Liam Cruivie | 25 March 2018
Aided by the promising developments of recent years, Markus Meechan has drawn support that transcends ideological boundaries. History could be made in a small Scottish town. “Come to Airdrie!” writes Liam T. Cruivie.
It seems to be clear now that an incongruously besuited and visibly nervous Markus Meechan, addressing his YouTube followers in front of an advert for anti-ageing skincare in the shop window of the Airdrie Boots, was the typically banal and absurd pause, the little interposition of mere life, before the shitposter’s rightful ascendency to the cause célèbre. Meechan, who was just afterwards convicted of hate crime for a daft YouTube video, has always claimed he was a nobody – a nobody made noble by the corrupt behaviour of a state. Airdrie – much like Meechan’s neighbouring hometown of Coatbridge – is certainly a town of such “nobodies”, belonging to that hinterland between Glasgow and Edinburgh which, along with Ayrshire, one may look to in order to observe the Scottish psyche in amber. Forget Glasgow and Edinburgh, which are ever-changing metropolitan population centres, and go to the small villages and mid-size towns from Lanarkshire to West Lothian to see where Scots, with all their fierce loyalties and nasty prejudices, dwell. The Guardian’s John Harris visited Coatbridge during the 2015 election as part of that paper’s admirable Anywhere But Westminster series – he was wise to select such a location: such places are Scotland in essence. And Meechan is one such essential Scot, convicted of hate speech in one such setting of grey working-class Scottish banality. I myself associate the town with signing on, visiting the hospital where my family go to die and getting the rickety bus up to the even greyer village where many of them continue to live. To be sure, no playwright would select Airdrie Sheriff Court as the setting for the drama which, in my belief, is a monumental turning point in the national debate on freedom of speech.
Like many such turning points, it has to be set in an extensive and fairly complicated context. A turning point is usually the result of a perfect storm, and although an innocent man may well go down, I cautiously submit that the wider outcome may well be positive. Let us leave Count Dankula for a moment and consider Jordan Peterson, the Canadian clinical psychologist who has, against the odds, become a popular intellectual. If you were to ask the fools how he first got started, they would tell you it was for being transphobic (never mind that professing a fundamental opposition to compelled speech, and an unprecedented Canadian law which seeks to impose it, is not quite the same thing as setting out to misgender trans people.) But just look at where this so-called transphobe is now. At the top of the Amazon bestseller list and respectfully treated by most interviewers, Peterson has achieved the kind of popular eminence amongst young people that, in the past, people like Chomsky, Hitchens or – for a while in this country at least – Galloway enjoyed. And perhaps the clearest indication of this ascent was Peterson’s interview with Russell Brand this month. Brand, of course, is a revolutionary leftist, but it was heartening to see just how well the two men got on, and how much mutual respect was implicit in the discussion: it proved that whereas in the past, the mainstream left could just smear Peterson, now they have to be a bit slyer or, in Brand’s happy case, openly and honestly embrace the man. Something very good is clearly happening, something which might bode well for our national reaction to the Dankula conviction.
My university, the eminent Glasgow, is these days the type of echo-chamber which, if you couldn’t see outside it, would make you believe the forces which have legitimised Peterson don’t exist. Last year, Peterson was a candidate for the rectorship, sharing that honour with a host of first-rate bores and, significantly, the neoreactionary troll Milo Yiannopoulos. At the time, Peterson was dishonestly, maliciously and cheerfully paired with Yiannopoulos as one half of a sort of alt-right axis of evil amongst the candidates. Now, to cast one’s eye over the two for less than a second would confirm that they couldn’t be more different – one is a frivolous provocateur, the other thinks deeply and seriously about everything – but nevertheless, protesters screeched for Peterson to be no-platformed in the kind of embarrassing display which is becoming, justly, more and more the subject of mockery.
Now, all of this happened perhaps half-way through Peterson’s ascent from transphobic scumbag to Russell Brand’s chum, and I mention it here only to make the claim that, were the rectorship election to be held now, I don’t think Peterson would be treated so abysmally – they wouldn’t be able to do it without looking exceedingly daft. Things are definitely shifting, and thank God! (A similar indication of precisely this phenomenon was the fortunes of a student paper I set up. To summarise: a controversy was manufactured, the term “free speech” was bandied about despite us never initially using it and attempts were made to shut us down by a cliquey, loudmouthed minority. And what happened? Well, my darling, we just got more popular!)
So to drag things back east, from Glasgow’s hallowed cloisters to Airdrie’s pishy main street - what does this have to do with Meechan’s conviction for hate crime? Well quite simply, this is the background against which that particular bomb has been dropped. Over the last few years, people have watched an honest man with honest opinions overcome press-assassination at every turn to become a major intellectual, they’ve watched the smug and arrogant sneer at half the country for the crime of not being madly in love with an undemocratic hyper-capitalist superstate, they’ve looked rather askance at the idea of an America half-populated by KKK-supporting illiterates and now, they see a man convicted for making a silly YouTube video and they’ve said “alright, too far”.
And where is my evidence for this? Well, consider again the mainstream. Just like Peterson’s hard-won acceptance, people you would perhaps not expect are rallying to Meechan’s aid. People like Paul Joseph Watson, Sargon of Akkad et al were always going to support him, (not to mention Tommy Robinson, whom you shall never convince me is anything other than a common bigot) but what about Ricky Gervais, David Baddiel, Shappi Khorsandi, Tim Minchin? I can’t imagine any of these people were tuning in regularly to Count Dankula’s channel, and yet they admirably parked any grievances to call out what everyone can see is a cut-and-dried case of free speech being trampled by the state. The Independent, for God’s sake, ran a headline that read “The conviction of Count Dankula sets a dangerous precedent for freedom of speech” and Tim Minchin got to the heart of the matter when he tweeted: “If context is irrelevant, comedy & society are fucked. And yes, progressives are on the wrong side of free speech debates A LOT these days”. Good on these people. Let us unite over this!
And this is why, at Airdrie Sheriff Court, history could well be made. There must have come a point when Peterson ceased to be a pariah, and similarly, I believe this might be the point when people finally realise there may indeed be quite a serious problem in this country regarding free speech. To raise again the reaction to the university paper I started - there were a handful of articles published just after our appearance that were all employed to the sinister end of declaring “nothing to see here” on the issue (again, ignoring the fact that we did not see ourselves as free speech warriors – we had a manifesto, and the phrase “free speech” was not in it.) But it certainly set things in a beautiful contrasting relief when, almost immediately after the publication of these articles, the Dankula case blew up. On the one hand, you had these sequestered students insisting there was no issue, and at the same time a worried-looking Meechan stood before an Airdrie Boots and proved that there was.
Meechan is being sentenced on the 23rd of April, and there is a protest organised for that day. I humbly but earnestly invite you to attend; I feel we can unite over this. Support for Meechan has already transcended all ideological boundaries and I predict it will continue to do so. Come to Airdrie, there’s really never been a better time.