War of words

by Apr 09, 2012 1 Comment

Nobody ever said politics, even at local government level, was a walk in the park. As nominations for May’s council elections closed on March 29 and lists of candidates were offi cially published, the fi ght for control of Scotland’s local authorities really kicked off.

Labour began its campaign in Edinburgh a few weeks ago, while during the launch of the Conservative Party’s campaign north of the border, leader Ruth Davidson said hers is the true party of localism and promised that the Tories would devolve power from Holyrood to people and communities across Scotland. The Tories are planning to fi eld candidates in every council ward on the Scottish mainland for the fi rst time. Meanwhile the SNP will have over 600 candidates standing, including in Shetland and Orkney – another fi rst. SNP local government campaign director, MSP Derek Mackay, said these elections “are about local jobs and local services”.

Candidates from all parties, as well as independents, have been taking to the streets, knocking on doors and engaging with the public. Many have pulled out the ‘big guns’ in the form of MSPs, and even the odd MP, to join them on the doorsteps and Twitter has been fl ooded with enthusiastic and optimistic would-be politicians.

However, while the effective use of social media like Twitter and Facebook is one of the keys to running a successful campaign, it can also get people into hot water. After reports in the media last week, the SNP was forced to suspend a candidate from membership of the party, pending an investigation into “wholly unacceptable” comments he apparently made.

Lyall Duff, who is standing in North Lanarkshire, apparently made a number of comments on both Facebook and Twitter, including one in which he appeared to call two Catholic midwives who took legal action for the right to boycott abortions “money grabbing old witches”. In another expletive-ridden post, he attacked Royal Bank of Scotland branch staff.

Needless to say, Labour, who spent the past few months attempting to fi refi ght the fallout caused by disgruntled deselected candidates at Glasgow City Council, have been rubbing their hands in glee at this latest cyber slip. MSP Mark Griffi n, fi rmly on his high horse, said: “This stream of bile is outrageous. It is probably the most disgusting abuse ever levelled by a mainstream candidate in Scotland.” This is a bit strong from a party not without its own online embarrassments (remember Stuart MacLennan’s “coffi n dodger” tweets from 2010?) but once again, it shows just how dangerous and damaging social media can be without proper controls. Familiarity breeds contempt and formality apparently ends when a candidate thinks it is acceptable to use the c-word on an open internet site.

Both the SNP and Labour have a core of aggressive, angry cyber nats and cyber labs who have the potential to do real damage. Maybe it’s time for all parties to have a serious chat with candidates about what they say online.

1 Comment

  1. Peter A Bell

    While I agree that political parties must maintain discipline and candidates show restraint, I also think we need to counter the contrived hyper-indignation that greets the smallest departure from the decorum of the Victorian drawing-room. Candidates are people too. With all the failings and foibles that entails. Let's cut them some slack. The culture of the witch-hunt has the potential to be far more damaging to our politics than the odd off-colour joke on Twitter or a few ill-advised comments on Facebook.

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