Am I a cybernat? It’s a question I’ve pondered more than once. Sometimes I’m of a mood to boldly claim Yes, in a way to reclaim the word and diminish the insult. I wouldn’t be the first. More than once I’ve seen someone accused of being such only for them to proudly accept the label with glee. “Call me what you will,” goes the hearty riposte, “if name calling’s the best you’ve got I’m no feart.” I like that mentality. I think it’s probable that I get more irked about the word than others though.
As a lover of words, the lack of a commonly accepted definition is a big hurdle for me to ungracefully clear. What does that mean? I’ve asked in futility more than once. What is a cybernat? The first part of the word seems straightforward enough. Cyberspace and all that. So we’re talking about people online; not the best start. When we think of ‘online people’ what we specifically think of are ‘online trolls’; the image of the 32-year-old virgin in his mother’s basement blogging about Hillary on reddit is hard to shake.
‘Nat’? Whilst I’m almost sure the audible similarity to the name of an annoying small creature is not intentional, it seems plain to accept that this is short for nationalist. Again, not a label many are happy with. ‘I’m no nationalist; I’m an internationalist’ is a common and perfectly reasonable statement on Twitter. There are many people who will vote Yes who give not a fig for the idea of ‘Scottishness’ (indeed, many are foreign nationals); but they are eager to be more integrated with an international community than they are (and certainly will be) as part of the UK. Worth remembering also that ‘SNP’ does not stand for ‘Scottish Nationalist Party’. If the name makes them nationalist then so is the UK’s national debt, the Grand National horse meet and National Express. All three of these can be found in cyberspace too; does that make them cybernats?
Of course not, everyone will agree. That’s silly. We’re talking about people. Cyber-nationalists are Yes supporters on Twitter. Or are they? That would make me a cybernat, for sure. Cybernats are on facebook too, I’m told, and pop up in BTL comments on newspaper websites, and they were all on VoteNobOrders website before comments were disabled, so really a cybernat is any Yes supporter with an Internet connection and functioning keyboard.
So what’s wrong with that, you may ask. Why take offence, Chris? It’s merely an adjective handy for twitter as it’s shorter than, ‘Yes supporter who talks politics online.’
But it’s not really, is it? It’s an insult. No one uses the term when they talk about Patrick Harvie, do they? Cybernat is a negative; what it really means is, ‘Yes troll.’ A Cybernat is someone who doesn’t want to debate, who seeks to disrupt, who blindfolds themselves with a Saltire, blocks their ears with haggis, refuses to listen to reason, and is put simply, a bad person.
So why care? It’s not like this descriptor applies to very many people? Of course there are rude, badly behaved Yes supporters. It’s a two million strong club. Name me any grouping of two million people anywhere in the world and suggest with a straight face you won’t find some bad eggs. Big deal. Some people are very nice, most people are alright and some are pricks. This is the way of the world.
If Cybernat were only thrown at those who deserved it, I wouldn’t have a problem. Not as much of one, at least. Again, though, it’s not. Cybernat is flung around meaning the negative but being applied to all online Yes supporters whether deserving or no.
Nicknames for political supporters are nothing new, of course. Just think of all the –ites, we get in UK politics. Brownites, Blairites et cetera. I’ve been trying to think of one with the negative connotations of cybernats though, and the closest I can get without going all the way back to race-politics is Thatcherites, and even though there was (and is) palpable hatred across the UK for that woman, I don’t believe that hatred extends to her supporters by default. I’m very close friends with an ardent Thatcherite, for one. Horrendously misguided by revisionist tory historians he might be, but I don’t hate him, nor do any of our mutual friends, most of whom are generally liberal folk.
Cybernat isn’t a harmless nickname to describe a group of political supporters. It’s name calling, and those who have to resort to such do so because the factual basis of their arguments are weak. The trouble with this is though, that name calling has a negative effect. Insult someone and more often than not, they’ll insult you back and any hope of reasoned debate has left the room. Treat people like children and they will almost inevitably respond by acting like children. Call someone a cybernat and the likelihood of a similar reaction is not next to nothing. If anything, the rampant positivity of the Yes campaign in the face of such name-calling is arguably something of a political miracle, no doubt buoyed in large part by Alex Salmond’s calls, long before Better Together jumped on the populist bandwagon, for it to be a campaign of positive ideas and dialogue. Inclusive civic nationalism rather than the blood and soil variety Alistair Darling may or may not have (but definitely fucking did) describe it as in the same New Statesman interview he used to liken the democratically elected leader of Scotland to a homicidal maniac.
Despite hack attempts to paint it as anti-English, it’s clear to any independent observer that the Yes movement is based on a positive view of what Scotland’s future could be. Finally accepting this, its opponents have now changed tack and deridingly describe it as ‘optimistic,’ as if that were suddenly something to be decried. ‘No optimism here please, we’re British.’
Cybernat, though. It’s a good word, there’s no doubt. It’s catchy, short for tweets and has a visceral impact the like of which the pale imitator, Britnat, just can’t match. Maybe it’s because the latter is based not on hatred or loathing, but irony instead. How can you call me a nationalist when all your ‘positive’ arguments for the Union are based entirely on this ‘Family of Nations’ ‘Most Successful Union Ever’ rubbish? How is that different or better?
There’s a thought though. Cybernat. Cyber-nationalist. Internet-nationalist. Not Internet-Scottish-nationalist. Just Internet-Nationalist. A nationalist with a web connection.
Doesn’t that describe Alistair Darling pretty well?