Today’s (Glasgow) Herald has a story about ‘cybernats’ posting rude messages on social media about Olympic champion cyclist Sir Chris Hoy’s opposition to Scottish independence.
For the uninitiated, ‘cybernat’ is the term used in Scottish politics to refer, ostensibly, to slightly mad old-school nationalists who post vile, personalised attacks on their political opponents. Some politicos in Scotland don’t seem to understand, though, that this attack doesn’t really work as a political device as it seeks to apply a pejorative to the SNP when everyone knows it can be applied to some supporters of all political parties. Take a look at the comment pages of any UK newspaper.
Significantly, though, the same term ‘cybernat’ – coined, presumably, around 1993 by some old guy confused by the ‘thae computers’ – is deployed more often in reference to the SNP’s enthusiasm for social media. It’s an attempt to portray the SNP as obsessed with trifling technology when what really matters is soft, black M&S shoes on the ground.
Well, whatever the SNP is doing from a ‘permanent campaign’ point of view can’t be all bad – they do have an overall majority in a parliament designed precisely to prevent that outcome, after all. And one of the things they’re doing which isn’t bad is the very thing their opponents use the term ‘cybernat’ to decry.
Take a look at the websites of the four main political parties in my constituency of Falkirk where Labour runs the Council. The SNP. Labour. The Conservatives. The Lib Dems. Four? OK, the Tories and Lib Dems haven’t bothered at all. So let’s just consider the SNP and Labour sites.
The SNP site is bright and cheery, pretty much up to date and contains multiple references to local issues. The posts extend from ‘lines to take’ and each presents a political message in language both accessible and apparently reasonable. The site is aimed at normal folk – voters, if you will. The Labour site, untouched for five months, has a few old and very dull messages about ‘party structures’ and cancelled meetings; it’s aimed at about 20 folk who might just about consider turning up to local meetings. Voters? Bollocks to them.
Or here’s the SNP website proper; dynamic, cheery, upbeat with plenty of links to policies people might be interested in. Here’s Scottish Labour’s effort; the top few posts are literally speeches (‘check against delivery’, ffs). Actually, virtually hidden away, there’s a genuinely appealing video featuring former soldier Frankie Caldwell, posted by Jim Murphy, which is exactly the kind of thing which should be on a political website. But nobody’s watching it.
What about, say, yon Twitterrything? As I write, Scottish Labour managed a re-tweet 2 days ago (‘Davie, will ye go intae the photocopier room and gie that Twittermachine’s button a push’); that was the 30th Tweet over 30 days in May. The SNP? In the two days since Scottish Labour’s last tweet, the SNP have tweeted 41 times, mainly original content with a positive feel. How many SNP tweets during May? Hundreds – too depressing (for me) to count. Unsurprisingly, the SNP’s Alex Salmond has 10 times as many followers as Scottish Labour’s Johann Lamont.
Too many Labour folk think throwing around the term ‘cybernats’ is enough to counter the SNP’s enormous technical and communications superiority. But in fact, ‘cybernats’ does the opposite. It makes Scottish Labour (and, of course, journos) seem backward-looking, ignorant and defeatist. It also reflects Scottish Labour’s heavy reliance on conventional media – they seem frozen in the headlights. While the SNP has smart professionals and volunteers cooking up cool ideas about presentation, Labour is still relying on leaning up against the wall with journos in conspiratorial fashion.
The less-than-subliminal message is that if you’ve given up the ghost on social media then the rest will follow.
Cybernat is a loser’s word. Labour should pack it in and make an effort instead.