturgeon tweeted:

Note to my fellow independence supporters. People who disagree are not anti-Scottish. Does our cause no good to hurl abuse (& it’s wrong).

Nicola, of course, is absolutely correct but, although her intervention must be welcomed, this was not the first time she has had to try and quell the poisonous actions of cybernats, as they are affectionately known.

How long are we going to put up with offensive, indecent, obscene, sinister and menacing abuse and what is the Scottish government actually doing about it?

If this threatening and frightening behaviour manifested itself on our streets, those responsible would rounded up by the police and charged with a crime.

Some offenders would more than likely end up in jail.

The result should be no different for those who perpetrate this abuse using their mobile phones.

The 2003 Communications Act makes it an offence to send offensive electronic communications but rather than just tell them off, in the vain hope that they will stop, surely it’s time to start prosecuting those who are guilty with the full force of the law.

For some in the nationalist camp it appears there is a constant demand for an enemy yet the irony is that there is little need for this thinking because the SNP appears to be winning the arguments hands down.

The elevation of Nicola has been a masterstroke. She is more popular than Alex Salmond. Support for the SNP has never been greater. They have never wielded so much power at home or at Westminster.

Moreover, there can be little doubt that Labour and the Tories are playing right into their hands.

While the Conservatives pursue heartless policies such as scrapping tax credits, the Labour party continues to skewer itself thanks to a bunch of 1970’s Marxists.

Then there’s the upcoming referendum on Europe and the likelihood that England will vote to get out while Scotland will vote to stay in.

It’s all going swimmingly for the SNP.

Frankly, unless there is a catastrophe resulting in the sun falling from the sky, they will win another thumping majority in the Scottish elections next May.

Critically, the prospect of Yes winning a second independence referendum is looking a certainty sometime around 2019.

So why does there have to be so much nastiness?

During the general election campaign last May, there were many horrible examples of cyber abuse with the late Charles Kennedy a particular target because of his history of alcoholism.

The then shadow Scottish secretary Margaret Curran was “hunted” as she door-knocked around Glasgow’s east end and shouted down as she attempted to speak to voters.

The Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson was hit by appalling homophobic and misogynist comments.

Politicians accept that not everyone is going to agree with them and if they can’t deal with that they should find another job.

Disagreement, robust debate and free speech should be welcomed in any democracy when it is conducted openly and honestly.

But when political opponents use Twitter and other social media to intimidate and threaten violence with the aim shutting down other opinions, then the rule of law must be harnessed.

Of course, the extent of cyber abuse is not relegated to some nationalist supporters.

Nicola herself, who has 250,000 twitter followers, says she too is on the receiving end of vile comments which she chooses to ignore.

She is right to condemn those responsible and declare that they should be rooted out but what she must also do is insist that the Police get involved and the courts to start to prosecute.

Only when this happens will the intimidation stop.

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