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About that code of Conduct.......by Gordon Millar


The most recent twist in the debate about uniting all strands of the Scottish independence movement involves the sudden appearance of a code of conduct.


Despite the entire 2014 referendum campaign, all the AUOB independence marches and every election in between have not required the imposition of any kind of code of conduct, the Aberdeen Independence Movement has decided that this is just what's needed to ensure the smooth running of any future independence campaign. This code would, of course, be;


“built on the principles of freedom, tolerance, equality, the protection of individual and community rights and the rejection of prejudice and discrimination of any form”.


Well, this would sound a lot more convincing if AIM wasn't made up of a group of the most divisive figures from the SNP's extreme gender ideologue wing (that's the polite version, see Twitter for other descriptions!). And also if the SNP itself wasn't so authoritarian.


Unfortunately, we can't just ignore the sheer arrogance of people who believe that they're entitled to impose their views on an entire movement, because a version of their code is likely to be put to delegates at the SNP's forthcoming conference (where it will certainly be agreed).


With the best will in the world, this just looks like another attempt to take control of the wider Yes movement. Especially as the code will contain prohibitions on “transphobia” based on the definition adopted by the SNP's NEC. Opponents of the code have claimed, quite reasonably, that the proposal would mean those who said trans women remained biologically male would be excluded from any campaign.


But wait! Mike Russell, SNP president and owner of the famous “Yes” horsebox, assures us that our fears are misplaced. Mr Russell, who is one of the backers of the resolution, has given assurances it would not “silence” women who believe biological sex is immutable after concerns were raised by prominent gender-critical SNP MP Joanna Cherry.


So that's all right then. Well, maybe. Essentially, independence campaigners are being asked to trust the SNP's assurances that a code of conduct is necessary at all, that they don't intend to try to take over the wider independence campaign and that the code won't be misused.


Obviously, a lot depends on the sincerity, reliability, and good intentions of the SNP leadership. So, before we all leap to form an orderly queue at the signing desk, maybe we should look at what recent history tell us about the SNP's leadership and their regard for fairness, rules and non-SNP campaigners.


Let's start in June 2015. The Scottish Daily Mail tells us that;


Nicola Sturgeon has declared war on the online army of SNP supporting trolls who specialise in attacking and bullying anyone who opposes the Scottish Independence cause”.


We are also told that “Sturgeon distanced herself from her own army of racist and homophobic fanatical SNP supporters known as cybernats, declaring “the abuse must stop”.


Not a promising start. Only two months earlier, the SNP took 56 out of Scotland's 59 Westminster seats at a General Election not marred by violence in any way. This is an ideal opportunity to kill this ridiculous “racist, bullying cybernat” nonsense and to emphasise that there is no evidence to support it. But, in the pages of the ultra-Unionist Daily Mail, Nicola Sturgeon chooses instead to reinforce the notion of “fanatical cybernats”. Curious behaviour, to say the least.


But surely just an aberration. Let's move on to July 2017 where we find Alyn Smith in the anti-independence Scotsman:


Alyn Smith MEP has put forward plans for a new internet code of conduct for Scottish Nationalists and urged other political parties to follow his lead in the hope it will curb Scotland’s tribal and often vicious social media arguments”.


He is apparently commenting after the the real identities of some “cybernats” and their unionist counterparts were exposed after a series of scandals on Twitter and Facebook.


Except that there seems to be little actual evidence of any “cybernat” scandals – the article only mentions a stupid remark by Neil Hay, the 2015 SNP Edinburgh South candidate and an anonymous “senior SNP activist” who was said to be behind attacks on the late Liberal Democrat MP Charles Kennedy. Not exactly “tribal and vicious”, not to mention being two years old.


So why is Alyn Smith calling for codes of conduct and buying into the “cybernat” nonsense. Maybe just another aberration caused by shock at the 2017 General Election result the previous month?


So, fast forward to 5 May 2019 where Alyn will surely redeem himself. After all, there was an extremely successful All Under One Banner march in Glasgow on 4 May, which should have lifted his spirits. Or perhaps not - - -


The anti-independence Herald (is anyone beginning to see a pattern here?) has a headline story “SNP DECLARES WAR ON CYBERNATS”. And guess who's leading the charge?


“Leading figures in the SNP have stepped forward to denounce online abuse by so-called "cybernats" – a hardcore fringe of Yes supporters on social media accused of trolling, bullying, harassment and intimidation. The condemnation comes from Angus Robertson, former depute leader of the SNP; Stewart McDonald MP, the party’s Defence spokesman at Westminster; and Alyn Smith MEP, the SNP’s leading voice in the European Parliament. They described online abusers as "cowards", "weird", "creepy", "snarling", "vicious", "poisonous" and "vile".


The story then states that the SNP wants to push aggressive online supporters out of the independence debate and concentrate on wooing undecided voters with persuasion and nuance”. Except they don't say how and, despite more attacks on “abusive and insulting” social media users, absolutely no evidence or examples are provided.


And then Smith says something interesting:


“When pro-independence social media users are abusive and insulting all members of the Yes movement should call them out and send them to Coventry. Make them persona non grata forever”.


This is beginning to sound more and more like an attempt to exercise control and police the Independence Movement. And it's not going down well with independence supporters reading the article. One calls it an absolute capitulation to a false and entirely corrosive media narrative and another wonders why they're pandering to a hostile unionist media which wants to kill independence.


It has to be said that Alyn, Nicola, and their colleagues are beginning to look a bit shaky on the intention and integrity front. Lots of support for Unionist tropes of vile cybernats and codes of conduct seemingly designed to exclude people. Inclusion of the broader indy movement, not so much.


But would AIM lie to us? Surely if we press on we'll find details of a code:


“built on the principles of freedom, tolerance, equality, the protection of individual and community rights and the rejection of prejudice and discrimination of any form”.


So, taking a deep breath, let's move on to July 2020 when the SNP's NEC take a serious step forward by revising the Party's rules to make them well, err, um - - - more restrictive and discriminatory.


The NEC, determined to stamp out the menace of dual mandates (which has previously bothered absolutely no-one) backs a change to the rules which means that any Westminster MP hoping to stand in Holyrood elections has to resign as an MP around three to four months before the Holyrood vote. The stated intention is to save money by avoiding stand-alone by-elections (another subject that previously bothered exactly no-one), but it is widely seen to be an attempt to stop Joanna Cherry from standing for Holyrood in Edinburgh Central. The rule change is possibly illegal, possibly outwith the powers of the NEC and is never ratified by the Party's Annual Conference (supposedly the SNP's decision-making body) but goes ahead anyway.


Changing the rules to suit yourself is hardly a procedure built on the “principles of freedom tolerance and equality”. Surely AIM members must by now be considering their position.


Or maybe not, as we move on to the infamous Broom Cupboard speech of January 2021. Several of the SNP's worst TRA crybullies publicly resigned from the Party claiming, without any evidence, that it was unsafe for trans people. The Party's rules on members who publicly resign and criticise the Party are very clear and none of these divisive narcissists, who had routinely bullied and criticised Joanna Cherry without any sanction, should have been allowed to rejoin for at least two years and then only if the NEC agreed.


Predictably, Nicola Sturgeon does not let a small matter like the Party's constitution and code of conduct prevent her from taking decisive action to beg them to rejoin immediately, while implying that the bulk of the rest of the membership are transphobic. She broadcasts the famous “wasn’t planned, it’s not scripted” Broom Cupboard video:


It grieves me deeply that you’ve reached this conclusion after much soul-searching because you consider, at this stage, the SNP not to be a safe, tolerant or welcoming place for trans people. That’s not acceptable to me. As SNP leader I will do everything I can to change that impression and to persuade all of you that the SNP is your party and that you should come home where you belong”


Well, it's maybe just me, but pandering to a minority of crybullies, implying that most Party members are transphobes and ignoring your own Party's rules doesn't seem the most obvious way of establishing yourself in people's minds as fair, reliable and committed to the rule of law. But I'm not Nicola Sturgeon, who clearly doesn't think that she's gone far enough because, in the blink of an eye, we arrive at the 20 February 2021 NEC meeting and the “adoption” of an SNP definition of “transphobia”


There are two issues here. Firstly, the SNP have not actually adopted a definition of transphobia. That would require it to be debated and agreed by the Annual Conference. Nicola Sturgeon, who made a special personal appearance at this NEC meeting, knows this perfectly well but is happy to ignore it and pretend that the definition is official.


Secondly, the definition is so badly drafted as to be meaningless. I won't bore you with the whole thing, but here are two extracts:


  • “Transphobia” describes discriminatory or prejudiced language or actions, relating to actual or perceived gender identity or gender expression, including denying or refusing to accept gender identity”


  • Transphobia may manifest in a range of ways including, but not limited to, deliberately misgendering someone or using phrases or language to suggest their gender identity is not valid, for example referring to a trans woman as a "biological man".


The first is worryingly vague, essentially “Transphobia is what we say it is” and the second is clearly designed to prevent debate as disagreement would be transphobic. These features are almost certainly deliberate so that they can be used against dissidents in almost any circumstances.


So how are things stacking up so far? Buying into the Unionist trope of vile cybernats; attempts to police the wider independence movement; changing the rules (possibly illegally) to suit the leadership; ignoring the Party's rules to placate TRA bullies; ignoring the Party's rules to adopt a divisive definition of transphobia. Well, this certainly says something about the integrity and trustworthiness of the SNP leadership. Just nothing good.


In short, nothing in the last six years suggests that the SNP leadership can be trusted or will follow rules that they don't find convenient.


Personally, I wouldn't sign their code of conduct at gunpoint.


But the SNP leadership will press ahead with it because, in reality, the code has nothing to do with independence and everything to do with maintaining the SNP brand and its current position in Scottish politics.


When Stewart Hosie says that:


“It’s absolutely vital that we cannot allow our political opponents to pick out individuals, single words that someone may have once said inadvertently or angrily on Twitter or Facebook, to bring down the tone of our campaign and the enthusiasm of our movement across the country


he knows perfectly well that this will, in fact, be the exact outcome when people are censured by the code.


The code will be unenforceable, but the SNP will use it to justify constant sniping to reinforce a narrative that non-SNP activists (especially Alba members) are sabotaging independence. They will use it to smear and to try to prevent people voting for non-SNP independence candidates, so that they can maintain their position as Scotland's largest party, protect the current crop of elected careerists and preach that only votes for the SNP can (yet again) guarantee Scottish independence.

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