Yesterday, a stooshie erupted on the calm, reasoned medium that is Twitter as elements within the Scottish Nationalist twitterati exchanged views on the use of such terms as 'Quisling', 'traitor' and 'anti-Scottish'. It seems there was a feeling amongst a self-selected group of reasonable and responsible Nationalists that some effort should be made to silence more excitable contributors in what is often referred to as the 'Cybernat' community.
On the face of it this doesn't seem to be a contentious issue - no SNP supporter would want the movement's standing in the wider community undermined by offensive posting directed at journalists and supporters/activists/elected representatives of other political parties. However, political debate is often heated and, since it concerns issues that go to the very heart of how we perceive ourselves and others, it is always likely to inflame passions. Nowhere is that heat more evident than in Scotland where there exists real animosity between the SNP and the Labour Party.
The reasons for this are not hard to find. Many mainstream commentators have pointed out the resentment of the Labour movement towards Nationalists for challenging them in what they saw as their patch. The Scottish electorate have, for at least fifty years, espoused politically left of centre, social democratic principles and the Labour Party saw themselves as the natural expression of that sentiment. Scotland, to a large extent, was their fiefdom. The idea of a realistic challenge to them was unthinkable. Whether they exhibited such a tendency is debatable but electoral realities meant they could take Scotland for granted.
This changed as they faced increasing competition from the Scottish National Party from the late 1960s on. Although SNP electoral success fluctuated throughout the next 40 years they did establish themselves on the same political landscape as Labour with the added appeal of speaking to a resurgent Scottishness. Labour were being pushed and they didn't like it. And they started biting.
Despite allegations from Labour about 'Tartan Tories', it was in fact they who moved to the right on the political spectrum as they sought to re-establish themselves as the party of government in Westminster and in response to the challenges posed by Thatcherist ideologies. This lurch never sat comfortably with their Scottish base and allowed the SNP to make further gains in traditional Labour seats.
We all know how this Nationalist momentum developed and with the electoral successes of 2007 and 2011 the Labour attacks have similarly increased in both ferocity and spitefulness. It should surprise no-one that eventually Nationalists would respond in kind. We now have two parties who should be occupying fairly similar terrain at each other's throats - perhaps precisely because of that basic similarity in outlook. The SNP acts as an unflattering mirror for Labour - a constant reminder of the Party they should be.
Which brings us to the current strife. The SNP is, by common consent, the most formidable electioneering machine in Scottish politics. Not only that but it is now the biggest party in Scotland, well financed and operates with remarkable discipline throughout the country.
Perhaps then, with the horses having been spooked by recent events involving Bill Walker and Lyall Duff, some may feel they should attempt to clamp down on social media platforms such as Twitter. Unfortunately such efforts tend to take on a life of their own and boundaries are ever more restrictively drawn. The Labour Party found this when removing 82 year old Walter Wolfgang from their Brighton Conference in 2005 for shouting the grave insult "nonsense" as Jack Straw talked about the Iraq War. I would not wish to see the SNP get into similar difficulties.
Similarly, I do not wish to see the SNP brought into disrepute by gratuitously offensive haranguing of opponents. Let's be clear, opponents of Scottish Nationalist policy are not Quislings, traitors or anti-Scottish. That does not mean, however, that some of our opponents do not exhibit behaviours or voice opinions that are clearly anti-Scottish - a term I have used myself from time to time. I have never accused anyone of being a Quisling or a traitor but I am somewhat bemused by the horrified response of some when they are used.
Let us examine what they mean. They are effectively used interchangeably and most people will be familiar with the concept of a traitor. Quisling, named for Vidkun Quisling who collaborated with Nazi forces occupying Norway, in its modern usage is normally used to describe politicians who favour the interests of other nations or cultures over their own. Are we seriously denying that these exist? Is the word to be 'banned' merely because of its Nazi connotation?
Presumably the same prohibition will be placed on Gauleiter which I recall being used by someone recently. Again to howls of protest and faux outrage.
Censorship is a slippery path. Let us step carefully.