Wings Over Scotland
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“”Are we talking about the Wings over Scotland who is the data-driven journalist, who gets to the annoying nugget and writes a piece around it and can't be argued with? Or is it the guy who refers to Tory politicians as troughing scum and goes on expletive littered rants on Twitter?
|—Stewart Kirkpatrick, Yes Scotland|
“”Wings Over Scotland is the Infowars of the Scottish independence crowd. An embarrassing, cringe-worthy liability and lunatic magnet.
Wings Over Scotland is a pro-Scottish Independence blog founded in 2011 by Stuart Campbell (1967–), a former video games journalist who lives in Somerset in south west England. It is perceived as one of the main sources for pro-Scottish Independence news and opinion, particularly around the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum. However it and Campbell have been criticised by many people for abusive language, trolling, conspiracy theorizing, occasional homophobia and, as of 2019, daily transphobia, and frequent toxic masculinity (he denies all this despite saying loudly and frequently that trans women are not women). He is also accused of being at the center of a network of "cybernats" who campaign for independence by abusing and harassing their unionist opponents online.
Originally from Stirling in Scotland, Campbell was highly regarded in the 1990s as a rather eccentric but funny and insightful video games journalist, writing for Amiga Power and Digitiser (part of ITV's Teletext service). He also worked for video games company Sensible Software from 1994-1995. He was a bit quieter in the 2000s, writing on retro computing for various publications. He was apparently a Liberal Democrat back in the day.
Then something flipped inside him. Wings was launched in 2011, and Scottish independence became his chief interest. He wrote The Wee Blue Book (2014) and The Wee Black Book (2016) setting out the case for independence, which were widely sold and distributed. As well as Wings Over Scotland, he sometimes writes on his older blog, Wings Over Sealand, about non-Scottish topics. His earlier blog World Of Stuart focused on lighter topics but doesn't seem to be updated.
In 2017 he was arrested for harassment, but soon after cleared and released without charge.
He sometimes refers to himself as "Rev Stuart Campbell" but is not a fully-qualified clergyman in a major UK denomination.
Wings Over Scotland
Wings Over Scotland was launched in 2011 to provide a counterpoint to mainstream media which was (especially back then) generally pro-unionist and anti-independence. Although pro-independence, Campbell isn't a Scottish National Party member. So it pursues its own course free from the needs or interests of the SNP or other political parties.
Media Bias/Fact Check judges it as "Left-Center Bias"; poor for sourcing ("Wings Over Scotland does not source well. Typically, they source directly to themselves"); but because they have never failed a fact check, their factual reporting is rated "high" (although the rationale for this isn't clear: MB/FC justifies that with a link that is now broken, and it's not stated how many fact checks they have passed). The fact that MB/FC rates sites only in terms of left/right bias fails to give a full picture, as the issue of Scottish Independence does not split in a simplistically left/right way: nobody would deny that the site is biased in a pro-independence direction.
Wings became very important during the 2014 Scottish independence referendum when the press was largely pro-Union (aside from a few journalists such as Iain Macwhirter at the Herald and Lesley Riddoch at the Scotsman). Both it and Campbell's Wee Blue Book were widely cited and shared by Yes campaigners. Wings had so much money it was also able to commission opinion polls, which were otherwise in short supply.
Campbell is a keen user of Twitter, but was briefly suspended from Twitter in 2016 after complaints from Sunday Express journalist Siobhan McFadyen, allegedly for his political views rather than breaking site policies on harassment; regardless it was soon reinstated.
WOS has also expanded onto YouTube. Its YouTube channel was briefly suspended in 2018 over claims that it had infringed the BBC's copyright by posting short clips (almost certainly covered by fair use exceptions and looking rather like an attempt to silence a vocal critic of the BBC), but it was soon restored.
Wings' sources of funding aren't entirely obvious, although it relies heavily on crowdfunding especially when sued. This indicates its strength and reach: as former Labour MP Eric Joyce says, "Wings Over Scotland raised in a few days a six figure sum greater than the Scottish Labour Party managed over a whole year."
As well as being hated by many unionists, it has been criticised by some pro-Independence campaigners for its vitriolic tone and for lowering the standard of debate. But Wings Over Scotland has a close relationship with many pro-independence organisations including Bella Caledonia and Common Weal with whom it has shared articles, writers and links. Robin MacAlpine of Common Weal penned a defence of Wings for Bella Caledonia, saying: "I will not turn my back on, betray or let down any of the many, many people with whom I've been lucky enough to share this amazing time." Pop singer turned independence campaigner Pat Kane and gay pro-Yes blogger Wee Ginger Dug are also part of the same clique.
Despite the conspiracy theorizing and personal abuse, a lot of Campbell's blog is taken up with boring arguments with The Scotsman newspaper about accurate figures for the number of teachers in Scotland and similar data-based issues. But just because The Scotsman is shit, doesn't mean Wings is any better. (At least The Scotsman has a range of opinions, from leftist nationalist Lesley Riddoch and anti-poverty and mental health campaigner Darren "Loki, the Scottish rapper" McGarvey to ultra-rightists Brian Monteith and Allan Massie.)
Campbell and Wings have been criticised for spreading conspiracy theories. Even Alex Salmond has accused him of this, saying he "takes conspiracy theories to the end degree" (unsure whether Buzzfeed or Salmond confused "nth" with "end").
Campbell shares a paranoid mentality with Alex Jones of InfoWars and some environmentalists where everyone who disagrees with him is a paid shill or actor. Sometimes this leads to harassment of people accused of being paid agents of the enemy. As with InfoWars, it's not clear who's actually funding all this vast conspiracy of opposition to Wings: he obviously has access to more money than his enemies do (such as the leader of the Scottish Labour Party). For example, he claimed that a member of the public featured in a Scottish Labour campaign was actually an actor paid to be there, based on the fact that he found a photo of an actor who looks a bit like her.
He shows ingenuity worthy of Batman: apparently the GMB trade union's strike over equal pay in 2018 was part of a cunning plan leading to "a knowingly-illegal wider action aimed at crippling Glasgow, in the transparent hope that the SNP will be left with no choice but to deploy draconian Tory anti-trade-union laws against it that the GMB can use to its own and Labour’s advantage." This never happened.
Although he and Wings Over Scotland are important figures in the movement for Scottish Independence, he has been criticised by some on the left such as Ross Greer of the Scottish Green Party, who said "it’s time to show the door to those who think misogyny, homophobia, transphobia and vicious attacks are a price worth paying if they come from 'one of ours'".
In 2014 the official pro-Independence group Yes Scotland reportedly asked campaigners in Edinburgh to stop promoting Wings.Campbell has been criticised as a purveyor of toxic masculinity, with Gerry Hassan writing in the Scottish Review:
What runs through toxic masculinity in all its forms is the male as the one in power or with a public voice; acting as a bully, often (but not only) against women; taking no responsibility or accountability for their behaviour or actions, and with no balance. Men who behave like this are allowed to say anything to win and make their point against opponents, but any criticism causes them and their supporters to significantly over-react and cry foul.
The relevant post is now offline, but his enemies have excerpted it.
Campbell has said it is "delusional" for Chelsea Manning to claim to be a woman, but denies this is transphobic, saying "I don't believe the statement of biological fact is intolerance". Pro-independence blog A Thousand Flowers made Campbell their "weekly wanker" in response (while criticising the author and playwright Alan Bissett for supporting Wings in this). A Thousand Flowers said: "This isn’t fucking funny. Transphobia is incredibly dangerous, you are seriously playing with people’s lives when you engage in it."
On 17 December 2019 he announced on WOS that he had been banned from Twitter, apparently permanently, which he attributed to his fearless campaigning for "gender-critical" ideas, and which followed a huge number of cases where his hateful, transphobic posts had been reported to Twitter, generally with no action being taken.
Kezia Dugdale libel case
One of the most notorious things he wrote was a tweet on 3 March 2017 insulting Conservative politician Oliver Mundell: "Oliver Mundell is the sort of public speaker that makes you wish his dad had embraced his homosexuality sooner." This was a reference to Mundell's father David who came out as a homosexual a few years before. The then Scottish Labour Party leader Kezia Dugdale (who is herself gay) condemned Campbell in the Daily Record newspaper, criticised his "homophobic tweets" and called him "someone who spouts hatred and homophobia towards others", and Campbell sued her for defamation over the accusation. He was also accused of homophobia by pro-independence MSP Ross Greer and pro-independence blog A Thousand Flowers but chose not to sue them, suggesting the lawsuit might be a politically motivated attack on the anti-independence Dugdale. Some of his best friends are gay (and pro-independence), and he had spoken in favour of gay marriage, so maybe he only hated homosexuals when they were of the wrong political persuasion.
Campbell's legal action was initially funded by readers of Wings, after he asked them if he should sue Dugdale. Since they hate the Labour Party, they all said "yes, please" and threw money at him. In contrast, the Scottish Labour Party failed to support Dugdale (with whom it fell out after her appearance on TV reality show I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here), and for a while it looked like she would have to cave in or risk bankrupcy. Eventually, the Daily Record newspaper, which had published her original column, stepped in.
There was little question about spouting hatred. Among several examples mentioned at the trial, he addressed his local MP over Twitter to say "die you c**t" (presumably without asterisks). Nonetheless, Campbell denied this was abusive. The legal debate was over whether the tweet was homophobic, whether Campbell's other comments in favour of gay rights proved he wasn't homophobic (although you may be able to support gay rights and still be homophobic), and whether calling his tweets or him homophobic was protected by the defence of fair comment.
There are differing opinions on whether SNP Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon explicitly condemned Campbell for his tweet about the Mundell family, or fudged the issue, with Dugdale's lawyer saying Sturgeon had agreed it was homophobic. Sturgeon said in parliament, "I condemn anyone who indulges in that kind of language or that kind of abuse. I am not responsible for Stuart Campbell, any more than Kezia Dugdale is responsible for people who hurl abuse at me in the name of being a supporter of the Labour party." Around the time, this argument, "the other side is just as bad", had been heard a lot, and certainly Sturgeon receives misogynistic abuse, but that doesn't excuse Campbell.Pro-independence blog A Thousand Flowers criticised Campbell: "a straight male with a well documented history of subjecting LGBT people to ridicule is using the legal system to try to get cash from a gay woman." They noted that the case could have "consequences … for LGBT's people ability to speak freely about the challenges we face in modern Scotland" and pointed out the unfortunate message sent by the crowdfunding campaign:
Straight people need to ask themselves a few basic questions before donating to a fund to facilitate this: Is my money best spent defending this person’s right to not be called a homophobe or could I do something less shit with my life, like, for example, anything? Does this help create the impression the independence movement will listen to and address the concerns of LGBT people or does it make us look like a shady, insular cult? Will I just get chips instead?Soon after, former SNP leader Alex Salmond was able to get a massive crowdfunding windfall to pay his legal costs for a judicial review into the Scottish government's handling of sexual harassment claims against him, suggesting that thousands of heterosexual white males are eager to give other, more famous heterosexual white males shitloads of cash to defend against any allegation (Salmond is on bail but the charges have not yet come to court as of March 2019).
The court case was entertaining, with lots of Campbell's tweets and other online posts read out, including an example in 2009 where he described a video game as for "girls and homosexuals". Campbell was supported by testimony from gay pro-independence blogger Paul Kavanagh (Wee Ginger Dug), who had previously received help fundraising from Campbell. Colin Macfarlane of LGBT organisation Stonewall Scotland explained why he thought Campbell's tweet was homophobic.
The judge found in Dugdale's favour, saying her remarks were protected as fair comment. So you can accuse people of homophobia if they tweet apparently homophobic things, which gives the powerless (bullied LGBT people) a little more power over their straight white cis male abusers. He was also ordered to pay Dugdale's full legal costs, estimated to be £100,000.
He is highly critical of attempts to teach or learn Gaelic, a Celtic language formerly spoken in much of Scotland, with opinions including "Over 99% of Scots can’t speak Gaelic and don’t have any interest in doing so", "The obsolete language spoken by just 0.9% of Scotland’s population might be part of the nation’s 'cultural heritage', but so were burning witches and replacing Highlanders with sheep and we don’t do those any more either" and "Non-primary native languages are a tool whose main utility in practice is at best the exclusion of outsiders, and at worst an expression of dodgy blood-and-soil ethnic nationalism. They’re a barrier to communication and an irritation to the vast majority of the population". (In reality, while Gaelic may be of limited use in buying a pint of milk, there is significant literature written in it, and learning languages is often said to broaden the mind; Gaelic may be the preferred tongue of some blood-and-soil nationalist organisations, but most speakers are quite sane, and Eilean Siar, the region with the highest concentration of Gaelic speakers, voted against independence in 2014.)
Turning on Nicola Sturgeon
Despite his support for Scottish independence, in the summer of 2019 he turned against the Scottish National Party government of Nicola Sturgeon, and told The Times that he was planning to launch his own political party - something that doesn't seem to have happened despite his continuing to heaping abuse on Sturgeon. This was partly motivated by his feeling that she wasn't pushing for independence with enough vigour. However, it has also been explained as due to his opposition to Sturgeon's policy on improving rights and provisions for trans people. Many progressives actually feel the SNP is doing too little for trans rights and have criticised the transphobia of a significant slice of its membership; it seems the slightest prospect of improving the lives of trans and non-binary people is anathema to Campbell.
Despite living in Bath for decades, he retains enough Scottishness to be a master of swearing and abuse. Stewart Kirkpatrick of Yes Scotland, the main pro-Independence group at the time of the 2014 referendum, later said that Campbell's "expletive littered rants" were unhelpful and actually hurt the cause of independence. This may or may not be true: Wings provides a focal point for Twitter warriors who discourage pro-Union people from speaking out (except for JK Rowling who can kick his ass), but he reinforces the erroneous idea that Yes campaigners are nutters who want to beat up English people and burn down incomers' homes. Scottish nationalism is notable for getting its support from the left, not the fascist right, and being focused on inclusive, immigrant-friendly, civic nationalism (excepting a few fringe nutters), but Campbell rather obscures this.
- He tweeted to unionist Harry Potter author JK Rowling and broadcaster Muriel Grey "You two can both fuck off." This led SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon to remonstrate: "Note to my fellow independence supporters. People who disagree are not anti Scottish. Does our cause no good to hurl abuse (& it's wrong)"
- He called Conservative MSP Alex Johnstone "fat troughing scum".
- He told Gordon Brown to "Go f*** himself".
- He called Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson a "dribblewit" and a "mouth-breathing dolt" on Twitter.
- He wasn't happy when some unionists suggested that Britain had a stronger global voice than Scotland to combat human rights abuses, accusing them of arguing "Voting Yes will get foreign women raped!"
- He called his local MP a "cunt".
- When the Guardian published an article by black Scottish woman Claire Heuchan about Scottish nationalism potentially inspiring hate and intolerance, Campbell called her "an absolute galactic-class cuntwit".
In one of the rare cases where Campbell has been out-trolled, Scottish comedian Limmy (Brian Limond) tweeted in 2016, "That Wings Over Scotland guy having a go at everybody cos the SNP didnae get a majority. Cunt stays in Bath. Stay out of Scotland's affairs." Limmy doubled down with "@WingsScotland It's kind of like you're pretending to be raging, to make up for it having nothing to do with you, really."
At the time of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, there was a lack of pro-Independence media, which meant Wings Over Scotland was more or less by default the leading news source for Yes supporters (The Sunday Herald, a weekly, was the only newspaper to endorse independence; the Scottish edition of The Sun had supported the Scottish National Party before, but did not back independence). In November 2014, The National was launched to fill a gap in the market as the first pro-Independence daily newspaper, published in Glasgow by NewsQuest which also owned The Herald. The National has drawn some of its rhetoric from Wings, promoting itself and its subscribers as the vanguard of a campaign for independence, rather than an unbiased news source. There is frequent talk of traitors and betrayals and digging up old grievances. It is obsessed with conspiracy theories such as the 1985 death of Willie MacRae. It also defends morally-dubious fringe figures such as Julian Assange, whose mother still loves him.
- Yes digital chief criticises Wings over Scotland and 'cybernats' over indyref, The Herald, Paul Hutcheon, 10 March 2019
- Wings Over Scotland is the Infowars of the Scottish independence crowd. An embarrassing, cringe-worthy liability and lunatic magnet., nathanb7677, Reddit, 2017
- Weekly Wanker #017: Wings Over Scotland, A Thousand Flowers, 1 Sep 2013
- If you're still defending Wings Over Scotland, you're barking up the wrong tree, A Thousand Flowers, 29 July 2017
- Toxic Masculinity must be defeated. Silence is not an option for any of us, Gerry Hassan, Scottish Review, October 10th 2018, reposted on his blog gerryhassan.com
- 'Yes bigots risk our cause' Green Party's Ross Greer says 'cult-like' behaviour is undermining hopes for indyref2, Andy Philip, The Daily Record, 7 Aug 2017
- Record View: Wings Over Scotland website fuels hatred and paranoia, The Daily Record, 25 Feb 2015
- See the Wikipedia article on Stuart Campbell.
- See the Wikipedia article on The Wee Blue Book.
- Wings Over Scotland blogger cleared of online harassment, The Guardian, 1 Nov 2017
- Why the Scottish media fears Wings, Eric Joyce, ericjoyce.co.uk, May 2017
- Wings Over Scotland, Media Bias/Fact Check, accessed 25 March 2019
- Wings Over Scotland suspended from Twitter, The Herald, 12 Sep 2016
- What does Wings Over Scotland’s Twitter suspension tell us about Unionists?, My Little Underground, Sep 13, 2016
- Not Too Wee And Not Too Poor, Wings Over Scotland, 17 March 2019
- Yes Together, Robin McAlpine, Bella Caledonia, 19 June 2014
- Our thriving new media landscape needs your cash to keep up its work, Pat Kane, The National, 21 May 2016
- Throwing some light on throwing shade, Wee Ginger Dug, 24 July 2017
- Watchdog fines pro-independence blogger Wings Over Scotland, The Guardian, 27 Oct 2015
- Alex Salmond Is Walking Around Westminster Like He Owns The Place, Buzzfeed, 20 June 2015
- The Last Days of Pompeii, Wings Over Scotland, October 24, 2018
- The controversial journalist David Leask, and the notes from THAT shady meeting : a factcheck, David Kelly, Scot Goes Pop, Dec 21, 2018
- Yes Scotland is a bit late to realise that Wings over Scotland is bad news, Lib Dem Voice, 20th June 2014
- Angela Haggerty: Is court action the best way to challenge views we disagree with?, Angela Haggerty, The Herald, 30 July 2017
- See the Wikipedia article on Hillsborough disaster.
- Wings Over Scotland: The fallacy files #1 Dicto simpliciter – Hillsborough, Ah Dinnae Ken, 28 June 2014
- Mr Campbell rejects that he is a transphobe; he says he thinks Chelsea Manning is a "hero" and "fabulous". But he says it's "delusional" of CM to claim to be a woman. Mr Dunlop asks if that is intolerant; "no, I don't believe the statement of biological fact is intolerance", Philip Sim, BBC on Twitter, 25 March 2019
- RTed, but that's a bloody terrible fundraiser pitch, telling people nothing about what actually happening., WingsScotland (Stuart Campbell), Twitter, Sep 25, 2019
- Trans rights campaigners say 'Man Friday' Hampstead Heath protest was 'transphobic', The Independent, 29 May 2018
- The Silence, Wings Over Scotland, 17 Dec 2019
- Oliver Mundell is the sort of public speaker that makes you wish his dad had embraced his homosexuality sooner., Wings over Scotland, 3 Mar 2017
- Wings Over Scotland begins fundraiser in Labour defamation action, Scotsman, 24 July 2017
- Mr Dunlop reads another Wings tweet about his Bath MP, saying "die you c**t". Isn’t this "abusive"? Mr Campbell says the tweet is "extremely angry". He says the tweet is a "justified response in context" — he disagrees with Mr Dunlop that this is abusive., Philip Sim, BBC on Twitter, 25 March 2019
- Court examining Nicola Sturgeon’s response to Ms Dugdale at FMQs; QC says FM “appears to have agreed” that the tweet was homophobic. Mr Campbell says he thinks she was trying not to be drawn on the tweet itself, but was trying to speak generally, Philip Sim, BBC on Twitter, 25 March 2019
- Alex Salmond closes crowdfunding appeal with £100,000 of donations, The Guardian, 1 Sep 2018
- Alex Salmond charged with attempted rape and sexual assault, The Scotsman, 24 Jan 2019
- Blogger denies Kezia Dugdale's homophobia accusations, STV News, 25 March 2019
- Mr Macfarlane says he felt Mr Mundell's sexuality had been the "punchline" of Mr Campbell's tweet; he thinks a lot of people agreed that it was unnecessary. Asked if he is stupid or dishonest (per SC's defence of tweet), "I understand homophobia when I see it and when I hear it.", Philip Sim, BBC on Twitter, 25 March 2019
- Kezia Dugdale wins case against accusation of defamation, The Guardian, 17 April 2019
- Wings Over Scotland blogger faces £100,000 legal bill after losing Kezia Dugdale homophobic defamation case, David Clegg, Daily Record, 8 July 2019
- You Can't Elect A Blocklist, Bella Caledonia, 12 August 2019
- See the Wikipedia article on Constitutional status of Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles.
- Nicola Sturgeon dismisses Wings Over Scotland's plans for Holyrood party, Alistair Grant, The Herald (Glasgow), 2 Sept 2019
- Wings Over Scotland plans new pro-independence party to take on SNP, The Scotsman, 10 Aug 2019>
- Leading Yes website brands Nicola Sturgeon 'the betrayer' after Indyref2 speech, The Scotsman, 31 Jan 2020
- Mhairi Black challenges Nicola Sturgeon over 'transphobia in the SNP', The National, 29 June 2019
- SNP's pro-independence 'cybernats' told to curb online abuse by Nicola Sturgeon, The Daily Telegraph, 19 Oct 2015
- Wings and wizardry, Muriel Grey, Blood and Porridge, 20 Oct 2015
- Abusive site Wings over Scotland is embedded into the Scottish Government and Yes movement – Willie Rennie proves what we knew already, Caron Lindsay, Lib Dem Voice, 2 Dec 2014
- Mr Dunlop reads more Wings tweets calling Ruth Davidson a “dribblewit” and a “mouth-breathing dolt”; doesn’t Mr Campbell agree these are abusive tweets? “They’re rude”, Mr Campbell says - they were “provoked”., Philip Sim, BBC on Twitter, 25 March 2019
- Vote yes for global rape, Wings Over Scotland, April 01, 2013
- The parallels between Scottish nationalism and racism are clear, Claire Heuchan, The Guardian, 27 Feb 2017
- Kev is right here, to be fair. Specifically, the thought is "What an absolute galactic-class cuntwit"., @WingsScotland, Twitter, 27 Feb 2017
- "That Wings Over Scotland guy having a go at everybody cos the SNP didnae get a majority. Cunt stays in Bath. Stay out of Scotland's affairs.", DaftLimmy (Limmy), Twitter, May 6, 2016
- "@WingsScotland It's kind of like you're pretending to be raging, to make up for it having nothing to do with you, really.", DaftLimmy (Limmy), Twitter, May 6, 2016
- Newsquest to launch pro-independence newspaper the 'National' in Scotland in 5-day pilot, The Drum, 21 Nov 2014
- Labour's history lesson had a few chapters missing, The National, 1 April 2019
- Sorry Scottish Labour, this is the truth about who ushered in Thatcher ..., The National, 27 July 2018
- A Shabby and Underhand Deal: How Scotland Came to be Part of this Union, The National, 19 June 2017
- Nurse who treated Willie McRae: It wasn't suicide, he was shot, The National, 2018
- Background: The bizarre mystery surrounding death of Willie McRae, The National, 2018
- Call for police to re-open Willie McRae death inquiry after nurse revelations, The National, 2018
- Old interview backs up nurse’s suspicions about Willie McRae's bullet wound, The National, 2018
- Council accused of censorship after blocking Willie MacRae play ... until Labour are kicked out, The National, 2018
- Assange’s mother attacks PM over ‘thuggish, brutal, unlawful arrest’, The National, 12 April 2019