I was a bit wary when I started reading Robin McAlpine's reflections on the controversy of recent days, because I thought he might simplistically portray CommonSpace as the victim of the piece - an interpretation which I think is quite difficult to sustain, especially after the ugly descent into witch-hunt territory when the website's editor 'named and shamed' Mhairi Black MP for simply hitting the 'like' button on tweets that were supportive of Scotland's leading pro-independence blogger Stuart Campbell. However, I'm relieved to say there's much more to Robin's article than that, and indeed it's an all-too-rare example of a column published on CommonSpace coming to Stuart's defence and pointing out the lack of perspective of those who constantly demonise him ("vendetta masquerading as virtue").
Basically Robin calls for "kindness not cruelty" towards both Wings and CommonSpace, which is a refreshingly ecumenical attitude. But I think the deficiency of the article is that it doesn't really acknowledge that CommonSpace itself has failed that test in recent days, and therefore not all of the brickbats that have been thrown at the site are totally unreasonable. Robin says that he can find nothing malicious in Angela Haggerty's Sunday Herald column about Stuart, and in terms of what she said directly that's true enough - but there was some fairly unsubtle innuendo in there. She suggested that Stuart was making a mistake that was somehow equivalent to the one made by a well-known politician who was found guilty of perjury. It's not terribly surprising that some of Stuart's supporters were angry enough to start thinking in the heat of the moment about whether CommonSpace was the sort of site they wanted to continue supporting financially. Robin suggests there was a "campaign to de-fund" the site - based on what I saw that isn't really true. Some people spontaneously announced they would be cancelling their subscriptions and there appeared to be a copycat effect. The only hint I could see of a true 'campaign' was the Butterfly Rebellion explicitly urging people to unfollow the CommonSpace Twitter account en masse, which I thought was way over-the-top (and also very surprising, given that Butterfly Rebellion is an intelligent and quality website).
As far as Jordan Daly's infamous hatchet job on Wings is concerned, Robin's defence is that the column was not commissioned, but was submitted in the normal way and met the criteria for publication, and therefore there was no reason not to publish it. That's fine as far as it goes, but I think it's a bit naive to imagine that an all-out attack on an important part of the independence movement can just be treated in the same way as any other article without there being negative consequences. I think CommonSpace could have avoided much of what happened if they had taken the following steps -
1) The title of the column should have been softened. Over the years I've written dozens of articles for other websites, but I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times my own suggested title has been used without any alteration. An editor (or editorial team) can reasonably be expected to take some responsibility for the title of a column, which in this case was needlessly provocative by calling on readers to send the most popular pro-independence site packing.
2) There should have been a very strong disclaimer on the webpage itself that the column reflected the views of the writer, and not the editorial stance of CommonSpace. There seems to be a feeling that this sort of thing should just be taken as read, but again, I think that's naive. CommonSpace is well-known to have a past history of publishing brutal attacks on Wings, and not much of a past history of publishing defences of Wings. Not long before Jordan Daly's column appeared, the editor had tweeted views on the Wings controversy that seemed very much in line with Mr Daly's own perspective - and of course her Sunday Herald column was published not long afterwards. If there appears to be no obvious distinction between a columnist's views and the editorial line, people are naturally going to conflate the two unless you very clearly and prominently explain what the difference actually is.
3) The column should have been accompanied with another column putting the opposite view. I have a feeling the justification for that not happening would be that "no column putting the opposite view was submitted", but if you want to be seen as being responsible and not causing unnecessary ruptures in the independence movement, I think you need to be more proactive than that. A pro-Wings response should simply have been commissioned - ideally from Stuart himself, but if he wasn't interested I'm sure there would have been any number of other people willing to do it instead.
* * *
On the subject of the abuse Stuart Campbell has to put up with on a daily basis, here's another invaluable contribution to the cause of civility and solidarity from "Richard Palmer" - the troll ringleader who briefly turned his fire on me last week. He's now calling himself "Elite Baklava". Is it just me, or is "we need to do something about w***s like Campbell" a bit of a sinister thing to say? What on earth would that "something" be?
As you can see, the tweet in which Richard calls me a "f***ing fool" received two 'likes' - and one of them was from "David Al", aka David Allison, who was the Green Party's official candidate in the Barrhead ward at the council elections just three months ago. Call me biased, but if it's now in fashion to have witch-hunts based on politicians' Twitter 'likes', that's where I'd be starting.
I've no idea whether the Richard gang have any direct involvement in the notorious A Thousand Flowers website, but the overlap in terms of politically correct zealotry and mindless personal abuse is pretty striking.