I’ve read a number of articles over the last 12 months about how Donald Trump’s mastery of Twitter has played a huge part in securing firstly the Republican nomination and then the presidency of the United States. The Washington Post described Trump as the “master troll” and his use of Twitter clearly allowed him to garner as many column inches is it does followers. The ability to speak, or at least tweet, directly to the soon to be most powerful man in the world is one of astonishing things that we now take for granted. Up to this point politicians for most of my life have been otherworldly beings. Seen and heard only through the media successful politicians mastered sound-bites, oratory, a wholesome look and the ability to smile on demand. Social media is changing that.
I went onto Twitter on Saturday evening to see what was happening in the world. My time-line is mixed and contains people from my professional life, allotment and gardener writers, photographers and naturalists, journalists, politicians of various hues and, of course, some football talk. Two stories caught my eye; the untimely death of the writer and journalist A.A. Gill and a Glasgow based MSP called James Dornan asking for an investigation into safety at Ibrox.
Dornan seemed to be suggesting there was cause for concern regarding the structural well-being of Scotland’s finest football ground. Naturally I was alarmed by this and looked to find the source of his concern; I hadn’t expected it to be a delusional, obsessive Scots-Irish blogger called Phil Mac Giolla Bháin. Who, and what, Mr Dornan chooses to read in his spare time is his business, but whom he chooses to re-tweet is an insight into his priorities and his judgement. Many people were rightly appalled. The blogger in question, like Donald Trump, has managed to find an audience for his bizarre world-views. He writes with an earnestness found only in the fanatically neurotic, it reminds me of David Icke’s famous appearance on Wogan when he was convinced he was the son of God. Like all of us he has a living to make and he’s clearly found a constituency for his world views in the unhinged, fringe of Scottish society, if he can make a buck out of them who am I to judge. Still, it was a surprise to find an MSP among them.
The Sunday Times columnist, A.A. Gill, died of cancer at the weekend, he was 62. I didn’t always agree with what Gill wrote, but I usually enjoyed how he wrote it. Acerbic, humorous, thought provoking and challenging, Gill was a master of words and had been at the top of his profession for several decades. His death prompted me to buy the Sunday Times once again and read his final article, ironically about the diagnosis and treatment of his cancer. Being published the day after his death added to its poignancy but it was Gill’s insight into cancer survival rates that struck a nerve with me. The UK has the worst cancer survival rates of any Western European country, and, of the UK, Scotland has the worst rates of all. In Scotland you’ve a 46.6% chance of surviving cancer, in Northern Ireland it’s 51%, in Germany 59.1% and in Sweden it’s 64.7%. My mother was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year, like me, she lives in Glasgow, the centre of the developed world’s worst example of cancer prevention, detection and treatment. We should be ashamed.
I try and avoid much of the faux outrage I see online. As a middle-aged father I long ago figured out where the importance of football really comes in the grand scheme of things. But I was genuinely angry at the priorities and choices being made by this particular elected politician. If we take Mr Dornan at face-value and accept his explanation that he’s concerned for the welfare of supporters then you still have to ask why the retweet? Why not place a call to Glasgow Council, or to Rangers themselves, and find out if safety certificates are in place and up-to-date, surely as an MSP you carry a bit of clout and can get answers? Wouldn’t that have achieved more or is trolling now so ingrained in those who seek public office that what is seen is more important than what can be done?
What offends me most though is that any MSP, MP, MEP or councillor in Scotland feels that this is a subject they should be engaging on. The lowest cancer survival rates in Europe news followed on from the report that Scotland's schools have recorded their worst ever performance. With three children at the local primary and a mother visiting the Beatson every fortnight I don’t care what delusional narcissist bloggers make up and I don’t expect members of the Scottish Parliament to care either.
Here’s the thing, I’m exactly who you need to be reaching out to Mr Dornan. I’m not a died-in-the-wool unionist, I’ve voted SNP before, and may do again, but I voted ‘No’ in the referendum. I’m one of 55% that needs to be won over. Here’s a clue, trolling football supporters isn’t the way to do it. Focus on the things that are really wrong with this country whilst you have the chance, things that really concern your constituents and the vast majority of the people who live in Glasgow. There’s a Japanese proverb; ‘When the character of a man is not clear to you, look at his friends’, maybe that might help you understand why so many were appalled by your tweet. By the way Japan has a cancer survival rate of 58.2%.
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