Normal person + internet anonymity = ?

Talking on <em>Woman's Hour</em> about sexist trolling online.

This morning, on Radio 4's Woman's Hour, I think I managed to shock Jane Garvey by relating some of the lowlights from the stories of sexist abuse I've been told in the last few weeks.

We talked about whether women get more abuse, how comment threads could be moderated and what percentage of commenters are abusive. "People are just really nasty on the internet," said my fellow guest Tamara Littleton, of e-Moderation.

We didn't have time to get into it on the programme, but one of the most interesting things to come out of the discussion is whether anonymity is the problem (you can see a light-hearted treatment of that here). I can see the arguments against insisting on real names -- because those in sensitive jobs may feel inhibited from commenting otherwise -- but I think that discussion forums should encourage users to invest in an identity, to take pride in their contributions.

The Guardian, for example, does this with commenters' profiles, so you can see everything a person has written and many sites require registration with an email address. Another interesting suggestion I've heard in the last couple of days is charging a nominal one-off fee - say 20p - for your first comment.

The NS's own David Allen Green, meanwhile, uses pre-moderation on his personal blog, and said this gives the comment section a "letters to the editor" feel.

You can listen to the segment from Woman's Hour here. It's about 20 minutes into the programme.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.