Professor Tanja Bueltmann’s participation at the recent People’s Vote rally in Edinburgh unleashed, from a minority of supporters of Scottish independence, the worst abuse she has ever seen in intensity, scope and duration. As she is about to take a break from Twitter as a result, here is her story.
As People’s Vote rallies are being set up throughout the country to make a case for a vote on the final Brexit deal, I was pleased when I was asked to speak at the one in Edinburgh last week. In light of non-British EU citizens in the UK and Britons in EU countries having been in limbo for over 785 days now, supporting a People’s Vote provides one possible lifeline for us, for five million people. People who were and might remain largely disenfranchised, are still often without a voice, and only collateral now.
So, a chance to raise our concerns? To say that we are the people too on a public cross-party platform advocating that people get a say on the final Brexit deal? Of course I could not say no: I am one person of five million people who sometimes gets a chance to speak for us. It is essentially my duty, I think, to make use of every single one of them. It’s that simple.
The spirit at the People’s Vote rally was positive and there was a good vibe. I met some long-time Twitter followers in person, but there were also a few sad moments. One Scot, married to an EU citizen, broke down in tears after my speech because, as she said, it had made so clear what is at stake. We hugged. As those who have accompanied me to events can tell you: this happens all the time, strangers crying in my arms. I am not adding this for theatrics: I simply need you to understand the situation – that I am only one woman who is trying the best she can. And sometimes that’s a hug.
So how could it all go so badly wrong? According to a section of Scottish independence supports, it was all down to something I quoted from someone else’s speech — that ‘we love the EU because we love the UK’, a statement that was about how EU membership is good for us all, and was followed by a bit on the speaker’s connections with Scotland. My critics viewed my quoting it as misjudged and insensitive. For that in itself I have some appreciation: I too remember 2014.
Yet while that is so, and while I do understand the disappointment of some — yes, I might have chosen something else to quote and I didn’t — I urge all to remember that Scotland has not had an overwhelming shift in opinion on independence, and that we have to start building bridges. Simply shouting into the echo chamber, choosing only the words we like: it will not help.
In any case, what happened next is an altogether different story, both in scale and viciousness, on and outside of Twitter. Every word I said, every word supporters said, every word other rally attendees said — all twisted into oblivion. Unrelated tweets of mine were used to claim I was abusing independence supporters. My highlighting of abusive messages was dismissed because ‘there is nothing on her timeline’. As if that was the only route it could come.
I was cast as a traitor to Scotland; a Unionist wheel-in who had brought ‘the enemy’; at one point a blog writer made reference to my vagina; I was mocked for calling Scotland my ‘heart-home’ (a phrase I came up with a long time ago for the places I love but don’t live in); and even for protecting my account — a first in all my time on Twitter.
Just a clipping from the blog written about @cliodiaspora but this is the kind of sexist bullshit that us women are having to deal with.— Rhiannon Spear (@RhiannonV) August 22, 2018
"I have no interest in Tanja Bueltmann's genitals. She's safe enough."
What the hell? What is she safe from? #WhyINeedFeminism pic.twitter.com/PFgbS2x35e
While I have found this devastating personally, to me the real tragedy is this: I spoke as a citizens’ rights campaigner. I spoke of my love of Scotland and raised concerns over the large-scale disenfranchisement of EU citizens and far too many Britons who live in EU countries — so, including many Scots. The attack on me has completely drowned out all the issues I actually talked about, and replaced them with things I have never said. Things I have never said... for which I am now being reprimanded to not have engaged with or not have apologised for.
Citizens’ rights campaigner, Professor Tanja Bueltmann. / Twitter
Clearly, for the section of independence supporters that joined in the pile-on, misrepresenting my tweets, views and words, I am not redeemable. A Unionist shill. A persona non grata. To them this article will simply give more ammunition and they will again tell me, no doubt, that I am playing victim. Fine if that makes you feel better.
But the thing is that one simple question remains: what do you hope to gain from turning on a pro-independence citizens’ rights campaigner and member of the SNP? Because that is exactly who I am.
Ultimately, the saddest conclusion is this: citizens’ rights are not a concern that has popular traction. Here they were shredded at an ideological intersection that, at the event itself, was not there at all. If people are unable to bridge, not even temporarily, the political divide for something bigger, bridge it in support of five million people, then there really is no hope left.🔷
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EDITOR’S NOTE: PMP Magazine supports Professor Tanja Bueltmann and all our Guest Writers against all types of abuse, hate comments, bullying and threats. Any threatening behaviour directed towards any of our Guest Writers, whether online or not, are unacceptable and will be reported to the Police.
David Leask, Chief reporter at The Herald later commented on Twitter:
The attacks from supposedly pro-indy social media influencers on Yesser Prof Tanja Bueltmann (@cliodiaspora) are as surreal as they are ugly. At what point are organic cybernats, real but perhaps overly zealous indy supporters, gonna mass challenge these curious behaviors? 1/— David Leask (@LeaskyHT) August 22, 2018
2/ I have a wee side interest in this. One of the people attacking - and clearly misrepresenting - Prof Bueltmann is a blogger who earlier this year falsely claimed that I was "GCHQ's man in the Scottish media".— David Leask (@LeaskyHT) August 22, 2018
3/ What is striking is the overlap between some of the allegedly pro-indy social media influencers who seek to delegitimize journalism with those who exhibit ugly misogyny or other forms of chauvinism.— David Leask (@LeaskyHT) August 22, 2018
4/ For example, another blogger recently got weirdly angry about an SNP councillor @RhiannonV who questioned a proposed all-male list of speakers at a proposed picket of the BBC...and politely suggested picketers should not abuse BBC staffers.....— David Leask (@LeaskyHT) August 22, 2018
(This is an original piece, first published by the author in PoliticsMeansPolitics.com)