UK
25/06/2015 07:19 BST | Updated 25/06/2015 07:59 BST

Nicola Sturgeon Vows To Purge SNP Of Internet Abusers In Message For The Cybernats

Nicola Sturgeon has vowed to take action against so-called 'cybernats' who use social media to send abusive messages to politicians, in what may also make for uncomfortable reading for one of her own MPs.

The SNP leader said she would "send a clear message that politics in Scotland will not be sullied by this behaviour", and vowed to crack down on members who breached the party's guidance for posting online, subjecting defiers to "disciplinary processes".

Thursday's intervention came after a national newspaper accused her of having links with "vile cybernat trolls", claiming she had met and chatted on Twitter with Robert 'Rab' Dickson - an alleged "internet abuser".

An article in the Scottish Daily Mail said that Dickson, tweeting from the handle Roy1Batty, sent a barrage of abusive messages to politicians online.

It alleged he told his ex-MP Jo Swinson she was a "pole climbing vicious halfwit", called Scottish Labour's interim leader Kezia Dugdale a "thick bitch", and referred to former Tory employment minister Esther McVey as a "c***".

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Wednesday's Scottish Daily Mail front page

The First Minister today responded to the claims with a strongly worked blog post on her party's website, which was also published in full in the Mail, claiming that while she could not be expected to "police Twitter single-handedly", she would act against SNP members that "cross the line".

"Just like every other politician, I volunteered to be in public life," she wrote on Thursday, "and with that comes an acceptance of public criticism.

"I don’t expect everyone to agree with me - it would be a dull world if they did. Robust political debate is part of our public life and we must cherish it, even when it takes place in terms or in language we might not personally use.

"But what simply cannot be tolerated is the lowering of our political debate to threats of violence, or to insults and abuse based on misogyny, homophobia, sexism, racism or disability.

"No one should be subject to threats or abuse of that nature as a result of sharing their views - whether they do so in a parliament, a pub or on the internet."

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Sturgeon is a frequent tweeter and has over 229,000 followers

Sturgeon cited having previously stood up to abusive cybernat trolls, publicly speaking out in defence of Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson after "homophobic" and "misogynistic" comments were made about her.

"They were unacceptable," Sturgeon said. "I said so publicly and my party acted against the person responsible. And we will not shirk from those decisions in future.

"Obviously, I can't police Twitter single-handedly. I follow 3,500 people and am followed by almost 230,000 - I can't personally keep track of everything that is said.

"But when tweets or postings from SNP members that cross the line are brought to our attention, we will act - as we have done before."

Sturgeon's blog and article in the Mail will make for awkward reading for one of Sturgeon's colleagues - SNP MP Pete Wishart, who represents the constituency of Perth and North Perthshire.

Wishart decried the Mail's front page yesterday for ignoring other topical topics, including the migrant crisis in Calais, deaths of those fleeing across the Mediterranean, and the government's latest U-turn on an EU referendum.

Wishart's attack on the paper was quickly echoed by others, some part of the so-called 'cybernat' collective.

The developments come as Buckingham Palace officials distanced themselves from briefings attributed to them yesterday, having claimed that Sturgeon was seeking to cut £1.5 million-a-year in funding for the monarchy, but on Thursday declaring this allegation to be false.

Sturgeon yesterday slammed journalist Cathy Newman on Twitter for writing allegations that were "simply not true".

Newman, a presenter on Channel 4 News, was reprimanded in a string of tweets by Sturgeon for having posted a blog on the Daily Telegraph website, re-heating claims that the Scottish leader was planning to stop bankrolling the monarchy to the tune of £2.2 million-a-year if further devolution went ahead.

In briefings several Fleet Street papers including The Times, Telegraph and Daily Mail, Buckingham Palace claimed that if Scotland took control of its Crown Estates north of the border there could be a serious shortfall in Royal revenues.

But both the UK and Scottish governments have strongly denied the allegations, and said devolution would not have any negative impact on Holyrood meeting its legal and constitutional obligations.

In a testy Twitter exchange, Sturgeon blasted the offending material and called out Newman for republishing allegations that had "no basis in fact":

Sturgeon referred in her second tweet to a claim in Newman's article that she did not take an oath of allegiance to The Queen upon election as an MSP for Glasgow in 1999.

Newman enquired why the First Minster had chosen to affirm rather than swear an oath upon her election to Holyrood, and asked why Buckingham Palace sources, who Wednesday's newspaper claims were attributed to, had been briefing against her.

The Channel 4 anchor was rebutted by Sturgeon, who set the record straight by telling Newman the oath/affirmation quandary did not concern any reference to The Queen.

She added:

Newman quipped back, calling on Sturgeon to "pay generous tribute to The Queen as your predecessor [Alex Salmond] did.

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Salmond, who has "strong" affection for Queen Elizabeth II, greets her at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh

But Sturgeon, who herself met the Queen back in December 2014, hit back.

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Sturgeon greets The Queen, 3 weeks after becoming Scotland's First Minister

She claimed to have paid tribute to the monarch on "many occasions", and asked Newman to amend her blog post.

Newman replied, claiming she had simply reported the Palace's briefing and included the Scottish National Party's response.

"The bit about me refusing to swear allegiance to HM Queen", Sturgeon retorted. "It's simply not true. Correction?"

The journalist then appeared to back down slightly, agreeing to change one part of her article.

But her concession failed to win over Sturgeon, the SNP leader keen to hammer home her point.

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