The line “Britain and Twitter are not the same” will probably go down as the quotable moment of this year’s party conference season for a whole range of reasons.
While aimed in part at the “pollsters and pundits” who wrongly said he’d lose the general election, the line had another target too that will make it resonate with a wider cohort of voters from across the political spectrum who secretly, even grudgingly, agree with the PM that “the vast majority of people aren’t obsessives, arguing at the extremes of the debate”.
Even those not used to active participation in the Twittersphere will know that the term ‘polarised opinion’ is a polite way of describing some of the bile and invective that tries to pass for political comment among people whom – you’d imagine at least – wouldn’t use “those words” in front of mum without expecting a clip round the ear in return. In fact, David Cameron’s line is exactly the sort of thing a lot of ordinary people could imagine people of a previous generation nodding to in agreement, which was presumably why he used it.
It strikes a chord because for every anonymous die-hard campaigner USING UPPER CASE TO MAKE AN IRRATIONAL POINT that slates an object of scorn on social media, there are a thousand voters who are either switched off to such angry politics or else not online at all to listen. They will think and vote according to complex – though usually quite moderate – sets of values and much to the surprise of the one-track-mind political trolls out there, they have their own sense of what’s important and what isn’t. For those whose Twitter feed is an echo chamber of their own political views alone, the fact that not everyone thinks the way they do can be a head-scratcher.
Not that Twitter is a problem. Neither are Twitter and Scotland the same, even though we have more than our fair share of online obsessives and the abusers. Scots are just as susceptible to rational argument as any other people and just as happy to defy or ignore voices on the internet angrily telling them how to think. And that leaves Twitter as a place to share information and ideas in a way that’s useful and positive.
Not Britain then, or even Scotland. Just a place to share ideas and messages without necessarily insisting that others be obligated to listen. That should do.