John McLellan:‘Labour embarrassed over Islamophobia after anti-SNP tweet’

Scott Arthur appeared forlorn with a 1,000-yard stare at a meeting of Edinburgh's full council (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)
Scott Arthur appeared forlorn with a 1,000-yard stare at a meeting of Edinburgh's full council (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)
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Scott Arthur, a Labour councillor and a member of its national executive, embarrasses his party with tweet about SNP Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf, writes John McLellan.

Social media is a silent Siren; it doesn’t have to sing to draw its hapless victims onto the rocks, instead the doomed sailors on this digital ocean are lured to their fate by filling the silence with their own funeral music.

Hardly a week goes by without someone being caught out by an injudicious tweet or Facebook post, past or present. Some are under the misapprehension their messages are private, while others should definitely have known better, most famously ex-Conservative MP Brooks Newmark whose career was ended by fruity pictures of himself he sent to a woman who turned out to be an undercover male reporter.

But while Facebook rules the roost, Twitter is now regarded as an ineffective means of persuasion because it’s only read by people who agree with you already or are waiting for you to slip up. Why so many politicians spend so much time posting on it is a mystery.

The latest shipwreck is that of Edinburgh Labour councillor Scott Arthur, an inveterate tweeter whose disdain for his party’s coalition with the SNP is no secret, and who was this week accused of racism after a particularly ill-judged jibe at Scottish Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf.

READ MORE: Edinburgh councillor apologises for ‘nasty’ Humza Yousaf tweet

Late at night, he posted a spoof pollasking, “What attracted Humza Yousaf to politics?” and gave three options; the 9/11 attacks, the Iraq War or photo-calls. It was written on the basis that Mr Yousaf’s accounts of his political awakening in two interviews five years apart were contradictory, but even a brief reading of the latest article reveals a consistent story.

“I used to sit beside the same two guys,” he told Holyrood Magazine about his time at Hutchesons’ Grammar School. “...The day after 9/11 took place – and remember, I was watching the same images they were watching, the same horrifying pictures and broadcasts – the same guys I used to talk to about football and all these others things, were now asking me questions I had no idea how to answer.

“They’re asking me things like, ‘why do Muslims hate America?’ It wasn’t malicious or anything, but they expected me to have the answers. I remember at that point thinking I’ve really got to learn a lot more about this.”

The interview then goes on to describe how he joined the SNP while a Glasgow University politics student after hearing Alex Salmond’s opposition to the Iraq War, echoing a 2013 interview with The Herald in which he revealed the war was “the trigger for my politics”.

A growing cultural awareness at school followed by political engagement at university is hardly uncommon and the reaction to Cllr Arthur’s poll was instant and furious. Battered by the attacks to which he awoke on Thursday, Cllr Arthur issued what he described as an unreserved apology and deleted the tweet. With a 1,000-yard stare, he cut a forlorn figure at the full council meeting later that morning.

Cllr Arthur was summoned to meet Labour leader Cammy day yesterday and Mr Yousaf demanded his suspension while an investigation is carried out, which I doubt will throw up much other than he made a stupid error of judgement for which he’s truly sorry. But with Cllr Arthur being a member of Labour’s national executive and from the same wing of the party as Anas Sarwar MSP, who earlier this year launched a campaign against Islamophobia, it’s an embarrassment Labour could have done without.
READ MORE: Edinburgh councillor summoned to showdown meeting over Humza Yousaf tweet

Infidelity shows importance of media
In the digital age nothing stays hidden for long, but it doesn’t stop rich people from spending fortunes to keep secret even those things which have become widely known on social media. Take the entertainer and household name, known in his court action as PJS, who successfully prevented publication of stories about his and his partner’s extra-marital affairs, despite the gory detail being available on searches in seconds.

So having apparently spent millions to protect his anonymity after allegations of sexual harassment and bullying, and winning the support of three senior judges against the Daily Telegraph, Sir Philip Green might have thought he was safe, but he bargained without Lord Peter Hain using the absolute privilege of the House of Lords to name him. The same freedom to ignore court orders in Parliament was used by Lib Dem MP John Hemmings in 2011 to reveal ex-RBS chief Fred Goodwin’s so-called super-injunction to prevent details of his infidelity becoming public.

Similar protection was obtained in the London courts by footballer Ryan Giggs and again mainstream papers were prevented from publishing information easily available on social media. The dam broke when the Sunday Herald ran a story because the order didn’t apply in Scotland.

In the case of PJS, although some details did appear in the Scottish Mail on Sunday, the judges ruled that mainstream publication accords stories greater authenticity than what might otherwise be dismissed as social media tittle-tattle. In other words, mainstream media matters when it comes to reputations, and while social media can get people into trouble it doesn’t carry the weight of properly authenticated journalism.

Free Press ain’t free

The importance of reliable, recognised news brands was brought home to senior Scottish editors this week, not by journalists clinging to the glory days of the Press, but a group of young “ambassadors” for the Year of Young People who gathered at the offices of the Scottish Sun to share their views of the media. Articulate, confident and unintimidated by the surroundings, they were critical of many aspects of modern media and rarely bought hard paper copies, but were regular readers of mainstream news online and spoke highly of the brands they trusted. The problem for publishers is they expect digital news to be free, and ultimately that could mean no investigations into the likes of Sir Philip Green.