Archive for category Crime

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.

Dunfermline athletics long game to kick off for Green goals

elephantbridgeCara Hilton is now firmly ensconced in Holyrood after what turned out to be a reasonable majority in the Dunfermline by-election. Her victory was assured using a scattergun approach to campaigning that entailed being selective about what Scottish Labour’s current policy platform says and relying heavily on ‘I’m no SNP, so I must be Labour’ identity politics.

I know this because I was responsible in part for organising Zara Kitson’s campaign for the Greens and saw it all unfold before me first hand. How do you fight half-truths with truth when nobody recognises the legitimacy of what you are saying? On that same note it would take a Scottish Labour spin doctor to dress the Greens’ result up as a victory, but neither was it the disaster some naysayers made out.

Looking at the question of legitimacy, I was rather disappointed with Brian Taylor for lending his voice to a piece beginning ‘Meanwhile, the Greens had an environmental message’. The clip took one quote from Zara Kitson and pretended it was a manifesto. Had the BBC checked their own footage they would have found hours of interviews with the Green candidate in which she talked about local democracy, the bedroom tax, community football, properly funded schools and well-paid jobs. I know because I was there when it was filmed.
Perhaps it serves the Greens right for running an honest campaign in which they attempted to talk about what needed to be talked about. Zara Kitson made no promises about bridge tolls she would never have individual control over or the policies of a council she would not sit on. Should the Greens have followed the UKIP route and ploughed money (but precious few activists) into the kind of bitter, dishonest and intellectually bankrupt reactionary politics designed to garner as many votes as possible on as little policy as can be inserted into a leaflet made on the 1997 version of Microsoft Publisher? Probably not.

UKIP’s voters will have gone and voted and then retired to their armchairs or slipped their driving gloves back on and taken a ride out in their Saab 95 to check there were still no wind turbines. The Green voters, however, were part of a planned-out process of capacity building and a strategy that went beyond securing votes and getting back on the motorway to Edinburgh or London. This was misconstrued by the BBC on election night when they quoted Zara Kitson saying ‘it had been all about the campaigning’. She did not just mean that it was the taking part that counted; this was a longer battle than the media were prepared to accept in their finite narrative.

The interesting thing about the Green vote in Dunfermline is that nobody had ever been given the chance to elect a constituency MSP before, and the group of people who did choose to vote Green were galvanised by the election into knowing that there were hundreds of people across the area like them. Were Holyrood by-elections contested using the AV system the results could have been radically different. First past the post traps people into tactical voting and creates the same two-party politics that dominates Westminster.  It is almost inevitable that the end result will be hastily printed flyers with big pictures of bridges on and wild promises that can never be kept and will never need to be kept.

It is about the illusion of localism and the belief that constituency MSPs are local leaders, rather than parliamentary legislators. Even more so, the first past the post element of the Scottish electoral system perpetuates the kind of thinking that Holyrood was supposed to leave behind. Why it cannot be replaced with sixteen smaller regions electing lists is a question we should probably all be asking ourselves. Local government should perhaps be left to local government and we should not pretend that Cara Hilton or any other MSP has the ability to change things by themselves.

Any such reform would also present a challenge for the Greens, it has to be recognised. There is very little data showing whether people first vote Green and then opt for a constituency candidate of their choice or whether the reverse is true.  The BBC did not help, but what Zara Kitson tried to do in Dunfermline and will no doubt do again in the future was show that Green votes are not second preferences but first steps toward something altogether different. We need an election system that liberates people to vote freely and demands that smaller parties ready themselves for government.

Denying prisoners the vote: who benefits?

Prison votingWhy would any politician want to deny prisoners the vote? Is it purely because they think it plays well with the less liberal parts of the media (i.e. almost all of it)? Or might there be a better reason? There are all sorts of rationales for the use of prison in the justice system. Are any of them consistent with denying prisoners the franchise as well as their liberty?

1. Public safety. This is the most important one for me. If someone has grievously breached society’s proper moral codes – by which I mean typically premeditated or serious offences against the person – I support using prison to protect society. Why, at the top end of those offences, should the innocent public be exposed to the risk of a repeat offence? I prefer the risk that someone who might actually never offend again still doesn’t get out. You hopefully know the sort of offences I mean here.

So does denying prisoners a vote protect the public? Hardly. What risk is there to the public of further crime from prisoners simply voting? Essentially it’s the same as the threat posed to a mixed-sex married couple by their same-sex neighbours getting married, i.e. none. What’s more, it’s hard to see how they could change anything substantial electorally. There are just over 8,000 prisoners in Scottish jails. A little over 100 per constituency. If they all voted they’d make up 0.4% of the Scottish electorate. A poll I can’t find suggested prisoners would be more likely to vote BNP than the rest of us – and it may not be surprising to turn it on its head and say that BNP voters are more likely to commit crimes – but that’s not a reason to prevent all prisoners voting.

2. Rehabilitation. This is an area where the theory and practice of imprisonment seem miles apart, but can barring prisoners from voting really help them turn their lives around, prepare them for life outside, and reduce reoffending? Actually, the evidence is quite the opposite. It doesn’t seem realistic to say allowing prisoners a vote would have a major impact, but it might have some.

3. Deterrence/retribution. Shall we agree that even the most hardened political hack wouldn’t be put off from committing a crime because of the loss of the franchise? It’s hardly an enormous punishment when you’ve already been deprived of your liberty.

4. Restitution. Nothing here either (cf community services, repayment of stolen money). No victim sees any practical benefit from an offender being denied a ballot.

The best the no-vote side are left with (at Holyrood this means the SNP, Labour and the Tories), as far as I can see, is a reference to some abstract moral principle – that prisoners must forgo any contribution to deciding society’s future, and that when they’ve “paid their debt” they can take part again, irrespective of the absence of any practical benefit to society. It’s precisely the kind of vague and unfalsifiable pseudo-moral hand-waving and hand-wringing certain sections of the media love.

So, conversely, why should we let them vote? First, the minor rehabilitation effects noted above. Many repeat offenders already feel alienated from society, disenfranchised in more ways than one. Do we really want to tell people, especially those who will be released, that society thinks their views are irrelevant? I’d like to believe that allowing prisoners to vote might encourage politicians to consider their views on prison conditions, but the small number of these potential voters (versus the influence of the populist press) makes that unlikely.

Above all, though, we’re meant to be a democracy. If we start going down this road we end up with the approach some American states take, whereby felons are barred from voting forever. We live in a discriminatory society, with a justice system more inclined to prosecute and imprison the poor or protesters than so-called “white collar criminals”, and preventing prisoners from having a say extends this discrimination further for no real benefit. Democracies let their citizens vote, not just the approved subset of the population. It shouldn’t take the European courts to make our governments honour this principle.

Arming bears would make more sense now

8293886881_9e189768e2_oThe gun debate in America rages on, with the NRA’s spokesman giving a speech today, just one week after the massacre at Sandy Hook, a tone-deaf speech even by their standards. While he was speaking, a gunman in Pennsylvania shot three others and then (we believe) himself. So what can be done to deliver gun control?

Some people think a reinterpretation of the commas in the Second Amendment can save America. To remind you:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Current rulings make the first part about a militia and its purpose merely “prefatory”, i.e. irrelevant context, with the part starting “the right” being “operative”. Others think the commas are a well-armed red herring, and considering the framers’ intentions might be more productive.

Neither is unlikely to help any time soon. Neither the current Supreme Court, nor any Supreme Court imaginable in the next decade, is likely to accept any kind of more radical ban on guns with the Second Amendment still unchallenged.

It’s time for America’s progressives to make a real push on a different front: abolishing the Second Amendment altogether. As Walter Shapiro says, it’d take just 15 words: “The second article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.”

It’d be absurd to suggest that’d be easy, or even realistic any time soon. Even to get a 28th Amendment proposed takes either two thirds of the Senate and the House or two thirds of state legislatures. That’s hard. Then 38 states need to ratify it. That’s even harder.

The polling trend has been heading in the wrong direction, although there’s been a bit of a shift after the most recent outrage. But (as Shapiro again observes) opinions have changed radically on issues like equal marriage, and the fact that it might take 15 or 20 years doesn’t mean the job shouldn’t be begun. It means ignoring Alex Massie’s unusually siren argument that it’s hard to do so it shouldn’t be done in case someone takes away rights you care about. It would get round the concerns about democracy in the otherwise sensible Lexington blogpost.

Those equal marriage wins took some serious strategic thinking to deliver in four states this November, too: can the same techniques be applied here? After all, frustrating and unequal as the reservation of marriage for heterosexual couples is, it’s not in the same league as being shot in your classroom.

(pic from Code Pink)

Heaton-Harris and Delingpole referred to Northants police for possible breach of electoral law

The Guardian’s splash today is eye-catching. Greenpeace, masquerading as the gloriously named Windefensible (shades of Chris Morris’s Nonce Sense), covertly recorded Chris Heaton-Harris MP making extraordinary admissions.

He set out a covert plan to pretend to run the Telegraph’s science-denial correspondent James Delingpole as a candidate, only to have him withdraw before putting his nomination in and to endorse the Tories. This scheme was designed to mislead the electors of Corby and to skew Tory party policy, and Delingpole played his role perfectly.

On one level, it’s funny, and they got caught before election day. On another, though, it’s extremely serious and potentially illegal.

The fact that Delingpole didn’t file doesn’t exempt them both from electoral law, especially Heaton-Harris, who as the Tories’ agent is effectively acting with the party’s authority.

How can a candidate be involved in electoral fraud when they don’t stand? Before we come to the law, the principle isn’t hard to understand. Let’s do a totally hypothetical example. Let’s say a leftish party of government faced a by-election after becoming involved in a war. If their rightwing opponents faked up an anti-war candidate to attack the government candidate from the left (in a way they couldn’t themselves, assuming they supported the war) that could be assumed to depress left turnout for the government candidate. Conversely, the governing party in that example could fake up an anti-war candidate, then have them fold just before nominations closed and get them to endorse the leftish candidate.

It’s fraud, essentially.

I’m no expert in electoral law, but there are at least two other offences potentially involved here, both as part of the 1983 Representation of the People Act. Were any donations made to Delingpole’s campaign by Conservatives? Section 71A on the control of donations may apply here if so. More obviously, Section 107 covers the “corrupt withdrawal from candidature”. Beyond that, false statements may have been made under the terms of Section 106, the section Phil Woolas was convicted under.

Update: it’s been pointed out to me by legal blogger @loveandgarbage that §118A of the 1983 Act confirms that a person becomes a candidate for the purposes of the Act no later than “the day on which he is so declared by himself or by others“, which Delingpole has clearly done, and is not dependent on the filing of nomination papers, payment of a deposit etc. That exposes Delingpole to far more of the Act’s restrictions, and may broaden the offences that need to be considered.

Anyway, I’ve asked the local police to sort it out. Letter below.

Hello all at Northants Police,
I note the Guardian’s cover story today about the covert arrangements between Chris Heaton-Harris MP, the Conservative Party’s agent in the Corby by-election, and James Delingpole, Telegraph columnist and putative candidate. I’m sure you’ll be familiar with the article and the film it’s based upon, but if not, it’s here:

It appears that both Mr Heaton-Harris and Mr Delingpole may have breached electoral law, including potentially sections 71A and 107 of the Representation of the People Act 1983. The former covers control of donations to candidates (depending on whether the donations mentioned were actually made to Mr Delingpole), and the second covers corrupt withdrawal from candidature.

Further offences of dishonesty may also have been committed specifically by Mr Heaton-Harris by his support for an apparently competitive candidacy, a candidacy we now know to have been devised by Conservative members and activists in order to skew both the election and party policy (the latter intention not being covered by electoral law).

Please can you let me know what action you might take with regard to these potential offences?

James Mackenzie