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Dear Jo Swinson MP and Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP:
As a journalist writing on Scottish politics I am delighted to read that both of you have taken up the fight for the freedom of the press in our country. With the British government’s present disturbing attitude towards the rights of non-British EU citizens and other immigrants living in every part of the United Kingdom and towards human rights lawyers interested in the dubious behaviour of Crown forces abroad, your championing of press freedom is a credit to you and the Liberal Democrats.
Mr Cole-Hamilton has made the claim that an actor featured in an SNP party political broadcast bears a resemblance to his personal friend, the “respected journalist” David Torrance, and that the use of this actor in the broadcast constitutes the “monstering” of a journalist by the Scottish government. Likewise, Ms Swinson has highlighted the serious threat posed to the safety of BBC journalists by young families and pensioners taking it upon themselves – in a free society – to gather outside the BBC offices at Pacific Quay in Glasgow to protest what they believe to be the biased reporting of affairs in Scotland by the British state broadcaster.
Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP (@agcolehamilton) January 20, 2018
Ms Swinson has gone further, drawing attention to “what happened to Stephen Daisley.” Admittedly, I had forgotten all about the plight of Mr Daisley, so I Googled him. Yes, both the Scotsman and the Herald newspapers agree he was allegedly “silenced” or “gagged” by the SNP. I think we can all get behind the idea that a political party gagging a journalist is dangerous and wrong, but this isn’t quite what happened to Daisley. He resigned from STV following a wave of public complaints and went off to write as a columnist for the Daily Mail – a paper with an impressive track record of racialising political issues and stoking racial tensions, where, perhaps, his accusations that Jeremy Corbyn was a bedfellow of anti-Semites would be more welcome.
Quite apart from this defence of Daisley and his gutter politicking, what I perceive to be at the heart of your interventions is a concern which we all share – the rise of populist nationalism and the truly frightening effect this is having on our society. During the Brexit campaign we were all reminded of just how awful this form of nationalism is with the brutal murder of an English politician on the streets of her constituency. One Scottish nationalist threw and egg during the independence referendum in Scotland, while during the same campaign one elderly voter was physically assaulted by a British nationalist and a Labour MP accused of kicking a Yes campaigner.
We can be forgiven for imagining a difference between these nationalisms; one marked by good-humoured rallies and the other by its taste for violence.
Considering then the real dangers faced by journalists around the world at the hands of truly tyrannical governments, it comes as something of a surprise to read that your issue is with an actor bearing a slight resemblance to a journalist friend of yours. Yet from this tenuous assertion you accused the SNP of attacking a member of the press, an assertion that quickly became a signal to your own supporters to begin making nonsensical comparisons between the democratically elected government of Scotland and Nazi-style “nationalist” repression.
Jo Swinson (@joswinson) January 20, 2018
What I must give you, however, is full marks for your vigilance. Full scale fascistic suppression of the free press must begin somewhere, and – good for you – you drew your line in the sand at actors who wear beards and glasses. It is best to nip this carry on in the bud before it develops into death threats and, God forbid, actual violence and murder. Surely none of us will tolerate that?
Last year on social media one of your own unionist supporters published my parents’ home address and pictures of their home on Twitter. On the same evening that this was done I received an email from someone – giving the impression in their mail they were a member of the British secret services – letting me know in no uncertain terms they knew where I lived, where I was, and that it was their intention to kill me if I did not stop sharing my own thoughts, as a journalist, on the subject of Scottish independence. Since then I have received a number of emails from this account and another containing similar threats.
Naturally I have reported this to Police Scotland. I have also, on the advice of Police Scotland, reported all of this to the Irish police – An Garda Síochána – where I live, who have kindly communicated this report via Interpol to Police Scotland. That we are all aware of the violence of many British nationalists, I am sure that you trust I have taken this threat seriously.
However, I do not look like the actor in the SNP’s recent party political broadcast and I am beginning to wonder if this is why you haven’t come to my defence.
You both strike me as being good and decent people; not at all prone to being partisan when it comes to something as serious as a death threat against a journalist by activists on your own side of the political divide. I am sure that you take such threats more seriously than you do your suspicion that a joke has been made at the expense of a friend’s facial hair. So I am prepared to talk to both of you – on the record – about my experience. I am happy to share with you all of the information I have given to the police, and I am happy to do this because I am convinced you are the type of upstanding public representatives who take these sorts of threats to journalists seriously. I am sure that your failure to respond to me on social media on this matter comes down to how busy you are, and that when you have the time you will be more than happy to come and talk to me.
Jason Michael, Editor of the Butterfly Rebellion
Response from Alex Cole-Hamilton and Jo Swinson following the publication of this letter:
Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP (@agcolehamilton) January 22, 2018
Jo Swinson (@joswinson) January 22, 2018
The Butterfly Rebellion