“What I like to point out to people,” says Stuart Campbell, leaning forward in his chair, “is there was a poll on the 9th of August that had the ‘No’ campaign 22 points in front. We brought our book out on the 11th of August, and now we’re one point ahead.
“So clearly that’s entirely down to us. We’ve made a 23-point swing in the polls.”
We laugh, and there is a pause.
I can’t tell if you’re being ironic or not, I say.
“To be honest, neither can I.”
Stuart Campbell is the 46-year-old maverick blogger who has arguably done more than anybody, bar Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond, to break up Britain. As this week’s polls put the Yes and No campaigns in Scotland’s independence referendum neck and neck, the pound has tumbled and politicians have scrambled like crabs in a bucket to praise the union. Prime Minister David Cameron even said “Fucking Tories.” Kind of.
Campbell, meanwhile, is doing the same thing he has done every single day for the last two and a half years. He sits at home averaging two to three posts and 82 tweets a day on his blog, Wings Over Scotland, which gets more than 600,000 views per month, he says. His book laying out the arguments for independence, The Wee Blue Book, has been printed 250,000 times and downloaded 550,000 times. All this for a country with a population of 5 million.
“It seems reasonable to assume that half the population has seen or read it,” he says.
Campbell dresses all in black and has a beard, but he is unequivocally not a hipster. He wears black hiking boots, and his blog’s logo on his left nipple, a gleaming brass pin that looks unmistakably like a Nazi Reichsadler, although he is unequivocally not a Nazi. He has a collection of more than 40,000 video games. He has six pet rats, named after Scottish islands. He lives alone in a two-bed flat in Bath, England, approximately 400 miles south of the Scottish border. Over the course of a two-hour interview in the Royal Hotel — a pub in Bath festooned with British flags — he drinks a single strawberry and lime flavored cider. In his sleepy Somerset home, nobody has any idea that this former video games journalist is one of the loose network of Scottish “cybernats” trying to prise apart a 307-year-old union.
Stuart Campbell, cybernat. Photo by Ben Bryant
On the internet, though, he is a revolutionary. When I ask him for a picture, I receive an image of King Leonidas from 300. Scotland’s media are overwhelmly supportive of the union, which has allowed Campbell’s dissident voice to gain traction. Through crowd-funding alone he has amassed a war chest of more than £210,000. And now this one-time UK National Computer Games Championship titleholder actually poses a threat to the nation.
“You have to worry about MI5,” he says.
“I don’t think I’m being tracked by MI5 or anything. But then again, you think, What’s MI5’s job? It is to protect the British state. And has there been a bigger threat to the British state than the UK being split in two? Not since 1945, there hasn’t. So actually if they aren’t involved, they’re not doing their jobs properly. I’ve seen no evidence at all of them being involved. But you think, Why not?”
Campbell says he was once offered £10,000 by a supporter to pay for his security or rent him a flat in a gated community, but declined. He receives a lot of online abuse, but refuses to compromise on his lifestyle of shrewd media commentary and political analysis punctuated by the odd poker night.
“I’ve had to involve the police twice with some vaguely plausible death threats,” he says. “You ignore that, but then once in a while you get a plausible one from someone in Bath who says, ‘I know where he lives, and I’m going to go round with the boys and get his head kicked in.'”
Campbell is used to it, mostly because “the video games business is much, much worse than that,” he says. “You would not believe the bile you get from people if you like a game that they don’t like, or vice versa.”
At one point in Campbell’s journalistic career at Amiga Power in the early 90s, a reader sent him a book “full of these incredibly lurid details about how he was going to kill every member of staff.”
He says it was a case of extreme fandom.
“The police tracked him down. It was some kind of mental loner with a shelf full of books by Hitler.”
Campbell’s shelves are stacked with videogames for an array of consoles going back 30 years. He also collects board games and has even devised and produced a polished card game for the Yes campaign — a variation of Chinese poker featuring caricatures of politicians. Gordon Brown, known here as “Raging Fist,” gurns furiously at the player, his face mounted awkwardly on the body of Godzilla.
Stuart Campbell’s collection of video games. Photo via Stuart Campbell
Is independence just a game to Campbell? He seems to like the notoriety it brings.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it,” he says. “I’m not averse to a bit of trouble, it’s fair to say.”
His online footprint is huge. A search for his name trawls up photos from his blogs, cuts from magazines, and his musings on videogames. He has a Wikipedia page which runs to almost 2,000 words. He insists he has never even read it.
“I’m not responsible for a word of that Wikipedia page,” he says.
I don’t believe him, I say.
“It’s absolutely true,” he says. “I never tell lies. I have not told a lie since I was 24.”
Campbell sometimes says rude things about people on the internet, which his detractors have used to discredit him. He has no regrets. He was once criticised for wishing cancer on spammers. Today he says, “I hope they all fucking die.”
The Yes campaign disowned him for some tweets he wrote about Chelsea Manning last autumn. When I bring it up, he defends Chelsea Manning’s right to live as she chooses, but can’t help adding that “as far as I’m concerned, at least until you’ve had the operation, you’re still a bloke in a dress. If you’ve still got bollocks and a Y-chromosome. There I am, I’ve just said it on tape. This is why I get in trouble.”
A playing card from Stuart’s game depicting Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond. Photo by Ben Bryant
It is sometimes difficult to tell when Campbell is being serious. He was once accused of being a “wind-up merchant,” which is what family newspapers call a piss-taker. When the blog began, he may have been an opportunist. Today he wants to run for political office.
“Maybe I’ll stand in 2016 myself. We’ll see how that goes,” he says.
If that falls flat, he has other plans.
“There’s a guy called Craig Murray, a former British ambassador. He thinks I’m the single most important individual in the debate and he thinks I should be the head of the Scottish broadcasting corporation when we’re independent. I thought that was terribly nice.”
For the time being, though, Campbell thinks he will still be blogging. He says that a Yes vote would make him move back to Scotland, and perhaps the blog will have served as a useful tool for his own self-promotion. His final argument for independence, after all, is that it is a point of pride.
“You have to hope that people will get in there and think, I can’t really sit here and go, ‘No, I’m just a shitty little region of somebody else’s country,'” he says.
“But genuinely, I’ve always said I have no idea of how it’s going to go. It’s up for grabs.”
Follow Ben Bryant on Twitter: @benbryant