What rock stars, pop stars, artists, comedians, actors, sports stars, etc say doesn’t matter. What their opinions are doesn’t matter. What their politics are doesn’t matter. At least they shouldn’t matter. Certainly their point of view is no more valid than anyone else’s. The only difference is, of course, that they have a platform & a captive audience.
In a short statement last night, read by Kate Moss at the Brit Awards, David Bowie ended with just four words, “Scotland, stay with us”. If you listened carefully you could just about make out the rumble of the more reactionary supporters of Scottish independence (a fairly large percentage) stampeding to their keyboards alongside the cracking sound of a thousand angry fingers being put through smartphone & tablet screens in the rush to proclaim just how little Bowie’s words meant & how rubbish he’d always been anyway. Anyone who has paid even the slightest attention to the debate over the independence referendum, particularly online, knew in the very instant the words left Kate Moss’ mouth what was to come – just have a look at the comments on Bowie’s Facebook page for many, many, many hilarious examples.
I stand by what I say at the top, rock stars opinions are no more valid than anyone else’s. If you feel your argument is strong enough then you should certainly be able to allow even one of the world’s greatest ever musical icons express their view via a supermodel in just four words without losing too much sleep. However what I read was tweet after tweet after tweet, comment after comment after comment from supporters of Scottish independence on how Bowie’s opinion didn’t matter, on how he was irrelevant, on how he had no right to have an opinion because a) he isn’t Scottish, b) because his permanent residence isn’t in Britain, c) because he dabbled with drum n bass for a bit (Ironically the first few tweets I read were from a few Scottish musicians & comedians that support independence). One might think they protest too much.
It highlights though something that has bothered me for a few months. Bowie is pretty untouchable, his livelihood & wealth is not dependent on Scottish independence supporters & he has not been personally active online for a number of years (at least visibly to the wider world). Bowie can say what he likes about his views on the independence referendum without any fear of reprisals. It is pretty safe to assume that, if he wishes, Bowie will be completely oblivious to the thousands of tweets & Facebook comments attacking him personally, attacking his work, attacking his nationality & attacking his right to an opinion. The same cannot be said for those with a lesser public profile than Bowie who dare to express an opinion about the referendum (Scottish or otherwise). The avalanche of abuse, from what has become widely known as cybernats, that anyone with any kind of public profile (in some cases it could be argued a public profile isn’t even required) if they express support for a ‘No’ vote in the referendum has, in my view, led to a depressing climate where many of these people deem it wise to say nothing at all. Who could blame them? In this age where so many of us engage with social media every day who wants to log in to reams of personal abuse? I’d ask what kind of politics is this? What kind of democratic debate?
Social media has not yet decided any election anywhere in the world but it’s influence grows every year. There is undoubtedly a huge potential for social media to positively benefit political campaigning, sadly that potential appears to be being squandered in the worst possible way where negativity & personal abuse far outweigh attempts to express reasoned political points of view.
I have a fairly active interest in politics, to varying degrees I have followed most of the major political election campaigns in the last few years where social media has played a part, to my mind this Scottish Independence campaign has been the most depressing in how it has seen social media used in the very worst way. The ‘Yes’ supporters have created such a poisonous atmosphere of ‘with us or against us’ that I worry what that would lead to in Scotland in the event of a ‘No’ vote. I worry that there is not enough consideration that, no matter the result, Scotland will still go on the day after the referendum and everyone, no matter what side they were on, will still have to live & work together. This vote, more than most, requires a calm & considered campaign & debate. Thankfully, I think offline there is widely a realisation of this & it is happening. Online should take heed & follow suit.
I’ll probably write a couple of more blogs on my own view of the referendum before September but I’ll finish this blog by declaring my position. Nationalism & Separatism just isn’t my thing – I can’t buy into it. Fundamentally, my view is that we are all one species that all live on a big rock & that rock would be a better place to live if more people shared that view. As those of you who know me are aware I am a supporter & member of the Labour Party, one of the core reasons I am a member of the Labour Party is this phrase, “By the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone”. The fight for fairness in society is bigger than an invisible border. The voting patterns of the last 30 years in Scotland are more or less matched by those of the North East, North West & Yorkshire, not to mention large swathes of Greater London. Of course Scotland could be an independent country, personally I just believe more people could benefit in the future across the UK if it isn’t.
In the meantime, go & listen to Bowie – he’s amazing.