Play the issue, not the person

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Chris Napier

It’s sadly true that in political debate, especially online and especially within the 140 character limitation of Twitter, potentially constructive argument is reduced to ad hominem attacks which seek to undermine the credibility, character or motives of the debater rather than dealing with their point.

The other day, rapper, social commentator and activist Darren ‘Loki’ McGarvey posted an article via STV where he offered an insight into his deprived upbringing and how it has shaped his political thinking – to the point where he cannot stand to vote for the SNP as they back away from radical rhetoric to centrist management, effectively handing Scotland’s most vulnerable people and deprived communities a ‘jam tomorrow’ promise that things will be better once independence is achieved.

This was a brave piece of writing. While I don’t always agree with Loki or find his mode of writing particularly appealing, I respect the argument that he made here.

The reaction on Twitter from SNP supporters was less favourable, invariably coming in the form of ad hominem attacks, either calling him a Yoon (unionist), accusing him of being self indulgent, resorting to poverty porn or (credibly, but still missing the point) saying that his poverty was caused by Labour/Tory governments and suggesting that attacking the SNP is counter-productive.

In none of the responses I’ve seen, has anyone actually made a coherent case that the SNP aren’t being needlessly meek and effectively selling out the poorest in Scotland to keep their middle class supporters sweet.

This kind of thing has happened to me as well, although of course on a smaller platform. I have been called a loony lefty, a naïve idealist, a cybernat, a Yoon, too working class, too middle class, and more. I have been accused of merely criticising other parties to further the interests of my own party, the Greens.

OK, there’s a degree of truth in that, because I do want more Green votes and more Green MSPs but my arguments are never cynically calculated for that effect.

I’m a Green because I believe in things like local democracy, equality, radical economics, independence, sustainability and not seeing the world turn into a hellish post-industrial dystopia – not the other way around.

Political affiliation should be based on which party most meets your priorities; and those priorities should be based on experience and observations, filtered through your reason and emotions – and all of that can change over time.

Like Loki, I used to support the SNP but I found that they no longer met my needs. Like Loki, I never saw independence as an end in itself, feeling that the future we aim for, and how we achieve it, are at the heart of progressive politics.

Is it too much to ask, that progressives stay away from ad hominem attacks at all times? We should never disregard someone becuase they are a Tory or a Labour supporter, and, as tempting as it is to mock David Coburn’s appearance, it’s far more constructive to tear down his policies.

Playing the person and not the point is effectively an admission that you can’t win the argument and as such you attempt to besmirch the arguer. It’s poor form and it demeans the level of debate to almost playground levels.

During the indyref, it seemed for a moment like Scotland was ready to embrace a more positive politics… while that hope may have dimmed a bit, one step forwards is to debate like rational adults, not petulant children.

Image originally from Pinterest

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