Archive for category Activism

Polling day

14241362601_da5ff641cf_mLike the French Revolution it’s a bit early to say what the referendum result means. The next steps need to be open, inclusive and fast but more of that in another post. In this I thought I’d talk about the day itself.

I’ll start at the end: ultimately the result was a slightly pyrrhic victory for me. Despite a clear, decisive and consistent No across Scotland we just as clearly lost Glasgow. If you’d told me at the start that we’d stay competitive in Kelvin (which was Yes by approximately 2000 votes) I’d have been very happy with that: we’re one of the few constituencies which voted for AV in 2011 and are a close 3 way marginal between Labour, the Greens and the SNP. We still lost though, and clearly need to do more work.

The count started ok, I met a lovely Green while sampling who was good company during the bits we weren’t staring at piles of ballot papers. Feel very sorry for the staff on our table who had to recount one box three times because somebody had put their polling card in as well which buggered up the numbers.

It didn’t stay friendly though. Once the overall result became clear the SNP contingent went quietely up the back of the room and the Greens seemed to dissapear leaving the front by the stage to the RIC crowd who began chanting in an increasingly aggressive and antagonistic manner. Classy.

Standing shoulder to shoulder with friends old and new, some of whom I’d met that week or that day, in the Emirates with a lump in my throat and a lack of feeling in my legs waiting for the news we knew was coming that we’d lost Glasgow was a really powerful experience. Not one I want to repeat again.

But that was the end of polling day. The day had started for me at 6.30 when, having managed to avoid the early morning leaflet run, I got up to stand on my local polling station for 2 hours.

When I got there one of the many non-party Labour No activists who turned up in the final run in was there, along with 3 Yes people. My heart slightly sank as I recognised one of them.

The Saturday before we’d run a stall at the local farmers market which had gone well (turns out people appreciate it if you pay for a proper stall rather than setting up your own trestle table at the edge) and had been harrangued by her because the only reason she could think of for me not supporting Yes was because I hated democracy. Having tried to explain to her, actually, I thought Yes would reduce our democratic control she moved onto arguing that a Yes vote would mean we had the power to reform local government. I didn’t have the heart to tell her it had been devolved in 1999 and substantially reformed by the second Labour / LibDem coaltion.

A few cheery exchanges and a Brady Bunch-esque mantra of ‘morning!’, ‘morning!’ from the assembled politicos to each and every voter one of said voters explained she was voting No because she didn’t want the years of economic turmoil that would follow. Which is surely a fair choice, but elicted a rather petulant “well we don’t want the votes of rich people anyway!” shout from this Yes woman. Perhaps not the wisest thing to shout out in Hyndland…

A providential supply of biscuits from a passing voter were duly shared before a phone call informed me that CNN were at the polling station around the corner. Turns out one of the Labour stalwarts staffing it probably ended up on media in at least half a dozen countries.

When the second shift arrived I took off for a shower and breakfast before we started the GOTV. Didn’t really have any idea if that was going to be necessary or not given the predicted turnout but, as it turns out, I’m very glad we did.

After an initial run at some of the social housing around Whiteinch we decided to throw the strategy in the bin (I mean take a tactical decision at grassroots level) and just knock every door in the tower block. That worked out pretty well: a few yes voters who were going to vote anyway were outnumbered by a few “well, I don’t know if I’ll vote but if I do i’ll vote No”. That turned out to the theme of the day.

Based on that I made a run into Bath St to get some wider ranging contact sheets that had everybody except confirmed Yes voters on them and it was around then that, in retrospect, I lost it.

It started innocently enough. Having leapt out of a car, up some stairs, grabbed some folders, waved at the phone bank and leapt down a woman standing on the street introduced herself, said she was a visiting MP and asked if we were going to campaign rooms. I didn’t quite bite her hand off as I bundled her into the back of the car but it wasn’t far off.

Not long after I was balancing a phone between my ear, clipboard in one hand, pen in another dispatching her and others to the doors of pensioners (it was 2pm, they’re the only people reliably in at that time of day in numbers in Partick) 3 stories up. I wasn’t quite inhabited by the spirit of Jamie the angriest man in Scotland but it wasn’t the most dignified thing I’ve ever done either.

Another run to Bath St to set phone bank strategy for the evening, a sit down and a quick passive smoke. By this time it was quite clear don’t knows and undecied and uncontacted Labour voters were breaking pretty heavily for us. Which felt pretty great, I have to tell you. It’s easy to know, but not to feel, that you’re not talking to the opposition at this point and I had no idea how that would translate overall picture. As I mentioned, Kelvin is a weird constituency.

I headed to Thornwood primary school for the evening rush with some apprhension. For the previous fortnight two stalls had been at Partick station, one Yes, one No. Neither associated with the main campaigns – Yes Partick West had a private facebook page and a locked twitter account and was hadning out Green Yes and A4 photocopies about secret oil fields. The No stall was run by Labour councillors from the very distant past, the communists and the lodge. Police had stepped in at least once during the previous week. Fortunately neither had shown up at the polling station as we’d feared: the biggest threat was apparently the drivel being talked threatening to lead to fatal boredom.

Having gathered another volunteer I headed off for the last run of the evening. One of the things they never tell you how much of politcs is that quite a lot of it involves hanging about on street corners with a clipboard waiting for other people to show up. When everyone had arrived, sorted out who was going where and divvied up the last of the material I set off with two people: one of whom I’d known for less than 12 hours, one for less than 20 minutes (both lived up the road, albeit across a cruical constituency dividing line). Polling day is weird like that.

I’d say I’d never known a final knock up like it but I’ve only really known half a dozen so it’s a small sample set. You could have built a house on it it was so solid. Low rise blocks of mixed social housing, some shared equity some socially rented. When we got to the top of the first block I thought we were in trouble. One of the “I’m voting No” out cards we’d put through when canvassing a few days previously was lying on the mat. Wondered if someone had pushed it back through. Happens sometimes. Marked them down as “Voted, Yes” and moved on. Same thing on the the floor below except it was outside a door of someone who I knew had already voted No but post. So we knocked the others anyway.

Turns out the residents in that block had gotten so fed up of Yes canvassers they’d put them the cards out to ward them away. Same in the next block. A few people were voting Yes (and one who had done so by post said she’d regretted it now) but I was feeling pretty good by that point.

Then we got outside. One block left to do, and a group of half a dozen small kids aged between maybe 6 and 10 come up to us and slightly suspiciously ask what we’re doing and what side we’re on. When we explain we’re No it changes.

They go utterly ballistic, we give out the last of out stickers, posters and anything else left in the bag and demanded we go to their houses as their parents had already voted No. The rosette I’m still wearing from polling station duty causes some infighting as I try to explain they need to share. In retrospect “polling and sharing resources” was perhaps not the best phrase to use but I was phyiscally knackered and emotionally all over the place having wildly swung between feelings of “this is going OK” to “we’re going to lose badly” previously.

It was a very good note to end the GOTV stuff on though.

Yes Together: Robin McAlpine, Wings Over Scotland, and the progressive whitewashing of misogyny

Thanks very much to @pastachips for today’s fierce guest post.

The transmisogyny of Stuart Campbell, aka author of pro-independence blog Wings Over Scotland, has been pretty devastatingly documented here. Edinburgh Eye did an excellent overview of his misogyny, homophobia, and other problems here.

Then I read Robin McAlpine’s piece in defence of Campbell. (Ugh, I know – if only political debate in Scotland passed the Bechdel test more.) McAlpine, founder of the ‘progressive’ Reid Foundation, and whose project the Common Weal is supposedly “for the wellbeing of all”, wrote: “I don’t write in support of Wings anything like enough”. He continues, “Wings …  is widely loved … because it is clear and unashamed in making our case. I have been following Wings for quite a while and have yet to come across any reason to quarantine it.”

McAlpine, in somewhat florid style (“to the local campaign whose leaflet is to be burned …”: pal, this isn’t actually Nazi Germany; the leaflet is being discontinued, and spares are more likely to be recycled), “refus[es] to apologise” for any of the “wonderful” Yes-campaigners; grandly vowing he will leave no man behind. Robin, your solidarity with dudes is totally cute and does you credit. No, wait. Not credit. The other thing.

I cried over this last night, and put it down to too much cider; when I found myself crying over it again this afternoon, having only drunk coffee, I figured I might genuinely just be feeling really fucking sad about misogyny among ‘Yes’ many activists in the referendum debate. Care about anything? Want stuff to be different? Hey, meet the new boss, same as the old.

I want to unpick an example Campbell’s virulent misogyny – the Walker case – in more detail than I’ve seen elsewhere, and wonder aloud how exactly so-called progressives still – still, still – vocally support this man, and trust his analysis, and promote his work.

At one end of a spectrum, we have Bill Walker, disgraced former SNP MSP, convicted of multiple instances of domestic violence, a catalogue of abuse spanning decades. Next up, Stuart ‘Wings’ Campbell, embarrassingly overeager to excuse and/or obscure Walker’s violence against women. Next again, we have Robin McAlpine, progressive par excellence, working for “the wellbeing of all”, who ‘doesn’t write in support of Wings anything like enough’. This is how it goes, I guess. Who is included in Common Weal’s definition of “all”? Given this solidarity with Campbell, who writes like a parody of a person excusing domestic violence, perhaps McAlpine doesn’t consider the ‘wellbeing’ of women, survivors of domestic violence, and women-survivors-of-domestic-violence to be a crucial part in his progressive vision. Wait, what?

Not My Comrades

Not My Comrades by suzy_ex

Stuart Campbell has written about the Walker/domestic violence case a couple of times, notably in this blog post, ‘Ugly Witches Are Easy To Hunt’. (‘Ugly Witches’ is a super-interesting choice of first words to put as your title in a blog post about a male politician accused of violence against women, isn’t it?) As I said, his article reads like a parody of someone excusing gendered violence – it’s that crude. Campbell consistently refers to “allegations” against Walker, despite the fact that Walker had by that point admitted to several of the offences in question; he states that he hopes Walker does resign, “because he was a liability to the SNP [due to another issue], and because we don’t think the SNP have anything to fear from a byelection at this stage” – um, priorities?; he criticises the Herald for calling what Walker did to three of his wives ‘abuse that spanned four decades’, on the grounds that this is a “tacky and misleading” phrase, before acknowledging the abuse “does of course in a technical semantic sense ‘span four decades’” (my god, Stuart, in a technical semantic sense? Tell us again how opposed to domestic violence you are, you hero!), before concluding the paragraph by telling us that it all happened a long time ago. Er – and?

It goes on. “There are allegations, as yet unproven” – again, no mention of Walker’s widely-known admission of guilt – “haven’t been and at no point will be the subject of any police action”. Many of survivors of domestic violence never take their experiences to the police, often due to attitudes like Campbell’s amongst both the criminal justice system and the public, but as it happens the Walker case did go to court, and Walker was convicted, and given a custodial sentence, and his appeal was thrown out, so Stuart Campbell’s confident assertion that these “allegations” “at no point will be the subject of any police action” rather reveals his hand here: his intention is obviously to discredit the women coming forward, rather than (as he’d no doubt like to present it) ‘rationally and objectively present the facts’, or whatfuckingever. And then he repeats that this abuse happened in the past and therefore doesn’t matter. Amazing work!

(Also, Walker receiving a degree of opprobrium for beating up three of his wives – so badly that at least one woman required hospitalisation – while having a lengthy and well-paid career, including in politics, is described as “a lynching”, which – just, jesus christ, no. Think of fourteen year old Emmett Till and feel sick.)

Campbell repeatedly parrots ‘innocent until proven guilty’, ignoring that resigning from Parliament is not a prison sentence imposed by the state, and therefore the strictures that apply in a criminal court case do not apply here. Where courts impose civil rather than criminal sanctions – rather more analogous to being asked to resign from Parliament, perhaps, since such sanctions typically are financial, and are not custodial – the standard of proof required to convict is “on the balance of probabilities”. Do we think that a man who admitted to hitting his ex wife; a man about whom three of his ex wives said he hit them, including in official divorce papers which he did not contest – do we think he might, just, maybe, on the balance of possibilities … have hit women? Do we? Does sharpening up the legal analogy to make it more attuned to the actual real world highlight the extent to which Stuart Campbell’s posturing as the last bastion of the presumption of innocence – near overwhelmed by hordes of mendacious, grasping women and yet standing fast – is both entirely ridiculous and entirely a deliberate distraction from the real issue, which is Campbell’s not-even-so-weaselly (!) refusal to condemn violence against women? And I mean, did he mention it happened a long time ago? Nothing that happened in the 1990s matters now, right?

Campbell concludes “doubtless we’ll be accused by hysterical idiots of misogyny” – yes! hi! – ‘hysterical’ being a pretty obviously loaded word to use in this (or any, but especially this) context, and also interesting for being a favourite word of noted perpetrator of violence against women, Bill Walker, who in his acknowledgement that he did indeed hit his ex-wife, stated that he did it only because she was “hysterical.

Maybe the all-time most disgusting instance of Campbell’s essentially pro-violence-against-women approach to writing about Bill Walker, though, is under the article ‘Your Rules, Our Rules’ (yeah, no kidding pal, we live by a different moral code and no mistake). Campbell writes in the comment section – in response to a comment pointing out that Walker admitted to hitting his ex-wife and his former stepdaughter, the latter with a saucepan – noting with regards to the step-daughter: “Didn’t Walker essentially claim self-defence with the cooking pot?

The stepdaughter in question, Anne Louise, was sixteen years old at the time. Walker was an adult man, reported to be 6’2” tall. He stuck her with a metal implement. In “self-defence”. (In Bill Walker’s trial – at which he was convicted – it was revealed that Anne Louise frequently attempted to intervene to stop Walker from beating her mother). Self-defence. That was what Stuart Campbell thought the most germane issue, the first thing to bring up, when discussing a 6’2” man hitting a schoolgirl with a metal implement.

When women raise the issue of Campbell’s entirely non-secret misogyny, they are often  dismissed as “unionists”. Imagine thinking that was an acceptable response? Imagine, though? Elsewhere on the internet, gross men patronisingly scold Yes-voting women for thinking that misogyny might be somewhat important, as if the aforementioned women were children (“So let us see less negativity from you …”). At 4pm on Friday afternoon, Robin McAlpine’s ‘In Support of Wings’ post on Bella Caledonia had over one hundred comments (the vast majority left by men) in support of McAlpine’s gushing praise of Stuart Campbell, with Edinburgh Eye constituting the only dissenting voice. Morag Eyrie, a Yes-voting woman (so you can’t even call her a unionist! Maybe accuse her of ‘splitting the movement’, eh? That’ll be fresh and new), wrote about McAlpine’s post “I literally feel like crying from the punch in the stomach of that article right now”, and summed up McAlpine’s position as “let’s just throw the LGBT and other recipients of his bigotry under the bus for the sake of indy”, concluding, “fuck that”.

Bill Walker’s lack of remorse was considered an aggravating factor in his sentencing. The judge commented, “in the few incidents where you acknowledged the use of physical force, you believed you were entitled to or justified in its use”. I wonder where Walker could have picked up that sense of entitlement, hmm?

Perhaps the same culture which fostered that sense even now gives space and support to Wings and other men who condone domestic violence? Some people may think a degree of progress has been made since Walker’s offences were committed, but we still live in a culture in which a commentator, widely feted by self-identified progressives, entirely ignores a male perpetrator’s own admission of violence against women, preferring to vociferiously defend the perpetrator as if the question of his culpability was ever in doubt.

Imagine if we could hold people on “our side” (gag) to the actually-not-very-high-standard of not defending a grown man beating a schoolgirl: fucking imagine that. Imagine if women – or people of any gender opposed to violence against women – who raised this got actually listened to, rather than being accused of being unionists or accused of splitting the movement. It is so so so telling that you see those who object to perpetrators and to excusers of violence against women as being the people who are splitting the movement, Yes-crowd, rather than say, ooooh, men who hit women and the men who support them. Like, have you ever considered that that might mean your movement is actually shit anyway?

Again, I wonder where Bill Walker could possibly have derived his sense that violence against women was really no big deal, huh? Any thoughts, Robin McAlpine? And beyond Bill Walker: there are men who are currently in our communities, including our activist communities, who are perpetrating domestic violence and sexual violence, and they’re getting away with it. In part they’re getting away with it because the women – and people of all genders, but mostly women, cis and trans – who are living through that violence know perfectly well that there is almost no social penalty meted out against perpetrators; people might, in the abstract, state that they’re “against domestic violence”, but when it comes to someone they agree with, someone who has “good Yes-politics” (fucking lol), then “oh, maybe it was more complicated”; “maybe it was self-defence”; “it doesn’t count unless it goes to court and we can already tell you it’ll never go to court”; “it was in, like, the past”; … sis, we just don’t give a fuck, actually – he’s got good chat …

Misogynists gonna misogo: I have no illusions that Stuart Campbell will ever give a fuck about violence against women, beyond tellingly sharing with Walker-types a propensity to denigrate women he’s designated “hysterical”. But the rest of you? Fucking Common Weal? He whitewashes Walker and you whitewash him and we’re all good and yay-we-get-a-new-Scotland? Really? I’m actually so fucking depressed by this, still. I get that this will probably be ignored, or I’ll get shouted down, or whatever. I’ve spent long enough in or on the edge of leftwing groups or movements to know how this goes. I don’t have a happier thought to end on, and my analysis here isn’t super complicated or exciting, because this is old fucking news. I’m basically just documenting this, to let you know: I see you. I fucking see you.

National or Northern? One is far healthier than the other

There was, for a space of about six months between the release of the White Paper on Independence and the Easter break, a huge upsurge in interest in the Nordic aspects of Scotland’s independence movement. Assorted documentaries on TV and Radio, some SNP rhetoric on ‘Nordic’ childcare and a plethora of newspaper columns ranging from the meticulously informed to the blatantly phoned-in all sought to either support or criticise the idea of Scotland’s Nordic dream.

But then silence.

Criticism of the Nordic Way (a regular and quite conscious trope of the Nordic Council) has come in from the unionist side with their talk of massive tax hikes and from the far left who see the Nordic model as a Faustian pact with capitalism hiding under a friendly veneer of Moomin and mid-century furniture. One of the big problems is that nobody is quite sure what Nordic means. If you’re a political scientist the it refers very specifically to a unique system of tax-based growth economy ploughing profits back into human capital. If you’re of a more cultural bent it is mid-century classicism and nice cakes and Carl Malmsten chairs, or on a more dubious level a perceived heritage shared by Scotland. If, like me, you occupy the that third space between the policy wonks and economists and people munching on Kanelbullar in the West End and going to crayfish parties, it is a useful tool in Scotland’s political lexicon.

What you see most of all is how Nordicness allows Scotland to articulate its own better self, and the apparent waning of interest in Northern Scotland is slightly worrying. Irrespective of how genuine Nordic Scotland is, the referendum campaign appears to be in danger of slipping back into a fight over family silver and half-truths. The Northern dream has briefly allowed Scotland to glimpse an alternative to welfare cuts and Taylor Wimpey homes, daring to speculate on a new aesthetic without recourse to nationalist shibboleths.

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Commonwealth and Common Weal: The shape of things to come.

According to Nicola and Alex the world is watching, but the truth is that Britain isn’t even watching. If 2014 does turn out to be a momentous year for Scotland it will happen with a whimper down south. Although it still looks like the No campaign might win it, the Yes side has moved the debate on from where we were two years ago. Some kind of positive outcome for Scottish democracy now seems inevitable, and it can either be done consensually or by splitting the Labour party down the middle and further undermining its already wobbly legitimacy. Anas Sarwar and friends won’t go gently from their 80,000 a year at Portcullis House, especially with the outside chance of getting to sit at the big table and play around with some of those cool nuclear submarines.

There’s also a European election this year. It looks like the SNP and Labour will get two seats apiece and the Tories will likely hang on to theirs. The real battle of interest will be between the Lib Dems in their first election test since the massacre at Edinburgh City Council in 2012, the mustache bearing armchair army of Jaguar driving UKIPers and the Greens. Given that the Greens exceeded expectations last time around and have historically performed better in European polls, it is not too much to expect that Maggie Chapman will be ensconced in Brussels come next summer. From the left of what is already Holyrood’s most left-wing  party, Maggie will be hoping to attract the core Green vote combined with disenfranchised Labour and SNP supporters and the rump of the Socialist left to push past George Lyon and whichever Top Gear audience member UKIP plump for.

A European breakthrough could signify a big year for the Greens, now fairly well established in Edinburgh and Glasgow but still hovering on the edge of several wins in central Scotland and the Highlands. The increased profile given to them by the Yes campaign has allowed Patrick Harvie to more clearly articulate what separates them from both the SSP on the one hand and sandal-wearing Lib Dems on the other. With Alison Johnstone bedding in following the retirement of Robin Harper, the Euros and the long lead in to the Scottish general election of 2016 will be critical in determining whether Green politics in Scotland can copy the relative success achieved in its North Sea neighbours. The dominance of the SNP and the apparent inability of Labour to put one foot in front of the other means that Scottish politics is crying out for a torch bearer for floating progressive voters.

It will also be the year in which Scotland gets equal marriage legislation, in what has been a needlessly drawn out process. One of the side effects of the equal marriage campaign has been to further erode the influence of the Catholic Church in Scotland. The Church has not covered itself in glory in the past twelve months for all kinds of reasons, burning bridges with many progressive Catholics in the process.

Celtic will, somewhat inevitably, storm the SPL. Fingers crossed Aberdeen will come second, one of the few clubs with the resources and fanbase to do something with their European place and the financial bonus it would bring. The game would appear up for Hearts, hamstrung by a combination of apparent corruption, a global financial crisis and the inability of the Scottish Football Association to keep watch on the game. The irony of their Wonga sponsorship won’t be lost on the fans who have had to watch it all unfold from the stands and in the newspapers. Scottish football is still in a fairly sick state, and until the men with suits and 1990s playground haircuts are replaced at Hampden then it probably won’t get better.

Then there’s the Commonwealth Games, Scotland’s mini Olympics. No doubt there’ll be a lot from Glasgow City Council about putting the place on the map, showing it is open for business and reminding us that people make Glasgow, just like people made the dual carriageway to the East End and the over budget motorway that cuts a swathe through the Southside like the spaceship hovering ominously in Independence Day. The sceptic in me says that Commonwealth and Common Weal are different things, but it is to be hoped that some of the shine stays at least once the G4S guards on temporary contracts and the BBC mobile broadcast vans have chugged off south again.

One thing for 2014 is certain though. Peter Capaldi is going to be brilliant in the TARDIS.

Three funerals, and a past that refuses to die.

Seamus Heaney in Dublin, 1985, protesting against the South African government

Seamus Heaney in Dublin, 1985, protesting against the South African government

The death of Margaret Thatcher should have been a chance to move on, were it not for the apparent idolisation of the former Prime Minister by David Cameron and, in Scotland at least, a competition between Labour and the SNP over who could distance themselves most from the Thatcher legacy.

Then came Heaney. His funeral was broadcast live on TV, not just a poet but a formidable public intellectual. He was a sane voice in the often dysfunctional politics and public life of the North and the Irish Republic. Heaney protested against both South African apartheid and British policy in the North. Two years after Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize, Heaney took home the award for literature. The Nobel committee cited ‘works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past’. What, though, happens when the past stops living?

The death of Mandela is of course a great tragedy, but the curious thing about his passing is the rush to remember events twenty years past without paying attention to the present. The world needs new Mandelas, and not just for the sake of renaming public squares and suburban closes but for the sake of changing a future instead of dwelling on the past. This is, after wall, what Mandela sought to do. It needs more Heaneys too, and whatever the sycophants of various political movements like to say the leaders they happen to have at the time can never be of either sort. You can’t copy greatness any more than teenage boys can become revolutionary leaders by wearing berets. It just ends up as a shallow simulacra of something that once was.

With Thatcher, Mandela and Heaney gone, it feels like now is the time to start living in the present and to leave the past where it belongs. Otherwise we do its giants, its villains and ourselves a disservice by fretting on their legacies.