According to David Torrance writing in Monday’s Herald newspaper, it’s all over for a Yes movement that has now fallen apart. Well he would say that, wouldn’t he. Reports of the Yes movement’s death have been greatly exaggerated. What has happened is that during the summer silly season when there’s relatively little in the way of proper politics going on, certain people in the Yes movement have been indulging in a round of mutual arguments on Twitter. Having arguments is one of the few things that Twitter is any good for.
Torrance makes the fundamental error of confusing what happens on Twitter with the independence movement as a whole. The truth is that the great majority of Yes supporters neither use Twitter nor give a toss about who has been falling out with whom on a social media platform which is incapable of expressing nuance. You don’t get rational debate in 140 characters. You get snark, cat gifs, one liners, arguing about the fitba, and updates on the latest goings on in the Big Brother house.
There are no reliable figures for the number of Twitter users in Scotland. Twitter is, perhaps understandably, reluctant to publish figures – after all their advertising revenues depend on it. Even so, it is possible to come up with an estimate, and that estimate turns out to be considerably fewer than the number of people who reported themselves as Scots speakers in the last census.
This page https://www.thelasthurdle.co.uk/demographics-of-uk-social-media-users/ gives an estimate of 15 million registered Twitter accounts in the UK. A percentage of those will be bots. This page https://www.cnbc.com/2017/03/10/nearly-48-million-twitter-accounts-could-be-bots-says-study.html estimates that around 15% of accounts are bots. We can use those two estimates as a starting point. These pages also inform us that 43% of accounts haven’t been active for over a year, and only 29% use Twitter daily. That gives 4,364,000 daily Twitter users in the UK. Removing the 15% which are bots leaves 3,709,000. It seems plausible that the percentage of daily users who are bots will be higher than the overall percentage of all users who are bots – but I don’t have any figures for that.
8.25% of the population of the UK is in Scotland, so that gives a figure of 306,000 daily users of Twitter in Scotland. This is considerably fewer than the 1.54 million who recorded themselves as Scots speakers in the 2011 census. A considerable, but unknown, number of Twitter users don’t use Twitter for engaging in Scottish political debate. I’d stick my neck out and say that it’s the great majority of Twitter users. Obsessing over politics is very much a minority pursuit. It’s the kind of thing indulged in by people who struggle to get laid. They don’t call politics the only shot at celebrity for ugly people for nothing you know.
Most of the Scottish Twitterati make use of the platform for the aforementioned snark, cat gifs, one liners, arguing about the fitba, and updates on the latest goings on in the Big Brother house. The number of people in Scotland who use Twitter for engaging in the independence debate is going to be much smaller. That means that in terms of seeking an impact on the wider debate on Scottish independence, ye’ll hae a damn sicht mair effeck oan whit fowk think bi screivin in Scots nor ye wid bi yuisin Twitter. In fact you’ll probably have more influence on the cause of neo-eisimeileachd na h-Alba le sgrìobhadh sa’ Ghàidhlig. And that will still hold true even if you are quite a bit more mature than Ross Greer. Which to be strictly factual about it, is the great majority of us.
Twitter is a wee bubble. It’s a much weer bubble than Scots language users and we’re always being told that the Scots language is a tiny and insignificant niche. Reporting on a Twitter spat between certain independence supporters and then claiming that it’s all over for the Yes movement is a bit like claiming that just because your uncle got drunk at your cousin’s wedding and threw up all over your other uncle’s best suit that the entire concept of family is now dead for everyone. It might be the end for your uncle’s suit, but only if your uncle has never heard of dry cleaning.
If you really want to witness poisonous interpersonal disputes, you only have to look at the Conservative party. David Davis hates everyone, everyone hates Michael Gove, Boris Johnson is incapable of getting though a week without pissing off the entire population of some important EU state, and the only reason that Theresa May is still in her job is because no one wants to take the blame when the chlorinated chickens of Brexit come home to roost. Yet no one, least of all David Torrance, claims that it’s all over for the Tory party.
Doubtless much the dismay of David and his Tory wishful thinking, the Yes movement is very much alive and kicking. If you lift your eyes beyond the Twitter bubble, and go and meet people involved in the grassroots movement, as I do, you’ll find a vibrant, enthused and committed campaign. For the past year and more I’ve been travelling the length and breadth of this country, talking to people in local Yes Groups, SNP branches, and Commonweal groups. I’ve covered the country from Orkney and Thurso to Stranraer and Duns and all points in between. There is no sign that anyone’s appetite for Scottish independence is diminished any. Invitations to come and speak to local groups keep coming in.
Despite the occasional fall out due to interpersonal issues, the independence movement is stronger than it ever was. There is now a growing consensus within the Yes movement that this is no longer a debate about whether Scotland should become an independent country, it’s now a debate about when Scotland should become an independent country. The real impending doom is for a United Kingdom that has lost its way, is lurching towards a Brexit without a plan, without a clue, and without any UK political party that is prepared to put the interests of the country before its own narrow sectional interests. It’s not the independence movement which is destroying itself, it’s the United Kingdom. Scotland needs the independence movement now more than it ever did, and those of us involved in it are not going away. Sorry David.
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