The Councillor, the Newspaper and the Critic
At the end of 2016, the Scotsman newspaper announced that, to mark its bicentenary, it would enlist 200 amateur contributors to write at periodic intervals short articles about anything that interested them. I sent in two sample essays, and on 17 January received word that I was to join the Scotsman 200 group. My first article, ‘Two Referendums are Enough’, appeared on 6 February. My message was that ‘Momentous change requires unequivocal endorsement’. That is, a simple 50% + 1 of the vote was insufficient endorsement for major constitutional change, such as Scottish separatism or withdrawal from the EU. I did include some disobliging comments about Scottish nationalists and the way they treat those who disagree with them. This elicited a barrage of insulting tweets. QED. Nothing new there.
My next essay appeared on 9 March. It was called ‘Education Requires Effort from the Learner’. There were no party political points in it, and I received no abuse as a result of its appearance. The same was true of my third article, published on 29 March, ‘Learning a Language – English’, which was about literacy, or the lack of it. My fourth essay, ‘On Being A Unionist’, published on 21 April, definitely was party political. I criticised nationalists for not appreciating the benefits of the UK, and SNP MPs for appearing on Russian media to disparage the UK. My contact at the Scotsman thanked me for ‘such a fine piece’, and said – after I had suggested I perhaps shouldn’t write too strong a piece for my next contribution to the Scotsman – having written an unforgiving piece about SNP lies for Think Scotland:
Don’t feel you have to reign [sic] things in too much! We like it when it’s controversial, it gets people engaged and sharing. You might get a few angry comments online but am fairly confident you’re more than a match for any keyboard warrior. I’d be rather disappointed if you didn’t have a right good whack at stirring things up.’
I had already stirred things up with some letters published in the Scotsman (and elsewhere) which criticised the SNP.
Things, however, changed at the Scotsman, including the editorship. I knew that Councillor Mhairi Hunter (Glasgow), who is, I believe, Nicola Sturgeon’s constituency office manager, had written to the Scotsman after my first essay to complain about me. How did I know that? She boasted about doing so on Twitter. This is a typical SNP MO. If anyone writes displeasing things about the SNP, you can be sure that a nationalist or several will write to your employer or other interested party in the hope of having you disciplined or sacked. I know of a current case of someone whose employer has been contacted by nationalist Twitter users because s/he opposes the SNP. It must have been a great disappointment to nationalists who had written to my former employer (as some told me they had) when they discovered that I am retired. No wonder so many people disguise their identity on social media, especially if they are in a branch of public service.
After my fourth essay for the Scotsman, and the second to contain criticism of the SNP, Councillor Mhairi Hunter tweeted ‘Btw it was someone at the Scotsman who advised me to email the editor with my concerns about Jill Stephenson rather than simply tweet them’. A week or so after that, the revolting nationalist blogger, ‘Wings over Scotland’, tweeted: ‘I gather from a well-placed source that we’ve seen the end of Batshit Jill as a Scotsman columnist….’ This creature – Stuart Campbell, who lives in the safety of Bath, England, but preaches Scottish nationalism – is, of course, a chum of Councillor Mhairi Hunter (and of almost half of all SNP MSPs and MPs).
I had received no word about any of this from the Scotsman, and so I wrote to my two contacts there asking a simple question: ‘Have you been told to stop publishing my output?’ A simple yes or no would have sufficed. But this was a question that neither of them could, or would, answer. I’d like to think they were embarrassed. I received one evasive reply, advising me to ask the deputy editor; otherwise, silence. So, I wrote to the deputy editor, giving background, as above, and asking the same question. He replied ‘I’ll look into it’. Several days later, the new Scotsman editor tweeted, somewhat grumpily, saying that I was not a Scotsman columnist and therefore could not cease to be one, that the Scotsman aimed to publish a variety of views, and that he had been approached by no member of the SNP election team. Aha! I did not mention ‘the SNP election team’. I specifically mentioned Councillor Mhairi Hunter. There was no denial of contact from her – or from other SNP supporters. ‘Nufab4’ tweeted: ‘I complained about it, can’t imagine I was the only one’.
A number of people – most of whom I do not know, but who share my sympathies – tweeted the Scotsman to ask if it was true that I was being barred and whether there had been SNP pressure on the newspaper to bar me. They were summarily blocked on Twitter by the Scotsman. But others were delighted. A tweeter called ‘Crocodile Dumfries’ tweeted: ‘Who cares what the reason is? I am just elated that the bigoted little git is now past-historywoman’ (quite clever – Historywoman being my Twitter name). Replying to Wings over Scotland, ‘Lord Hingmaymajig’ opined: ‘I imagine it will be billed as cybernats trying to silence her as opposed to people not wanting to listen to moronic bile’. Another Wings’ fan, ‘Marco Roberto’, added ‘has the old bag been canned woo hoo party time’.
The issue in all this was not whether my contributions to the Scotsman were to be discontinued or not. I have no inalienable right to be published in the Scotsman or any other newspaper. The issue was and remains that a politician, and one very close to the First Minister, sought to put pressure on a prominent newspaper to cease to publish a contributor who criticised that politician’s party, MSPs and MPs. It appears that even Mhairi Hunter eventually realised that this was not a good look for a politician. There appeared on Twitter on 6 May a tweet from ‘Leya’, of no identifiable identity, saying: ‘For anyone claiming tht [sic] Mhairi Hunter is responsible for Jill Stephenson no longer featuring in the Scotsman… it just isn’t true’. According to this account, Councillor Mhairi Hunter had not received a reply to her complaint about me from the Scotsman, but when she (Leya) wrote to complain about me, ‘I promptly received a response from them, letting me know that they were looking into the circumstances of Jill’s contributions’. So Councillor Hunter did not receive a reply, but some random punter received a prompt and detailed response, including: ‘As Prof Stephenson has now featured in [Scotsman 200] twice, she will not be appearing again’. ‘Leya’ was able to produce what she claimed was the reply from the Scotsman. It had been sent from an 02 mobile phone and, apart from the name ‘Euan’, had no details about the person sending it and no mention of the Scotsman. Is that how the Scotsman’s editor conducts correspondence?
Like Councillor Hunter, ‘Euan’ was of the view that I had appeared twice in the Scotsman. As mentioned above, however, I had in fact featured in it four times, as any editor at the Scotsman would have known. But only two of my articles were noticed by Wings over Scotland – who, of course, passed them on to Councillor Hunter. These were the two that were critical of the SNP. So where does that leave us?
1) An SNP councillor close to Nicola Sturgeon tried, by her own admission, to influence a newspaper’s choice of contributors, on the basis of two out of four of a particular contributor’s articles. These two just happened to be ones criticising that councillor’s political party and certain members of it;
2) when that councillor realised that that was likely to show her up in a bad light, someone else (friend? party member? councillor herself?) tweeted a cock and bull story about that someone else having tried to influence a newspaper. The newspaper which had not responded to the councillor responded ‘promptly’ to the someone else (allegedly);
3) according to that someone else, her protestations about my article of 21 April had succeeded in having my contributions stopped. That is, a private individual (allegedly) had been able to influence the Scotsman’s choice of contributor on the basis of a politically-motivated complaint;
4) the Scotsman had (allegedly) informed this someone else of their decision but had not informed the contributor;
5) one of the first people to hear of this was Wings over Scotland, who heard of it from a ‘well-placed source’: Councillor Mhairi Hunter, I presume.
Many of us are aware of the bully-boy tactics used by the SNP to get their way. The use of these during the referendum campaign against the former Principal of St Andrews University was revealed only after an FOI request. The use of them against the journalist, Stephen Daisley, was a more public affair, because he was able to make it so. That’s apart from the boycotts of firms who came out against separation from the UK and the low-level thuggery experienced during the referendum and 2015 general election campaigns – the stalking, filming and harassing of former Labour MP Margaret Curran by SNP activists was particularly vile. There have been instances of SNP thuggery during the current general election campaign, usually against Conservatives – in Cowie, for example. The perpetrators are so proud of what they do that they video it and post it on social media. Who knows how many people have been silenced or driven to change their behaviour for political reasons by the ruling party in Scotland? Is this really the kind of Scotland we want?