I’m trying to get my head around the weariness and antagonism of the referendum campaign. Lots of people (on all sides and none) are bored and angry: saltired. Not a good combination. The Susan Calman issue – perhaps overblown and over-hyped by those seeking to benefit from it – was nevertheless hugely depressing.

You’re going to threaten Susan Calman? Really? Are you? Susan Calman? Then you’re going to defend it or explain it? Really? Count me out of that brigade. What’s the Goldman quote? “If I can’t dance to it, it’s not my revolution” should be turned to “If I can’t laugh, it’s not my revolution”.

It doesn’t matter that it’s asymmetrical (you wouldn’t ever get a show calling English people tramps), nor does it matter that many Scots comics seem lost in a fog of their own cultural self-hatred or hapless need for ingratiation – a phenomenon of which there’s a long and inglorious tradition. Nor does it matter that the uniformly hostile press and broadcast media churns out semi-racist and abusive anti-Scottish material with dreary regularity (the Any Questions? clip here’s a beaut)

It’s time for the independence movement to move on and stop the push-button responses to infantile unionist baiting. Let’s have a lightness of spirit and re-set the agenda onto what we can do, what we will do and what we hope for. This is difficult in a context when everyday you wake up to a diet of – as one person put it on twitter: “I wonder what we’ll be incapable of today?”

And that’s a problem. But the alternative forums and spaces that are being created need to be ones where creativity and positive ideas flourish not backwaters of resentment.

It’s no wonder people are angry. Austerity Unionism isn’t working. That’s not the point.

We need a massive blood transfusion of humour and empathy into the Yes campaign at all levels. Because ‘attacking’ the No campaign doesn’t work, what will work is engaging with the people who genuinely don’t know, are unsure or who are feeling confused. It’s okay to not-know yet. This is a big decision and we have to reckon with a history of self-doubt and a daily diet of doubt-mongering.

How do you engage with people? You have a conversation, not a broadcast of your own views and you try and think and feel what it is in them that you feel provoked by.

Jamie Heckert has written:

If you aren’t willing to listen to the Other, the one who is different from you—because you fear that person or what she or he represents, you’ll pay for it. The monster that you’re projecting onto the other person will get bigger and more terrifying, because your fear will feed it. If you turn away at a stage when you could have listened and spoken in a responsible and nonviolent way, there’ll be a violent explosion that will harm you and the other person. The monster you’ve created isn’t going to go away—it’s going to go on tripping you up until you deal with it.

Psychobabble? Not really. It could be a winning political strategy. Means and ends are essential. Another Emma Goldman quote springs too mind:

“I don’t care if a man’s theory for tomorrow is correct,” she once wrote. “I care if his spirit of today is correct.”

Comments (32)

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  1. stubetsolais says:

    Agreed, but it is mighty difficult to put forward positive messages when, as you say we have a hostile media. How do we get round that?

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      By setting and re-setting the agenda with brilliance and imagination…

      1. Macart says:

        We could do with some re-setting and brilliance right about now. Fairly getting sore fingers putting up fire breaks in response to what amounts to a media deluge. I’m a big fan of the positive message, the possibilities and ambitions of independence. Just wish we had more of the big cannon on our side helping convince people. 🙂

        Having said that, I suppose we must be getting it out there or the response from the opposition wouldn’t be so OTT.

      2. carandol says:

        Well said B-)

  2. Michael says:

    For goodness sake, Mike, why is anyone taking this stuff seriously? Move on, ignore it, nothing to see. Mad people on twitter – hold the front page…….

  3. Dmyers says:

    I think the problem with the Susan Calman issue is that she wrote a blog about something she was told about and hadn’t seen, and the media have picked it up and made it into something that it isn’t. And now the people questioning her are being criticised for questioning her.

  4. Peter A Bell says:

    I think there’s a point being missed in all this Calman stooshie. And it’s not a point about Susan Calman – who is all but irrelevant to the issue. On the basis of her reported comments I would dismiss Calman as a second or third-rate wannabe comedian who has essayed a bit of satire without grasping the essential point that the crucial prerequisite of effective satire is a solid grasp of the subject matter. To this the good satirist will add some hopefully thought-provoking observational quirkiness that causes amusement.

    Satire is clever, in every sense of that term. I see no evidence of cleverness in Calman’s remarks about the referendum. I see only a crude and distinctly unfunny resort to facile stereotypes. Criticising a self-proclaimed comedian for failure in their chosen craft is not abuse. It is merely criticism.

    Satire also takes a stand. Something which Calman assiduously avoids doing. Satire is committed. It has a point to make. There is no such thing as idle satire. It is never benign. It always has a target and it should never be in doubt who or what the target is. Calman tried to pass off as satire something that plainly wasn’t the real deal. It is right that her audience should feel short-changed. perhaps even cheated.

    But neither is satire or humour the real point here. This is not about whether something is funny or not. There is no possibility of a definitive answer to that question. Evidently, some people thought Calman’s tediously unoriginal comments were hilarious. I can only feel as embarrassed for them as I do for her. Poking a stick at the political establishment is a worthy pursuit. Pandering to ill-informed prejudice only serves to expose those afflicted by such prejudice.

    The real point here is the way in which the anti-independence campaign has leapt upon what was, for the most part, no more than a perfectly unremarkable and entirely predictable reaction to an equally unremarkable and commonplace attempt at comedy that turned out to be somewhat ill-judged and just plain unfunny. Rather than discussing some insignificant performer, we should be taking a close look at the political players in all of this. Rather than asking questions about the nature of comedy, we should be asking what is the purpose of the hysterical sensationalising of a few critical comments.

    What does the anti-independence campaign hope to achieve by making such an inordinate fuss about something of so little substance?

    There is, of course, the obvious propaganda angle. The ongoing effort to create an impression of independence supporters as a bitter, bilious mob. It is a variation of a propaganda technique known as projection or flipping in which you take whatever it is that you are open to being accused of and accuse your opponent of doing the same thing – but first and worst. You see it all the time as evident racists attempt to brand their opponents as racist.

    But the ultimate purpose is more insidious. The aim is to control and constrain debate by intimidation. To have every independence supporter afraid to put their head above the parapet for fear of being branded with whatever unpleasant epithet is currently in vogue with the largely unionist mainstream media.

    This is the kind of power that the media loves to wield just for its own sake – making it all the easier for the political propagandist to turn that power to their own purposes. It is the power commonly deployed in the ever-popular game of Let’s Force A Resignation! But the game here is to make every pro-independence voice hesitant and wary. To make everyone who would speak out for the restoration of Scotland’s constitutional status over-cautious to the point of banality.

    It is an attempt to dictate not only the terms of the debate but to control, without even the pretence of impartiality, the very language in which that debate is conducted. The distillation of the unionists’ argument here – eagerly and unthinkingly picked up on by those anxious to be perceived as “good” nationalists – is that opponents of independence have unfettered freedom of expression while others must self-censor or suffer the consequences.

    I, for one, will have none of it! I am happy to defend Susan Calman’s right to be as embarrassingly unfunny as she wants. But the quid pro quo is my right to say just how unfunny and out of her depth I find her. And to say it in my own way without being subject to the dour rigours of some self-appointed language police.

    This is the most important political debate in any of our lifetimes! If that is not cause for passion then what is? Unionists would suck all the passion out of the debate leaving only the dour calculations of the dismal science and a litany of smears and fears to which we are permitted to respond with nothing stronger than a bit of heavy tutting.

    Fuck that!

  5. Peter A Bell says:

    Please feel free to remove my comment that has been awaiting moderation for over three hours. It has been published elsewhere.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Dear Peter, apologies for the delay in moderating your comment, I have been in hospital. So sorry to have inconvenienced you.

      1. Peter A Bell says:

        Don’t be daft! I thought I was inconveniencing you with something that started as a comment and grew into an article. So I decided just to publish it as a blog article.

        Hope the hospital visit doesn’t imply anything too unfortunate.

        1. bellacaledonia says:

          There may have been a hint of sarcasm in my reply

  6. David McCann says:

    At the risk of trivialising the subject, I think the following letter from Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde, kindly sent to my wife, who is a volunteer at the local Cat Shelter, sums up what the No campaign, the Scotsman, Newsnight Scotland et al, think of us pro-indy types!
    PS. Even the cats were not taken in!

    From: [email protected]
    Subject: Compensated With The total sum $2.5 Million Dollars
    Date: Thu, 2 May 2013 10:05:35 -0400
    Attn: Beneficiary,
    I am Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde the chairman of ECONOMIC & FINANCIAL CRIME COMMISSION (EFCC).EFCC in alliance with Economic community of West African states (ECOWAS) with head Office here in Nigeria.
    We have been working towards the eradication of fraudsters and scam Artists in Western part of Africa With the help of United States Government and the United Nations in conjunction with FBI INTERNATIONAL.

    We have been able to track down so many of this scam artist in various parts of west African countries which includes (NIGERIA, REPUBLIC OF BENIN, TOGO, GHANA CAMEROUN AND SENEGAL e.t.c) and they are in our custody here in Lagos Nigeria.
    We have been able to recover so much money from these scam artists. The United Nation Anti-crime commission and the United State Government have ordered the money recovered from these Scammers to be shared among 100 Lucky people around the globe.
    This email is being directed to you because your email address was found in one of the scam Artists file and computer hard disk in our custody here in Nigeria and with the information gardered from this Scam artist, we notice that you have been scammed of so much of your hard earn money and have decided to compensate you with this fund to recover the lost of your fund.
    You are therefore being compensated with the total sum $2.5 Million Dollars to be transfered to you personally through an online banking system through our global banking system. We have also arrested all these scam artist who claim that they are Barristers,Bank officials,Lottery Agents who has money for you or want you to be the next of kin of such funds which does not exist.
    Since your name appeared among the lucky beneficiaries who will receive a compensation of US$2.5 Million, we have made arrangement to register an Online Banking account through our Global Banking system, where you will have full access to your Online Banking Account to transfer your fund personally to your Private Bank Account at your convenient hours daily.
    Feel free to contact your appointed processing officer MR BARRY LONGMAN, The online Banking account system is made much easier for you to transfer your fund to your private Bank Account personally and instalmetally, with a maximum transfer of $500,000usd daily until your total fund of $2.5million is completely paid to you.
    So you are advice to contact, your processing officer MR BARRY LONGMAN, with a re-confirmation of your information’s required for verification below.
    Provide the information below to enable him start the processing of your Online Banking Account registration for immediate deposition of your total compensated fund to enable trnasfer.
    CONTACT EMAIL ADDRESS: [email protected]
    CONTACT TELEPHONE: +234-802-4550-385
    Contact MR BARRY LONGMAN, with the above information required for verification to enable him start the processing of your Online Banking Account Registration.`
    We guarantee you 100% safety and wish you the best of luck.
    Best Regards,
    Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde

  7. Alabaman says:

    O/t but do you have a association with Tiree?, once again you use
    In your headed photograph a “sculpure” which stands at the head
    Of Tiree’s pier. (Incidentally I refer to it as a sheep-dip!!)

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      No real Tiree connection other than I have visited and loved it. I thought the sculpture was pretty cool.

      1. Alabaman says:

        Well the visiting swallows like it too,all the way from Africa to nest
        in the viewing end !,look next time you visit. Johan Lamont claims connections with Tiree (Tyree) maybe she should take a lesson from those swallows and take time out In Africa!?


  8. Ray Bell says:

    “We need a massive blood transfusion of humour and empathy into the Yes campaign at all levels.”

    Agreed, and I think it needs more originality, less party politicians and scope beyond common-or-garden economic and oil arguments.

    And what about the bedroom tax? The Yes Campaign should mention that on every leaflet.

  9. DougtheDug says:

    The problem for me about the whole Susan Calman thing is that there has been an uncritical acceptance of her claim that she suffered a, “shit storm of aggression”, and that there is somehow a sense of humour failure in the Yes camp.

    I’m pretty good at finding things on the internet. I’ve searched twitter for @susancalman to find what others were saying to her and what she said on twitter and I did this especially around the period 26th to 29th April which brackets the broadcast of the News Quiz and the publication of her blog in which she alleges abuse.

    I found extremely little. I expected to find abuse and her reactions to that abuse. I found one reaction from her to a deleted tweet.

    Susan Calman @SusanCalman 27 Apr
    @Grazer10 oh do fuck off. Thanks.

    Grazer10 did respond to a question on their twitter account and said that their deleted tweet was
    “@SusanCalman You must be wishing you were on #hignfy last night to get another chance to kick your home nation after your #newsquiz pish.”
    and also that they wished they hadn’t deleted it.

    They’ve also put a screen shot up so everyone can see what they wrote:

    I found no abuse on the web at all and I looked very thoroughly.

    So that’s the evidence so far for a, “shit storm of aggression”, allied with the mention on her blog of death threats. One rude tweet.

    I kept an eye on what was being sent on twitter to @SusanCalman in the subsequent days after her blog and I saw nothing. She has now deleted her account for some reason.

    There may have been other deleted tweets, there may have been text messages, there may have been phone calls, there may have been emails but without the presentation of evidence it’s all just an allegation from her.

    So it appears that the whole hoo-haa with newspaper articles, Newsnicht on the case and breast beating from all around about the nasty cybernats has been based on no evidence whatsoever as that single deleted tweet from @Grazer10 came to light well after these events and on the Wings over Scotland blog.

    Susan Calman did the News Quiz on the 26th April and wrote her blog on the 29th about the, “shit storm of aggression”, that had come her way afterwards.

    The blog should be read carefully as Ms. Calman is an ex-corporate lawyer.

    She doesn’t say the, “shit storm of aggression”, came via the internet.

    She doesn’t say that there was definitely a blog attacking her.

    She doesn’t say that she personally received death threats.

    She does say that, “I was accused of betraying my country, of being racist towards my own people and of being a cunt”, but she doesn’t say how she received this abuse. It could have been via text messages, the phone, email, online or even face to face

    It would be good if she published the abuse so others could see the medium used to send it, the content and whether it was one single abusive message that contained all the terms she quotes or one thousand abusive messages.

    Since evidence of a “shit storm” of abuse can’t be found either on the web or on twitter perhaps the idea of online abuse by cybernats has been created not by her but by others.

    I’m disappointed at those in the Yes camp and SNP who have accepted the whole overblown affair at face value and run with the media circus.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      I disagree entirely and don’t think this is just about a ‘media circus’. It’s really essential that we think outside the bubble of committed certain Yes voters. These are not the people we need to persuade/be in conversation with. I think several blogs and activists need to have a real think to themselves.

      1. DougtheDug says:

        Your blog is based on the idea that there was a “shit storm of abuse” directed at Susan Calman.

        There has been no evidence presented to back up this claim and you’ve presented no evidence that the alternative forums and spaces created by independence supporters are backwaters of resentment.

        I agree that supporters of independence should not rise to unionist baiting but neither should supporters of independence let the media create a huge smear campaign based on one unsupported claim of online abuse.

        1. bellacaledonia says:

          This could be a futile exchange but here goes.

          My blog was not based on the idea that there was a “shit storm of abuse” directed at Susan Calman it was based on dealing with the media discussion of this.

          I’m not sure I believe the idea that it was invented.

          For example I myself have been threatened and abused online before and could understand completely not wanting to divulge this.

          You say: “you’ve presented no evidence that the alternative forums and spaces created by independence supporters are backwaters of resentment”. No, I didn’t. There is that danger. Here’s a good test: how often is the content of your site / blog full of positive ideas for the future and how often is it engaged with a reaction against ‘an other’?

          I’ll use that test for Bella but its worth having a think.

      2. DougtheDug says:

        “I’m not sure I believe the idea that it was invented.”

        “Invented” was not a word I used. Susan Calman’s own word’s were that she suffered a, “shit storm of abuse”, but offers no evidence to back up this claim. It may be true it may not. Without evidence it remains only an allegation.

        I have hunted high and low for this “Storm” and found nothing and I’m certain that the Better Together side have hunted far and wide for the same information. The fact that they’re not using quote after quote from abuse sent to Susan Calman as a stick to beat the Yes side with is evidence they haven’t found anything either.

        The media discussion of this went as follows.

        The Better Together campaign and the Scottish media went into a feeding frenzy about the evil cybernats and the only response from the Yes side has been either uncritical acceptance that there was abuse or to suffer abuse themselves for the temerity to ask for evidence.

        Positivity is one thing, Passivity in the face of smear campaign is another.

        1. bellacaledonia says:

          Its not passivity its a judgement about what works and what is effective. We disagree about tactics. The End.

      3. Braco says:

        This just sounds like the Air force claiming we don’t need the army or Navy to win the war! We will need all the forces and approaches to win this referendum.

        I think Bella’s approach of highlighting the positive is important but equating it with some moral superiority over more intellectually confrontational arguments made by other bloggers for independence is counter productive.

        It also comes across as lecturing and holier than thou, not something likely to attract or unify the cause in my view. Bella needs to get over herself here a wee bit I fear.

        1. bellacaledonia says:

          Just disagree not holier than anyone or lecturing anyone. Have a good weekend.

      4. Braco says:

        Thanks, you too.

    2. Peter A Bell says:

      “…there has been an uncritical acceptance of her claim that she suffered a, “shit storm of aggression”, and that there is somehow a sense of humour failure in the Yes camp.”

      And there’s the thing!

    3. James Coleman says:

      @Doug the Dug
      I fully agree with what you have written. And I consider it to be disgraceful that some YES supporters have run with the Calman story as if it is true. And even worse, for some of them to implicitly accept the lie that Cybernats are the worst culprits vav Internet abuse when it is obvious to me as a visitor to many web sites, that the CyberBrits are the most vicious and vile of the attackers. And that fact is backed up by evidence in a report by Dr Mark Shephard of Strathclyde University at the House of Commons – Discourse on Scottish Independence – Politicians versus Publics” Published 8th May 2012.
      But the most stupid of the YES attacks on its own people was that by some fool at YES Scotland who accused Wings Over Scotland of not doing the YES campaign any good with its constant attacks on the Bitter Mob.

  10. Ben Wray says:

    We need a game-changer, something that shifts the debate onto an ideological left-right footing. Endless talk of ‘getting the real facts out there’ won’t work. We can’t wait for the white paper, and I fear the white paper will provide little to fundamentally alter the debate anyway. It has to be the economy and it has to be something big: a coalition of people saying nationalise the oil and create an oil fund to build renewable energy infrastructure for the long-term. That would do it. Or whisky tax which could bring in 1billion. Here’s my more developed version of ‘game-changer’ idea here:

  11. Dave Coull says:

    A lot of brouhaha about nothing, is what it looks like to me. The alleged comic has got a lot of free publicity on the basis of zero evidence that anybody has ever said anything worse to her than “I don’t think you’re funny”.

    1. James Coleman says:

      It is not a brouhaha about nothing. You are missing the point. It has got very little to do with Calman. She is merely the catalyst. What has happened over the last few weeks and is still happening is a concerted effort by the Bitter men and their MSM supporters to try to discredit the many very effective blogs on the Internet which support Independence. And these sordid attempts at censorship must be strongly resisted.

  12. Tom says:

    I had been displeased by the most recent case of denigration of Scotland on HIGNFY, and more than annoyed by the News Quiz incident as I listen to BBC Radio programmes (downloaded from usenet, not live) more than I watch TV and wouldn’t have a TV if another person in the household, didn’t get pleasure from it. I felt a twinge of pity for SC in the excruciating News Quiz episode, being put on the spot was fine for a short time, but to be dragged back to it again and again, long after it had worn thin exceeded the score and I felt instead of having some principles and the courage to tell them to F.O, she played into their hands, perhaps seeking to ingratiate herself if not with the other panellists, but with the Southern audience, who gave her noticeable applause when first introduced, but could well have turned nasty if not having their precious egos stroked -those in the studio and the wider listening audience. There is past form from her however with the over-played, tiresome Buckfast and deep-fried Mars Bar patter that titivates England’s sense of superiority so disturbingly. I don’t do twitter so have no idea what was written there by her. I had found her comedy efforts unique and genuinely funny, but she’s not a political comedian in the sense Jeremy Hardy say is, and she was on thin ice and outside her comfort zone. Her father, appointed by Thatcher as Dept. of Health’s Chief Medical Officer for Scotland years back, -which suggests he was a Thatcherite in inclination, in the absence of evidence to the contrary -for the status quo, a safe pair of hands, he never came in for criticism either personally which would have been ‘playing the man’ or for his report itself, even from Independence supporters, though its remit of course was to consider options within strict limits and never utter the word Independence or even consider it as an option, though it was such a glaring omission, as to discredit the whole thing, and the commision being a unionist creation, nothing good could ever have come of it. It isn’t a good predictor of his daughters political leanings, I was friends with her brother when a student back in the 80s and early 90s, and for the life of me now couldn’t fathom his politics then but there was nothing objectionable then, to the very left-wing me of 20-plus years ago, he was an easy-going merry chap and I still feel some loyalty and protectiveness towards him and by extension to Ms. Calman, who has let her country down and is on probation, having lost the benefit of the doubt. What has suffered again however is the BBC’s reputation, as if it couldn’t go any lower, where this rather nasty agenda is penetrating to every nook and cranny of its output, I am finding more often right-wingers mistakingly believing themselves funny in incongruous regressiveness: Miles Jupp and son of Malcolm Rifkind, erstwhile Sec. of State for Scotland, turned arms-dealer, he of the excruciating eulogy for Thatcher -Hugo Rifkind, becoming News Quiz regulars who make me so cringe I have come to regard the show now as a lost cause. Journalists rather than comics have always been feature of the show, and no-one could surpass the late Alan Coren who had often free rein in the field of comedic xenophobia verging on the downright offensive. I hope she finds the bottle, intellectual and moral courage to put Scotland’s future above pandering to a discredited political and media elite in the hope of furthering her comedic career. I fear that for many Scots within the UK, conforming to stereotypes, being what they want you to be, not who you are, playing to the ugly crowd is a survival mechanism that’ll take a some unlearning. The problem for small Scottish fish in a big English lake is the predators.

    Ms. Calman is looking ever more like a relic of the Scotland that was, than having any part in the Scotland to come.

  13. annie says:

    “Ms. Calman is looking ever more like a relic of the Scotland that was, than having any part in the Scotland to come.”

    Well, there ye go… cheery bye, Ms Calman, I wish you a’ the best XXX

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