I CAN’T CLAIM to have much social media experience, nor can I claim to know anything about the Eurovision Song Contest. But I will defend the right of Glasgow SNP councillor Rhiannon Spear to say she hates the United Kingdom, without being forced into an artificial, mewling apology, far less having to worry about harassment from Police Scotland.
Of course, in the best Twitter tradition, Spear’s sentiments were unnuanced, unhelpful and uninformed. They seemed to confuse the institution of the British state with its people. They also implicitly elided “Europe” with the European Union, conveniently forgetting the EU’s misdemeanours in Southern Europe and Catalonia. And a morally serious person might ask, if Eurovision voting is a political point-scoring exercise, has “Europe” judged the UK to be in greater disrepute Netanyahu’s Israel (93 points)? If so, that says more about “Europe” than it does about the UK.
But, just for one second, let’s lighten up and admit what we all know: the UK is annoying. It’s easy to get on one’s high horse about Boris Johnson or the War in Iraq; but even the glorious British public can annoy the life out of you. Whenever I go on holiday abroad and hear a British voice (English, Scottish or Welsh), I pray they won’t embarrass me by saying something brash or stupid: “SPEAKY…ENGLISH…WANTA…BRANDY!” Waiting staff exchange wary, sarcastic glances: oh…a Brit. We all die a bit inside. Yes, sometimes I hate being British and sometimes it’s shite being Scottish – and sometimes joking about that is cathartic and a way of showing our mutual affection.
Certainly, nobody was hurt by Spear’s dumb joke; the only victim here was the fine tradition of satire. The right-wingers acting out performative indignation, some of them going so far as to report a “hate crime”, are precisely the snowflakes they claim to despise.
They might claim to be playing the rules set down by Spear and her cohort: hasn’t it been established that any and all offence on the internet can be classified as “hateful”? But that exonerates nobody, it merely demonstrates the ultimate bad faith and double standards behind the culture war framing of politics.
Just because the Hate Crime Bill is ill-conceived doesn’t mean it should be exploited for base purposes; just because it could be used for malicious harassment doesn’t mean it should be; just because a handful of massively online “leftists” have had a sense of humour bypass doesn’t grant everyone else a license to play cry-bully. Unless you go by playground rules.
In my earlier discussion of the Hate Crime Bill, I asked whether Scottish public life was mature enough to use these laws effectively. I expressed my doubts and nothing recently has changed my mind. People will say dumb things on Twitter: that’s what it’s there for. Malicious harassment of individuals and incitement to hatred must be separated from the performative taking of offence, or serious debate is off for the foreseeable future. As capitalism crumbles and the planet sizzles, we’ll be calling the cops about unfunny jokes.
So I’ll leave my right-wing readers with a phrase to learn: “I don’t agree with everything she says, but I’ll defend to the death her right to say it”. Or is that too much to ask?