GUEST BLOG by Ed Simpson (originally published here)

In his blog post for Loyalists Against Democracy, Brian John Spencer accuses me (and others like me, but I warrant a mention by name) of indulging and nurturing those who commit promiscuous violence. Quite an allegation. He bases this accusation, seemingly, on my criticism of some of the language and output from the LAD collective and their supporters. Accusing them of snobbery, Brian argues, is me trying to halt criticism of Loyalists and flag protesters. 

Brian, who has never met me and clearly knows little about me, has got it completely wrong. Loathe as I am to adopt a hipster tone, I was criticising Loyalists, and Jamie Bryson in particular before it was so fashionable and before Brian had probably even heard of Jamie Bryson. I stood for election against Jamie's party (and did very badly) so I'm not really sure that Brian's accusations of 'keeping quiet, saying nothing' are fair. What Brian doesn't appear to understand is that my objection isn't that LAD; Brian; and others criticise Loyalism - it's the way they criticise that I object to.

When the Flag Protests began last year I didn't hold back with my criticism, but was careful to make sure it was valid and based on the issues. I had countless online arguments with Jamie on his Facebook page (I'm not sure Jamie and I have ever agreed on anything) but I still felt perfectly safe when observing the protests and Jamie - and other Loyalists - were friendly and courteous. It's possible to be diametrically opposed to someone and their beliefs without dehumanising them in the way that LAD often does. 

You can - rightly - take a Loyalist to task for claiming that their culture is under sustained attack, or for claiming that they are being treated like Jews in 1930's Germany. You can mock Jamie for his continued assertion that the PSNI are little more than agents of the IRA. You can highlight the disgusting hypocrisy and dishonesty of the DUP who had no problem with Designated Days until they sensed it offered them an electoral opportunity. What you can't do (at least, not if you want to claim you're not a snob) is attack the traits and behaviours of people that have no relevance to the issue. There's no shortage of references to Buckfast on the LAD Facebook page. I've yet to hear someone tell me why that particular drink is so relevant to the debate.

I have issues with LAD's parody of Loyalism as it does seem to be rooted in superiority - their parodies almost always focus on poor spelling and grammar and a lack of understanding of the realities of the situation - but I am more concerned with the way that their facebook fans join in the parody and, often, take it up a level. This isn't considered criticism - it's just out and out pisstaking and mockery. So, when I offer up my concern at such pisstaking, it's not - as Brian believes - my effort to shut down criticism, it's my effort to try and prompt real, thought out, and constructive criticism. More criticism, please, if you will.

Another aspect of Brian's post that concerns me is that Brian seems to believe that he is leading the charge of the moderates - those poor souls who have previously been so voiceless but now have found their voice and want to make it heard. Sorry to inform you, Brian, but there has been no shortage of opportunity for moderates to make their voices heard and their votes counted and they have consistently chosen not to. It's not out of fear: it's out of complacency. Since 1998 things have generally been going pretty well for the moderates and they've been quite complacent to live relatively peaceful, prosperous and unaffected lives. 

Now though, things are different and the things that the moderates thought were resolved by the 'under the rug' approach have come back to upset the peace. Once again, moderates are starting to make some noise and demand this 'nonsense' is resolved. Lovely. I'm sure now we'll see massive and revolutionary (for NI, anyway) changes to social housing and education policy which will get to the root cause of these issues. Or maybe not. The fact that John O'Dowd and Edwin Poots, the two ministers responsible for education and housing aren't front and centre in this debate is telling. Where are the long term solutions? All I hear from Brian is 'wise up'. That would be nice, but I'm not sure it's really the basis for a policy. Brian needs to be careful that his march of the 'aggressive progressives' doesn't end up as just a group of people who don't really like another group of people. I don't hold out much hope though.

A commenter to Brian's last post made some excellent points about the use of language and it's use to either unite or divide people. I believe that we will make progress - real progress, not the kind Dr Haass is overseeing - when we unite our people to some common goals. I can't imagine anything less likely than wanting to unite with people who call me scum.