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By G.A.Ponsonby

“I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend your right to say it” ... unless you are Scottish and support independence it seems.

It’s one of the defining aspects of our society, the freedom to express an opinion, to disagree, to criticise – in short, free speech is fundamental to who we are.

However, going by some of the reactions to an article written by SNP MSP Joan McAlpine this week, this basic human right is under threat from irate Unionists.

Journalist Ms McAlpine left the Scotsman last week and joined the Daily Record.  A wise move, if for no other reason than the Record’s circulation figures, although falling, are still way out in front of that of its Edinburgh rival.

But it wasn’t Ms McAlpine’s decision to ditch one paper for another that has caused a stushie.  It was her controversial first column for the Glasgow based tabloid that has raised the hackles of Scotland’s most sensitive group of people – the Unionist.

No sooner had the ink dried than came calls for her to apologise and stand down. The calls came from the usual rent-a-quote mob of Unionist politicians angry at Ms McAlpine’s comparison of the Union to that of a marriage of a talented woman to a domineering husband.

Before you could utter the phrase “liar, liar pants on fire”, Ms McAlpine’s words had been twisted, bent, repackaged and re-written by Scotland’s ‘Honesty and Truth’ Commission – otherwise known as Labour, Tories and the Lib Dems.

Shadow Scottish Secretary Margaret Curran said: "I can't remember a more ill-judged comparison. This will spark real anger and she should apologise.

"Every day, women in Scotland face abusive partners seeking to manipulate and control the relationship.

"Comparing the United Kingdom to an abusive marriage is absurd and offensive to men or women genuinely trapped in that kind of relationship."

Just to remind readers, this was the same Margaret Curran who said in an interview with Holyrood Magazine that if Alex Salmond was run over by a bus she wouldn’t care who the bus driver was.

Scottish Lib Dem deputy leader Jo Swinson also pitched in: "There should be an unreserved apology from Joan McAlpine and if one is not forthcoming Alex Salmond should sack her as his parliamentary aide.

"This is a deeply offensive comment that shows profound disrespect for the many victims of domestic violence which is an appalling crime." she said.

Tory spokesman David McLetchie added: "She is insulting the intelligence, common sense of Scottish women who know exactly what the value of a good partnership is when they see it."

http://blogs.dailyrecord.co.uk/joanmcalpine/2012/03/women-understand-independence-instinctiv.html

As can be seen from the link above, Joan McAlpine made no mention of abuse towards women or the imaginary wife in her article, what she did refer to was an abuse of power.

In fact the article cleverly used the same metaphor we at Newsnet Scotland used in the months prior to the Holyrood elections -

http://www.newsnetscotland.com/index.php/scottish-opinion/1430-scotland-westminster

It’s been used by Unionists themselves of course when they routinely compared independence to a messy and costly divorce.  But hey, it’s OK for Unionists to compare independence to a bad marriage.

The quite blatant contorting of words by Unionist politicians and some of the more servile elements in the ‘Scottish’ media isn’t new.  Some weeks ago Ms McAlpine suffered at the hands of the same verbal fraudsters when she claimed that Unionists, by ignoring the democratic will of Scots in attempting to dictate the terms of the referendum, were behaving in an anti-Scottish fashion.

This was manipulated to great effect by commentators and opponents who accused Ms McAlpine of claiming that anyone who disagreed with the SNP were anti-Scottish.

She wasn’t – they lied – but Unionists own the megaphone so political pragmatism dictated that McAlpine effectively take the hit.

However there’s something much more sinister at play here and it strikes at the very heart of free speech.

There’s no doubt that Unionists are rattled by the likes of Joan McAlpine, a skilful wordsmith and former journalist of the year.  The platform afforded the SNP MSP by the hitherto unshakably Labour paper the Daily Record is a sign that, though their megaphone is loud, it is not the only one around.

It isn’t the criticism of Joan McAlpine’s article that is the problem here.  In fact, as has already been pointed out the article wasn’t criticised – what was criticised was a malicious interpretation, verging on fraud.  The problem is the calls for her to be sacked or forced to apologise for what was a very well written and succinct article that would have graced the pages of any newspaper.

If people want to read a really offensive article then try this one for size, and no, I am not advocating the author be sacked. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/feb/05/stewart-lee-salmond-scotland-independence

It’s this increasing intolerance from Unionists towards dissenting voices that is beginning to worry me.

There’s a tendency to misrepresent perfectly valid arguments, thus demonising the messenger and by extension rendering their point of view invalid – and it’s dangerous.

We see this not just in Unionist reaction to nationalist viewpoints on the constitution but in the increasing trend to lump all anti-status quo views together and dismiss all as ranting bigots.

The language from once respected Unionists is also growing ever more rabid as exemplified by former Lib Dem leader David Steel who attacked the SNP’s criticism of the BBC, laughingly accusing the party of intimidation.

Mr Steel employed the now ubiquitous terms when referring to First Minister Alex Salmond with veiled references to North Korea’s late dictator Kim Jong II.

As well as playing the dictator card Steel also jumped on the rhetorical revisionist bandwagon when he said:

“Thus we are told that to be anti-SNP is to be anti-Scottish.  It is time for them to understand that the rest of us resent being told that to be pro-Scotland you have to be pro-SNP,”

This nonsense devalues democracy and renders debate impossible.  If your response to your opponent is to contort the meaning of their words then how can meaningful debate be possible?

Steel’s claim that BBC Scotland were being intimidated is ironic.  If what we have witnessed this last two weeks was an intimidated BBC Scotland then god only knows what we can expect when their confidence returns.

BBC Scotland’s peculiar brand of ‘balanced reporting’ was in evidence this last fortnight when they all but ignored the sensational claims in John Ashton’s book on Al-Megrahi.

Ashton learned a harsh lesson about Scotland’s media and was poorly advised by those around him by allowing himself to be used by the BBC and the rest.  His claims about Kenny MacAskill dominated the news and left the real controversy over Megrahi’s trial in the shadows.

The Scottish broadcaster is going to hell in a hand cart as it resembles more and more a colonial broadcasting outpost whose role is to manage news instead of reporting it.

Unionists are using their influential friends in the Scottish media in an attempt at intimidating their critics into silence.  Scotland will be a poorer place if the likes of Margaret Curran get their way and are allowed to browbeat and intimidate their opponents.

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