Thursday was a busy day. I was up early and on the train to Aberdeen en route to Banff to pick up a vehicle. As ScotRail has yet to enter the 21st century and provide power sockets or WiFi on their dinky 3-car ‘express’ trains between Scotland’s two economy-driving cities, I was, as I often am, using my iPhone to catch up with the world via Twitter.
After having a couple of go’s at RBS for hosing unjustifiable bonuses around (£607m) while making the fifth—and biggest—loss of the last five years (£5.17bn) with 80% public money, I was becoming angry at such ineptitude. My mood wasn’t softened by four oil workers having a noisy bevy around the table across the way and a particularly whiny kid squalling its way through any bribes tried off the tea cart. I then saw a Tweet from the Better Together lot which said:
We will also have a stock of our new leaflet which has Scots saying why they think we are stronger in the UK.
Those who know me will recall it takes little to rouse me. They will also recall that my mode of communication when roused tends towards the provocative. This is not a trait of which I am particularly proud and I do try to rein it in on those occasions that demand it. This was one such occasions but checks-and-balances failed me and did not kick in. As a result, at 9:48 am, I tweeted in response:
@UK_Together Do you have equivalent quotes from abused women saying why they don’t need a divorce or slaves happy on the plantation, Massah?
It was only when the responses came pouring in that I realised the extent to which I had aroused indignation and had wholly misjudged how such statements would be taken. Some of the responses were reasonable and measured, such as:
@DavidSBerry do you think such racially charged language reflects well on supposedly positive anti-uk campaign? #indyref #bettertogether
which gave me an uneasy feeling and set me to thinking, albeit too late. Some of the responses were personally abusive and I normally discard such opinions of people who don’t know me well enough to insult me. But, most importantly, a number of responses were both angry and articulate about me exceeding the bounds of taste to an extent that oversight could hardly excuse. These I took so seriously that at 11:04 am I tweeted in general:
In view of strong response, my original comments seem excessive. I withdraw them and apologise if I caused offence.
and to the more moderate and reasoned responses, such as the one cited above, before noon I replied along the lines of:
@AnthoCu86 Was not intended to be racially charged; several people took it as such, so I have withdrawn the original comment and apologised.
To anyone reading this offended by my original remarks—or any unaware then but outraged now, I offer my apologies and recognise that my statement went beyond the bounds of impish provocation and could be interpreted as insulting to abused women and/or slaves, especially in terms of the intensity of their personal suffering.
Despite over 5,000 tweets over more than two years, my propensity to push the envelope of debate, conspiring with an unreasonable temper if my sense of right is roused, had not generated anything more than some lively debates to date. Indeed, few of them had become acrimonious and almost all ended in chivalrous acknowledgement of the other side and a tacit agreement to disagree. Despite my (continued) unquenchable belief in Scottish independence, I am happy to acknowledge that many were with equally diehard No/Better-Together/Unionist campaigners who have thereby earned my respect: we are all Jock Tamson’s bairns and we have an honest debate ahead of us.
But I see, in retrospect, that this went far beyond such debate. Despite my relative experience on Twitter, this was a major faux pas, for which I take full responsibility. The only good to come out of it in my view has been twofold: a roll-call of correspondents I imagine I must now list as diehard enemies, so immoderate and condemnatory were their missives and; a sharp lesson on social media etiquette that I should tape to my computer monitor and recite daily before I switch the thing on.
And it leaves some serious questions for me to answer to myself and for which purpose I am taking this weekend to sift potential answers through my mind. I am, socially, not a chatty type but I am, in politics, an outspoken person. My rather stern mother taught me that honesty trumps diplomacy, which has set me at a lifetime of odds with the traditional English stiff-upper-lip and with Kelvinside rictus of politeness-at-all-costs. That is one reason why I like American/Australian straightforwardness and tend to laugh at the language codes in everyday use in business and politics today.
In that spirit I considered, and then rejected, the idea of deleting the offending tweet. It was a balance between giving further offence and the honesty that, however misguided, I had indeed posted it and the matter would best come to its conclusion without any attempt to sweep it under the carpet. That wasn’t an easy choice. Being in hot water is not a new experience for me but offending a number of people—especially when there was no intent to offend—certainly is.
So far, so noble; but what then when such lofty principles overstep the bounds of decency and get me rightly pilloried? It seems that I may have brought the party of which I have been a loyal member for 36 years into disrepute—still worse, damaged the cause of independence to which I have dedicated these last 20 years. The party was swift to (rightly) distance themselves from my original statement and I have had no pressure from them since to take any particular action. Nonetheless, I will be considering what, if any, action on my part now would constitute the most appropriate way of making amends.
I have noticed in the past decade or so, people tend to get very touchy about anything they view as non PC. Obviously they considered your comment to have failed the PC test. It’s a pity because as a result spontaneous wit is rapidly evaporating. Next thing will be the introduction of the ‘thought police’ who will arrest anyone who upsets other people’s sensibilities. Anyway David, don’t let it get you down, you did after all get the discussion and frantic finger activity going.
Thank you for an understanding response as to my intent and the context in which the incident occurred. That was both generous and kind.
Social media facilitates an unprecedented level of transparency for those that are elected who are also hip, adept and brave enough to take advantage of it. It’s a shame that partisanship can trump perception when one side chooses to shift the discussion from the desirability of Scottish independence to opportunistic overreaction. While the analogies employed may have been perceived by some to be strained, they were not entirely without merit, and would surely be interpreted by most – even here in the cradle of political correctness – as fair comment. While your apologies are both laudable and politically expedient, keep speaking that truth to power that we still love you for here across the pond.
Just noticed that the Telegraph picked up on your twitter comments http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/scotland/9900885/Former-SNP-council-leader-compares-Scotland-to-slave-state.html
Dave dont let the unionists grind you down certainly not a resignation matter Hugh