09 April 2010

In Which I Take No Pleasure In Being Right

This is what I said in November, when it was Open Season on SNP bloggers:

However, those sneering at the Cybernats, those calling this the SNP's Drapergate should realise that the loudest SNP voices in the blogosphere are a standing rebuttal to every allegation thrown at the SNP (well, I would say that, wouldn't I?) and that we are the first to wonder how to deal with those who (rightly) draw the criticism. And we should all realise that when the original Drapergate scandal hit, we all got tarnished. Every blogger, regardless of party. So if I were them, I wouldn't be dancing on the graves of these blogs or any other. Instead, I'd be standing beside them, in quiet reflection.

Why? Because we don't know which one of us could be next. Let's clean up our own houses first, before we slag off other people's.

Well, that's where Stuart MacLennan, now ex-Labour candidate for Moray comes in, and probably ex-researcher for Pauline McNeill (will Iain Gray expect her resignation as he did Mike Russell's for what Mark had written?) with a bewildering array of tweets, using assorted swearwords to describe David Cameron and Nick Clegg, but also party colleague Diane Abbott (he also talked of a 'good day to bury Stephen Byers'). He also referred to being 'stuck' in the constituency he was standing in, described people as 'chavs' (flying in the face of the class war strategy, perhaps?), referred to people who were basically his neighbours as 'Teuchters' and described the elderly as 'coffin dodgers'.

Now, I'll be honest, if politicians being called rude words is the worst thing that's ever happened to them then they've led sheltered lives. If it needs all this hysteria then frankly, our politicians do need to grow a thicker skin. You are public figures. You are not universally popular. Some people will use naughty words about you. Some will do so on the internet. Get over it.

But to slag off the elderly, and to slag off your neighbours, that's something else. And for a Parliamentary candidate to do it is beyond the pale.

As it happens, Stuart went to university around the time I did and had other foul mouthed pals (including one who was so foul-mouthed that he scarred a friend of mine for life). I also seem to recall him being in the Diagnostics Society. Now when I was at Uni, I was the Debates Convener who had to fend off accusations that the Debates Union was out of touch with... well, the rest of the universe. The Diagnostics Society, however, was in another dimension altogether. And I have to confess, my first encounter with MacLennan did not go well: he was backing a student election candidate who'd make the mistake of announcing in advance his plan to piss all over the election rules and regulations (then complained about being disqualified), a man was also the first student election candidate not to take his own nomination form around for support, having a lackey do it for him. MacLennan was the lackey in question and I, who was not well disposed to his chosen candidate anyway, sent him away with a flea in his ear. Other encounters, however, were affable enough, and I can only assume that he saw the internet in a way that so many people do, as a chance to unleash your inner tosspot.

Well, this is where it's got him.

And look at where it's got Labour: all that protesting about those nasty CyberNats, when they were harbouring their own vicious online attack dogs for far longer - and making them candidates! What will George Foulkes do now?

All that calling on Alex Salmond - who has repeatedly called on the SNP's online supporters to think about what they're posting - to crawl on his hands and knees across Scotland, begging forgiveness for what someone else with a bad mood and a laptop did when they combined the two, when Jim Murphy and Iain Gray instantly dismiss any calls for MacLennan's resignation - until they realise just what a row it's turned into!

All that demanding Mike Russell should be punished for something written by an employee who had a blog of his own - will Iain Gray punish Pauline McNeill in the way he expected the FM to punish the Education Secretary?

I take no pleasure in seeing the torpedoing of Stuart MacLennan's career. He was, at the end of it, a young, daft guy, doing a daft thing, and a wave of utterly idiotic comments have basically ruined his life. That's not something to gloat about.

And I take no pleasure in being right in my warnings that every party should be careful both in its own online dealings and how it deals with the mistakes of other parties.

Stuart thought he could carry on with his daft tweets indefinitely.

Labour thought they could carry on preaching about other people's shortcomings without any of their own coming to light. They saw the various 'CyberNats' as justification to brand the whole SNP as the nasty party - now they're tarred with their own brush. Nasty and hypocritical.

They were both proven wrong, so let me say this again, before anyone else is stupid enough to head for the pulpit about their party's online purity, or daft enough to mouth off when so many people have come a cropper for doing so:

Next time, it could be you.


Allan said...

What was it that Cameron said last year while being interviewed on Christian O'Connell's show last year? - "Too many tweets make a twit"

Sounds about right.

Will said...

Well, the vowel was different but the sentiment was bang on...

Anonymous said...

You say that some how this incident has ruined his life.....really...in what way? Has he lost a leg or something fighting in Iraq? Has he contracted an incurable and fatal disease? Get a grip, or at least a sense of perspective....what did was advertise himself as an entirely inappropriate candidate for a job. Let's remember all those other young men and women out there who won't get jobs in this current economy, and for entirely trivial reasons

Lallands Peat Worrier said...

Its an obvious enough point - if a sin or a stupidity is sufficiently general to affect a significant section of humanity on an episodic basis - be reasonably sure both you and your competitors share the same peccadilloes. And set your precedents accordingly.

What you point to Will is I think a familiar tactical error, a short-termist orientation that thinks you can get away with making every argument, without consequences which might diminish your overall case. You think to invest an easy, cheap argument in a bit of positive political capital - a negative headline or two for your foes - and assume that an ever-expanding pot of glory and success and triumph is coming your way. Inch by easy political inch.

Not so. Some arguments rule out others or diminish the strength of other points you'd like to make. Choosing what to say and how you say it is, like all judgement, an anxious moment, an uneasy encounter, riddled with uncertainties, often without obviously determined outcomes.

Too often, folk think they're not choosing by going for the exposed jugular, unreflectively. In its "long road to recovery" over the past few years, I'd submit that Scottish Labour have increasingly invested in this short-termist logic. Its psychologically soothing, a tickling distraction. Few things are more enjoyable than loftily condemning others, or making bogus claims about their responsibility for particular ills, insults or evils.

But those warm words also erect innumerable petards whose nooses dangle troublingly close to any number of swanish Scottish Labour necks. Given today's story, it will be interesting to see what becomes of the familiar Cybernat lyric emanating from the halls of John Smith House. We can have a fairly clear idea what the Maximum Eck will confide to the Chamber when the moment comes for rebuttal.


Will said...

I stand by the comment entirely, Anon: and as someone who struggled to get a job when the economy was far stronger than it is today (and I can confirm that while the body may mercifully be physically intact, it certainly feels otherwise at the time: imagine having your heart and your brain filed down every waking minute of every inactive day - that's what unemployment feels like), I know what I'm talking about so I would appreciate it if you alighted from that high horse of yours.

The bottom line is that for him, this will be a lot harder to recover from than most situations. He's managed to advertise himself as a pretty inappropriate candidate for basically any job. Who would have him, when he's had his dismissal plastered all over the UK-wide media? Moreover, he's devoted a lot of time and energy to a career in politics and in the Labour Party, and the whole thing's just vanished in a paper round. To see all your ambitions, all your dreams, al your hopes go up in smoke like that? That's a horrifying notion, and moreover, it's difficult to see what support network he'll have at this time: he's going to need a lot of friends to get through this and I imagine that many of them will be too busy.

Most of those people who are unemployed are not unemployable, and I now at least can say with experience that given the right time and the right opportunity, however long they have to wait for it (and, yes, it may be a long, agonising wait), they will get to where they want to be, especially with their friends and family behind them. Stuart, on the other hand, was where he wanted to be, and not only is he not there anymore, but the probability of him ever being able to go back is slim to none. He now has to start from scratch again, and effectively has a very unfortunate reference with every application he makes: the collective reporting of the news media

Obviously, he himself created the conditions needed for this to happen, but a little magnanimity and empathy can go a long way: the man's suffered a massive blow, and one that could strike any careless (micro-)blogger at any time. Time to show a little class, perhaps? Time to show by example that there's a better way than the callousness of the offending tweets, as well?

That's the approach I'm taking.

Colin said...

That's a good question about Pauline McNeill. Fortunately for Iain Gray, no one's called for her resignation because no one cares about her.

Will said...

LPW, thanks for the thoughtful (as ever) input and it's hard to disagree with it!

I can't help but think of the old adage that after hubris comes nemesis and that's what's happened here: we've had Labour trying to make capital out of the CyberNats, we've had the party celebrate Sarah Brown's triumph in the twitterverse, we've had Jim Murphy wax lyrical about the 'Facebook Generation', only to once again cry foul when the reaction of the same said generation was less than 100% cordial.

But we've been in a position where Labour have felt that they both 'get' new media, and occupy the moral high ground.

And as you say, they've been focusing on the short term and in just one day's news cycle, they've lost their 'innocent victim' status, they've lost their Twitter supremacy and Jim Murphy himself has lost credibility by basically admitting that he had to go back over Stuart's tweets, and in doing so, found himself unable to defend what he saw and was forced to hang the man out to dry.

I'm also reminded of another phrase: 'whiter than white, purer than pure'. That was, of course, what he described as Labour's necessary state of being as the alternative to the Major Government which, of course, was mired in sleaze. That phrase didn't take long to be junked, but it would have been a good way of summing up Labour's online self-perception. Again, the same thing has happened, though this time, without the soundbite.

In short, given what you've said and given that this has happened before, Labour might be guilty of long-term short-termism!

Will said...

Very good, Colin, I guess few people realise she has something to resign from!

Anonymous said...

Of course you stand by your comment; I'm sure it's something you thought about and considered before writing.

I'm not without sympathy for Mr MacLennan, and I hope he gets his career and his life together, but he did bring the matter on his own head and so when when it comes to sympathy there is a little less of it in my heart than for those who find themselves in similar circumstances occassioned by events outwith their control.

Your experience of unemployment has clearly left its mark, and I've been there too, on more than one occasion, but I detect that in your case it left you with a special and unique insight and so I do thank you for the suggestion about showing some class.

As for the high horse, it's certainly no higher than yours.

voiceofourown said...

As for Mr McLennan finding it hard to get work, I stack shelves in Morrisons for a living. I believe that, given our excellent financial results in the last year, we may need more stuff put on more shelves. I'm sure they won't hold his prediliction for sweary blog posts against him.

P.S. I was unemployed for 6 years and feel little sympathy for him. It might even engender a little humility.

P.P.S. I'm always suspicious of those who see politics as a career.

Will said...

Well, Anon, we'll just have to stay on our respective high horses, won't we? Stuart has a lot of overdue growing up to do and he has to do it very quickly. That's got to be damaging - to grow up so late yet in such a compressed period of time when it happens? I'm going to be honest here: I really don't want to think about what that's going to do to him.

And as I say, to be in a position where you had everything mapped out and you were moving along quite nicely, only to discover that the road in front has been dug up and your map's on fire - I can't bring myself to wish that on him or to suggest that it serves him right. I just can't. I'm sorry if you think I'm being overly sanctimonious about it or whatever but I really think that a little empathy wouldn't go amiss - let's face it, if he'd shown a little to other people, none of this would have happened. What that tells me is that lack of empathy is a bad thing.

On the other hand, voiceofourown, I think you're giving him more leeway than an HR department might - given how he described pensioners, I can't see any employer wanting to put him in a potential customer service situation... not without several sessions of Mary Gober-style training, anyway!

That said, I agree about people who see politics as a career - believe me, I recall how some of his mates in the Labour Club behaved and Stuart was in no way the worst offender when it comes to careerism. Perhaps, if he does recover from this, everything that's thrown at him will make him far more suitable as, say, a potential Highlands List MSP for the elections in 2023 (maybe 2019 if he's really lucky). Certainly he'd be more suitable than if he'd continued on his present course - then by 2015, he'd be in Parliament but viewed as the new Richard Baker. And let's face it, the current one is quite enough, thank you!

But I agree, a spell in the outside world wouldn't be the worst thing to happen to him. The manner in which he got there, on the other hand - no, I still think it's far too ugly...

Jeanne Tomlin said...

Pedant alert!

"...erect innumerable petards whose nooses dangle troublingly close to any number of swanish Scottish Labour necks..."

One does not "erect" a petard as it is a bomb. One sets it off thus blowing oneself up...which Labour so obligingly did by their hypocrisy.

I'm sorry but I am having a very hard time feeling sorry for the man involved after his nasty verbal attacks on the poor and elderly.

I did feel sorry for Mark MacLachlan who suffered one heck of a lot more AND has a family to support. And he DID confine his attacks to politicians who one would think could manage the concept of "if you can't stand the heat get out of the kitchen". If they had merely called for Mark's resignation though, I'd have a different reaction. I don't to see the First Minister of Scotland calling for anyone's resignation over this--showing that he has a deal more good sense than his opponents.

Lallands Peat Worrier said...

Splendid stuff, Jeanne!

Always fun to be chastened by your own ignorance - and find out something new. In my loose way, I always assumed a petard was some sort of lynching device - hence just an extension of the idiot that has you "hanged on your own noose".

Bless your pedantry, you made my day with that new crumb of understanding!


Anonymous said...

"Well, Anon, we'll just have to stay on our respective high horses, won't we? "

True enough. If we're not trotting in step, I think at least we're heading in the same direction.

Thank you for taking the time to reply

Ted Harvey said...

I've been a) trying hard to suppress what seems to be my natural Scottish inclination to sneer at another soul's public come-uppance b)trying to draw something of more substance from this tawdry little episode.

The latter has got me to thinking about whether there is anything in thatfact that we have, in the form of the Scottish Labour Party, an organisation that placed two young men, MacLennan and Purcell (well one was relatively young) in very public positions that it transpired they were patently ill-equipped for.

In the case of Purcell there was that repugnant period of activity when all sorts of people in the Labour ranks suddenly had all sorts of negative and even evil things (as in 'he was a wee shit'). These were often the same folks who had spun us, or supported-by-silence, the lines about this new Labour moderniser who was taking local government by storm and would soon be doing the same to Holyrood.

In the case of the boy MacLennan, I think I may be right in recalling that Jim Murphy went through full circle in a few hours from 'och the boy is awe right, he just made a wee mistake' into 'no, he is not a candidate any more'.
(and I suspect that Jim Murphy's performing a la Sam Galbraith style would be for him to add that 'the Mums and Dads and their families will be happy about that'.

I somehow do not think that these various fair weather supporters of either young man are much troubled by the devastated lives that their Party's hubris brought about.

And Anon if you are still reading this, I do think that MacLennan's life has been ruined in a fashion and for a time - because of the high profile public nature of his debasement and fall, and the certainty that the internet will long perpetuate the replaying of this episode. To experience unemployment might be a bad enough thing, but imagine your loss of a job and resultant unemployment being played out on the public stage and being endlessly replayed for the entertainment and edification of others.

I know that before I started speaking in public, I heartedly enjoyed episodes where others made public speaking errors and gaffes - but after I started speaking in public, whenever others made such mistakes, I then found myself cringing in sympathy and thinking 'but for the grace of god...'