SNP hate mob and an attack on our freedom of speech

ALEX Salmond is fast becoming the SNP’s equivalent of an embarrassing uncle at a wedding reception.

You know the type – their ill-considered ramblings prove so offensive that by the end of the night, all but the most unsuspecting of guests give them the widest of berths.

But at least such events always come to an end when taxis are called after an uncomfortable few hours – while Mr Salmond is proving harder to shift.

Last week he launched an astonishing attack on Scotland’s most respected economic forecaster after it warned the country is in danger of falling into recession.

Mr Salmond ridiculed the Fraser of Allander Institute, headed by one of his own former advisers, for ‘misreading’ the economy, branding it and other critics ‘merchants of doom’.

Not so long ago, Mr Salmond, who lost his seat at last month’s election, was whingeing about the ‘Yoon’ or Unionist media and its supposed vendetta against the Nationalist cause.

But bear in mind that only three years ago, Mr Salmond was First Minister, and hailed by many as a master political tactician, (at least until the defeat of the Yes camp in the 2014 referendum).

Not only that, the man whose outpourings sound more deranged by the day was in a position of great influence for seven years – and he used it to maximum effect.

Remember when he attempted to force the principal of St Andrews University to tone down warnings she made about the adverse impact of Scottish independence?

Mr Salmond telephoned Professor Louise Richardson demanding she clarify remarks she made about the consequences of leaving the UK, in a conversation described as ‘loud and heated’.

Emails also showed that Mr Salmond’s office attempted to have Professor Richardson release a statement praising the Scottish Government and criticising Westminster over higher education policy.

Mr Salmond’s spokesmen at the time of the disclosures – the eve of the 2014 referendum – insisted this was all part of ‘routine dialogue’ between ministers and senior academics.

There was more such ‘routine dialogue’ last week, when it emerged that Highland Spring chief executive Les Montgomery received a phonecall from Economy Secretary Keith Brown’s officials to arrange a meeting.

This planned tête-à-tête followed Mr Montgomery’s unequivocal statement that ‘independence isn’t the job the Scottish Government is supposed to be doing’.

A barrage of predictable online abuse against the firm from independence supporters ensued.

Mr Montgomery might have believed the political climate in Scotland was a little less febrile now than in 2014, and that it was safe in a mature democracy to voice a view that is widely shared.

But then came that phonecall from Mr Brown’s office – details of which have not been released.

Mr Montgomery subsequently performed what appeared to be something of a U-turn, though he never denied that he had criticised the SNP’s preoccupation with independence.

He said (contrary to all the evidence) that he had never intended to offer a view on whether or not Scotland should be independent, and insisted that the firm had not come under any pressure from the Scottish Government.

For their part, ministers maintained that their job is merely to ‘interact with Scotland’s business community’.

So, that clears that up then: nothing to see here, just a respected businessman backtracking (albeit in rather confused fashion) on his public criticism of independence, amid a social media mauling.

The outrage among separatists online came (as always) with a note of black comedy when it emerged that singer Eddi Reader, a former leading light of the Yes movement, had vowed to no longer stock Highland Spring on her tour bus. That’s the revolutionary spirit, Eddi!

Independence supporters have serious form on this issue – in another surreal interlude in Scottish politics last year, Tunnock’s provoked their wrath by daring to call its most famous product the ‘Great British tea cake’.

When it decided not to use its Scottish lion rampant logo in an English advertising campaign for the chocolate-covered treats, there was another furious web backlash from Nationalists.

‘You can annoy people quite easily’, the company’s boss Boyd Tunnock observed at the time.

Philosophically, Mr Tunnock believed the furore was a ‘storm in a tea cake’ – and in any event he was a Tory, so didn’t care about Nationalist outrage.

SNP MSP John Mason announced last year that he was boycotting Barrhead Travel after its founder Bill Munro declared leaving the UK would be a disaster for Scotland.

The firm has become another target for the separatists, who compiled a blacklist of Unionist businesses which had dared to speak out against the cause.

True, Mr Mason has since become a liability for the party with a series of blunders including his suggestion that the IRA could be seen as a freedom fighters in the same vein as Nelson Mandela.

But the worrying fact remains that the mob mentality that has seen these firms come under sustained attack all too often seems to be supported by the SNP, either overtly or implicitly (by refusing to issue any convincing condemnation).

Senior Nationalists happily subscribe to Twitter feeds that peddle anti-Unionist hatred, offering succour to the activists whose vitriol helps to stifle public debate.

In one of many examples, Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil retweeted an internet ‘meme’ in December last year suggesting that Unionist Scots were suffering from ‘Stockholm Syndrome’, the psychological condition where hostages develop a bond with their kidnappers.

No wonder that SNP MEP Alyn Smith has now proposed a new online code of conduct for his party, as a first step to cleaning up hatred on the web – both from independence supporters and Unionists.

This would include a commitment to shut down anonymous social media accounts used to target political opponents.

In 2015, the Mail revealed that Andrew Szwebs (CORRECT), convener of the Stirling branch of the SNP, operated fake Twitter accounts which sought to ‘parody’ political rivals – and labelled one of them a ‘Quisling’ or Nazi collaborator.

Well-intentioned as Mr Smith’s intervention is – not least because it is a belated official recognition of the problem – it is hard to imagine it will have the desired effect of detoxifying social media.

It is far too late for his strategy to work and it would be undermined at every turn by some of his colleagues who offer backing, vocal or implied, to the twisted hate-mongers of the virtual realm.

We long ago entered a looking-glass world in Scotland, where even tea cakes and package holidays are not free from frenzied political vilification.

But there is no doubt that the wave of hatred is fuelled by some of those occupying senior positions within the SNP, whose support is invaluable to the growing army of useful idiots who promote their cause.

Home Affairs Editor, columnist, leader writer, Scottish Daily Mail. Twitter: @GrahamGGrant Facebook: @sdmnewspaper