Dear Mr Sillars,
I would first of all like to acknowledge the long and great service you have done for the people of Scotland during your life in politics and for the excellent work you continue to do to this day. I have never seen you speak in person but have thoroughly enjoyed your powers of rhetoric as well as your vision for Scotland’s future via YouTube and radio. I sincerely hope that your contributions continue long into the future as you help to shape the new Scotland that will emerge. That said, I don’t universally agree with everything you say and I have two very specific bones to pick with you.
Today you wrote an open letter to the ‘useful idiots’, the so-called ‘cybernats’ who were foolish enough to offer less than polite comments towards Clare Lally and JK Rowling. I see the letter has been reposted in several places but this is the link I followed from your own Twitter feed, so I assume this is the original letter.
In it you quite rightly tell the idiots who would rather swear and abuse that their input is not particularly helpful but then I am afraid you over step the boundaries somewhat. You write that Deborah Water’s speech was over-shadowed by the reports of the cybernetic abuse and state that the reason she didn’t receive coverage in the national media was down to their actions. Come on now, really? One of the hallmarks of this entire campaign is that the Yes campaign’s actions are rarely, if ever, reported in the main stream media and last night would have been no exception. I do totally agree that giving the No campaign ammunition to hurl at us is somewhat stupid but the blame for bias in the media needs to be firmly aimed at the media and not diverted away on the 2% (by your estimations) of evil cybernats who are giving the rest of us a bad name.
You then ask if people are naïve and ask if they have no knowledge of the nationalist movement and the security forces. It may come as a surprise to you that it would be a rare thing indeed for people outside of Scottish nationalist politics to be aware of the incidents you allude to. I am 40 this year and am no stranger to state propaganda, police and military intelligence and I am not aware of those incidents you refer to so I very, very much doubt that many younger people have even considered that MI5 or Special Branch (who are they anyway? I know, but I bet a lot of readers haven’t a clue) might be taking an interest in this issue. Don’t they fight terrorists? Why would they be interested in Scottish independence? You mention false flag operations and the fact that Dignity Project was hacked so the abuse it levelled at JK Rowling was unlikely to have been typed by a Yes supporter. Has it crossed your mind that your 2% may in fact be more like 0.2% and the other 1.8% is actually our ‘enemies’ at work? You warn of such things yet come out and berate the Yes side for perpetrating the abuse of JK Rowling and Clare Lally. Perhaps you are pointing at the wrong crowd again?
You are in danger of sounding like one of the senior figures of politics who tells the rest of us to sit down, shut up, listen and do exactly what you tell us to do without any consideration that ‘we’ might want to do something different. Isn’t that what we accuse Westminster of doing to all Scots? Personally I am very interested in the socialist vision that you have for Scotland but I am kind of old fashioned in my politics and I am very aware that a lot of the people my age and younger, are totally turned off by the old-style socialist rhetoric that your generation are so good at. A lot of people who are keen on Scottish independence do not share your idea of how a campaign should be run or who should be getting to make noises about issues that arise.
Perhaps also, the reason there has been an apparent increase in the cybernasties is that there is very little firm talk coming from the leaders and the thinkers of the Yes campaign. Who in a position of authority is taking the BBC to task regarding its coverage of the campaign? Why are questions not being raised in Westminster parliament about the BBC’s failure to abide by its own charter? Why are demands not being made for a public enquiry? Why, in light of the comments directed towards JK Rowling, has nobody of ‘substance’ made reference to the vile treatment the Weirs received when they donated to Yes Scotland and the SNP? Why are the big names not expressing outrage that the very idea of Nazism is being linked – by anyone – to the referendum process? Why has nobody stepped up and said that it is totally unacceptable to compare regimes which killed millions of people to what is going on in Scotland? Or to comparing Alex Salmond to the despots who ran those regimes? These points have been raised very eloquently by various writers and speakers online but why does the independence ‘establishment’ not challenge these statements? If you top dogs leave such commentary to the ‘useful idiots’ you run the risk that the idiots are going to start thinking and acting for ourselves.
One of the great strengths of this Yes campaign is that it is genuinely ‘of the people’ and not entirely about the leadership of the Yes politicians such as yourself. But it is also one of the weaknesses of the campaign because if those of you (and by this I primarily mean the senior SNP MSPs) who have power and authority fail to use it, your followers and hangers-on will exert their own ‘leadership’ and this could backfire as we have just seen. Perhaps you lot have got a ‘big event’ up your sleeves but some of us are beginning to wonder when the campaign is going to actually start…(and I don’t mean me, I will get worried in about six weeks’ time though, if nothing changes).
This point about leadership leads me to my second major gripe with you. In May you published another article, this time about the leadership being exerted by Alex Salmond. In it you publically called him a liability to the Yes campaign because he was too busy being too statesman-like as First Minister and not spending enough time being the personable man the voters can like if they get to meet him. You said that you, and other speakers like you, were constantly having to address the issue of whether Mr Salmond was a nice man and whether the vote for Yes was a vote for Mr Salmond. You appeared to blame Mr Salmond’s behaviour for alienating the voting public. Again, I think you are pointing a finger at the wrong target.
The reason much of the Scottish public don’t ‘like’ Alex Salmond is because of two things, and neither of them are Alex Salmond: As you well know, the Scottish Labour Party hates the SNP and Alex Salmond and everything they stand for, regardless of what it is they stand for, and they are not shy about saying so. The mainstream media which, as we all know, has taken up this message and spread it far and wide so loads of people get exposed to it. Mr Salmond is criticised for being too statesman-like, he is criticised for being too keen on seeking publicity and he is criticised for actually being smarter than many of the other politicians in the Scottish Parliament. On the other hand, if he was a stay at home FM with a shy and retiring nature and a room temperature IQ, don’t you think that he would be criticised just as roundly and just as many people would dislike him? In other words, it isn’t Alex Salmond who is to blame for not being liked, it is the media and the No campaign who are creating that image and the job of every Yes campaigner (from the big dogs like you to the puppies like me) is to counter this belief and not reinforce it by calling Mr Salmond a ‘liability’.
Your decision to write that article was more of a shot in the foot of the Yes campaign than anything the ‘vile cybernats’ did in recent days. I read about your intervention in the Daily Record, which splashed their headline “Alex Salmond has become a liability to the Yes campaign – and could cost them the referendum, says Jim Sillars“ across its pages, and wanted to throttle you. You may well be totally on the money about what Alex Salmond should or should not be doing and you may have genuine criticisms of the way in which the SNP structure is enforced, but please, please do not give our opponents such ammunition by making those views public.
All of us in the Yes side need to remember one key thing: The only thing that matters is that on 18th September 2014 the majority of the voting public in Scotland votes Yes. Everything else is immaterial. It doesn’t really matter if any one of us is in favour of sharing the Pound, nor does it matter who we want in Government in an independent Scotland or who should be drafting the constitution or on the negotiating team. None of these things matter a hill of beans unless we win. Let’s all keep putting forward our positive visions for the future and lay off criticising any other Yes ideas (come on, let’s all support ‘Conservatives for Yes’ even if they want to privatise the NHS an keep Trident) because will be in danger of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory if we continue blaming and criticising individuals or groups within our collective movements.