It seems our nation’s most frequently fulminating minister may have mounted his online pulpit for the last time. The Reverend Stuart Campbell has decided to hastily wind up his closely followed political website Wings over Scotland. Naturally, his huge congregation is mournful and distraught. But the truth is their beloved cleric is probably saving them from themselves.
A lot of things have changed since the Scottish Spring, that glorious summer before the September 2014 referendum when a thousand thistles bloomed in cyberspace. The flowering of the Fifth Estate was one of the most phenomenal aspects of that period. But there are clearly now powerful forces determined to scythe down such alternative media sites, especially if they pose any sort of threat to Scotland’s conjugal dictatorship of Nicola and Peter Murrell.
Mr Campbell (who put Rev. in his byline to distinguish himself from other Stuart Campbells) has long been the biggest hitter in the Scottish blogosphere, by far. Much of that was down to the publication during the referendum campaign of his enormously popular and influential Wee Blue Book, a concise and persuasive compendium of statistically-backed arguments against preservation of the Union. But Wings’ primary punchbag ceased some time ago to be any Unionist. In the past few years the fist blows have been directed at Nicola Sturgeon and her loyal acolytes. The Wingers, as I call the almost cultish followers of that site, utterly detest the Sturgeonistas. As you might detect in this segment of Mr Campbell’s final blog:
I’m not going to spend the next five years pointlessly repeating myself while Sturgeon busily turns Scotland into a vicious, spiteful, intolerant, authoritarian and misogynist country I’ll be ashamed to come from and am already afraid to live in.
As you can see, this really has little do with the First Minister’s failure to force an indyref2, the Rev. Stu’s ostensible reason for laying down his laptop. Of course, he’s fed up assailing her on that front to absolutely no avail, but the key word in his statement is this – “afraid”.
Many bloggers in this country who haven’t taught, or even studied, media law like me will be more than slightly unnerved by the eight month prison sentence passed down this week on Craig Murray. The former British ambassador-turned-nationalist agitator was found in Contempt of Court for articles he posted online about the Alex Salmond trial. Many believe him to be the victim of selective prosecution because no charges were brought against numerous members of the mainstream media who were, arguably, equally guilty of the ‘jigsaw identification’ of Mr Salmond’s accusers.
The case against Mr Murray was brought by the Crown Office in Scotland as he lives in Edinburgh. The same prosecutors could not act so easily against Stuart Campbell because he resides in Bath. But there seems a fair chance they might do so if he were based in Bathgate, or somewhere else north of the Border. Not for his savage denunciations of Nicola Sturgein’s pusillanimity in pursuing independence. No one can be punished for just that (not yet anyway). It’s more to do with something that has become Mr Campbell’s almost complete obsession over the past few years – his trenchant opposition to proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act.
The Rev. Stu has delivered an endless stream of savage and scatological sermons on that subject. He is totally opposed to any lowering of the legal hurdles to transgenders being able to self-identify as women. In adopting that posture, his site is in firm alignment with most defenders of women’s rights in Scotland. They feel these legislative changes won’t just negate their hard-won victories but could even endanger women’s safety in shared spaces such as public toilets. The campaign to stop the implementation of this has been spearheaded by prominent SNP parliamentarians Joan McAlpine and Joanna Cherry, along with the party’s former national women’s convened Cllr Caroline McAllister, who quit the governing party to run for Alba in the recent Holyrood election. But none of this trio have expressed their fury about the GRA reforms anywhere close to the way Wings over Scotland has.
For too long there has been far more outrage about ‘trannies’ than Trident – or any other issue – as the Wingers have worked themselves into a seething rage about ‘gender ideologists’. Many of them make true and telling points but more than a few come across as (to quote Mr Campbell’s own words back at him) vicious, spiteful and intolerant. Nobody is going to get away with such behaviour for much longer in Sturgeon’s Scotland. They certainly won’t be permitted to host hate fests, which Wings could be accused of having done for some time.
The Hate Crimes Bill – against which Wings campaigned relentlessly – is now the Hate Crimes and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021. Openly expressed transphobia won’t be tolerated anymore in this jurisdiction. And there’s more: when piloting the Hate Crimes Bill through the Scottish Parliament, the Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf also established an expert working group to consider whether misogynistic behaviour should become a standalone offence under Scots law. The taskforce is being led by the human rights lawyer Baroness Helena Kennedy and will report by early next year.
Mr Campbell might evade prosecution under this new legislation because he is based in Somerset rather than Scotland but virtually all who posting comments below his articles appeared to be based north of the Border. Certainly most of the targets of their invective resided in Scotland, so some of those comments could potentially be actionable. Even if they’re not, I believe we bloggers are ethically responsible for anything that appears on our websites and should not provide a hate-filled forum. The fact that Mr Campbell doesn’t seem to actively moderate comments adds immensely to his site’s popularity – intense interactivity can be very gratifying – but I wouldn’t rely on that defence in any court of law. Nor in the court of public opinion, where the Rev Campbell stands widely condemned.
The announcement that “Wings is over” was both startling and a wee bit saddening. At its best, it has been a sort of Scottish Private Eye, combining dogged investigation with sharp satire. But the truth is its publisher has been needing to clip his Wings for some time. From his airbase in Bath, he could not go on forever ‘soaring over Scottish politics’ and dropping shit bombs on anyone he cared to target. He really did need to give it a rest.
So let’s raise a glass to the Rev. Stuart Campbell and wish him many happy hours of squirrel watching in Somerset (for some reason he’s obsessed with these creatures). Posting indefatigably for a decade has been an inspiration to all us bloggers. Launched into cyberspace only a fortnight ago, Jaggy is obviously nowhere near Wings in terms of quantity of followers – yet. But what is far more important to me is the quality of discourse and debate to be found here. Jaggy will be every bit as incisive and combative as Wings (and Craig Murray), but it will never provide a platform for plain nastiness. And it will always be legally compliant.