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?
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.