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.

Turning 3 missed targets into an opportunity

Thanks to Dr Sam Gardner, Head of Policy at WWF Scotland, who has previously blogged for us on similar things, for today’s guest post on Scotland’s climate targets.

picwwfOn 10 June, to no great surprise but considerable disappointment, we learned that the Scottish Government had missed its third climate change target in a row. Emissions had actually risen rather than fallen between 2011 and 2012, in large part due to our poorly insulated housing stock and a reliance on gas heating. Behind the number crunching and greenhouse gas accounting, a missed target is not only a measure of Scotland’s climate change impact but also a measure of missed opportunities. Opportunities that if seized could cut air pollution and the 1000s of associated premature deaths it causes every year, could cut fuel bills and the stress of living in fuel poverty and create new, skilled jobs in new industries. Tackling climate change is a moral responsibility but it is also the means to a fairer, healthier Scotland that we must take every opportunity to secure.

Back in March after the 2014 progress report by the Government’s statutory advisers, the UK Committee on Climate Change I blogged that now was not the time to take the foot off the accelerator on Scotland’s low carbon journey, and that we must follow the Committee’s advice of increasing our effort across homes, transport, heating and land use. The package of measures announced by the Climate Minister alongside the missed target was a clear recognition that more can and must be done to seize these opportunities and turn emissions targets into a low carbon Scotland.

The Government’s package was welcome for its effort to ensure that no sector of the Scottish economy is left behind in the low carbon transition. As well as a Cabinet Sub-Committee on Climate Change, which will make climate change the responsibility of all relevant ministers, not just one, it included more funding for fuel-poor rural homes and greener travel, efforts to manage fertiliser use on farms and regulation of district heating, which will provide a spur to what is still a nascent industry in Scotland.

However, this package must only be seen as a start of greater efforts to assert policy control over Scotland’s emissions. Our legislation rightly demands tighter targets as we move towards 2020 and so we need to see a parallel step change across all sectors of the Scottish economy if they are to be met and the benefits realised.

The Climate Minister spoke to this challenge when he renewed the Scottish Government’s ‘resolve to meet future targets and ensure Scotland remains a world leader in this field’. This will mean that by the end of October, and according to the Climate Act, the Minister will need to provide a full report on the missed target, why it was missed and what further steps are to be introduced to compensate for the excess emissions. This is the opportunity to build on the cross-party support for additional policy effort that was echoed by all the opposition parties on the 10 June. The cross-party consensus that launched the Act is vital for the essential work of implementation and I hope all parties will take the opportunity to come forward with policy suggestions that will not only allow us to meet future targets but secure the transformative benefits of a low carbon Scotland.

As we move forward together on Scotland’s low carbon journey, we must think critically and act strategically. Are we ensuring that our plans are joined up, so that we’re not undermining with one hand what we’ve been fighting hard to secure with the other? Are we looking at great examples of win-win green projects in other countries? Are we building the low carbon infrastructure we so badly need or are we trapping ourselves in a high carbon pathway? And crucially, are we investing wisely – financially, socially and environmentally – for the future? It is incumbent on all of us – Government, opposition, NGOs and industry – to make sure that we do just that.

Exclusive: June Holyrood poll by Survation

It’s time for month four of our rolling sequence of polls, conducted as usual by Survation, in partnership with the Daily Record and Dundee University’s 5 Million Questions. The May figures are here, and the Record have written up the indyref results here. The headline there is 47% Yes, 53% No, which is the best score for Yes that we’ve recorded since this polling project began.

That same Record story has the answer to another question: it shows Scots voters would go 54/46 for independence if they were sure Cameron was going to win, which is interesting although a) no-one will know the May 2016 election result in advance and b) no matter how much one may hate Cameron, that’s a poor basis for a vote for independence.

Anyway, onto the Holyrood numbers. Usual background: I’m comparing vote shares to the previous month’s figures: but seat numbers are still shown as the change on the 2011 result. Seat projections are again from Scotland Votes, who don’t include UKIP in their methodology. The ‘kippers are again scoring at a level where they should expect to win a small number of regional list seats, but it is again unclear at which party’s expense those gains would come. Probably more from those parties who are strongest on the list, i.e. overwhelmingly Labour, then Greens and then the rest. If our pals at Weber Shandwick want to keep that tool accurate, regrettably they will need a UKIP entry in their table. With all that in mind, here are this month’s figures.

Parties Constituency Region Total
Vote share (+/-) Seats (+/-) Vote share (+/-) Seats (+/-) Seats (+/-) %
SNP 46.2 (+2.5) 60 (+7) 39.3 (+0.2) 5 (-11) 65 (-4) 50.4
Labour 28.3 (-3.4) 8 (-7) 26.2 (-0.2) 29 (+7) 37 (±0) 28.7
Conservative 13 (-2.4) 3 (±0) 10.4 (-0.9) 7 (-5) 10 (-5) 7.8
Liberal Democrats 6.2 (+1.3) 2 (±0) 6.1 (±0) 4 (+1) 6 (+1) 4.7
Scottish Greens 2.5 (+1.5) 0 (±0) 10.0 (+1.3) 11 (+9) 11 (+9) 8.5
UKIP 3.2 (+1.1) 0 (±0) 7.0 (-0.1) 0 (±0) 0 (±0) 0
Others 0.5 (-0.7) 0 1.0 (-0.3) 0 (-1) 0 (-1) 0

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This would be another very strong result for the SNP: to be within striking distance of 50% in the constituencies, with your nearest rivals almost 20% behind? Few governments seven years into office can have retained this level of support. 65 seats would be a peculiar number to win – technically the barest majority, but theoretically vulnerable: not a position from which coalition would ever make sense for a junior partner, functionally more like a super-minority administration (edit: and unlike now, without a former SNP MSP in the PO’s chair). If 47 generally felt comfortable between 2007 and 2011, this would be a doddle (again, remember they might be one short of this depending on the impact of the ‘kippers).

Labour’s result here looks like a flatline, but they’d actually regard it as a further falling back. Just eight constituencies would go their way: the lists would bring another group of more unknown quantities into Holyrood to swell the Labour delegation, and winning more than 50% of all the list seats would be likely (on these numbers) to make Labour the most vulnerable to any ‘kippers off the lists: the real figure could well be 35 or 36 if this result were the real figure for UKIP in 2016. Whatever John McTernan thinks, this would start to look like SNP hegemony to Labour activists. The demoralising effect would be hard to overstate.

Which brings us to the third-largest group in the Chamber on these numbers: the Greens. Sure, the Tories are a scant 0.4% ahead of the Greens on the list, but the unhelpful (for them) concentration of their vote in South wouldn’t help them in terms of seats, and the Greens show as one ahead of them. In fact, we’d see the Tory group drop by a third, with just four MSPs more than the Lib Dems, who appear to have hit a floor of around 6% for now. All these parties might lose one of these seats to UKIP, obviously. But even 9-10 Green MSPs would be an extraordinary breakthrough for the party.

Looking at all of this as a piece, this is my favourite Survation poll yet, even if the Holyrood election remains in the unpredictable zone beyond the independence vote. A win in #indyref vote, though, which is the next time Scots voters have their say, is now clearly in touching distance. With a strong ground game and some improved messaging, we could even see a moderately convincing win for Yes.

Resistance is inevitable

We’re into the final 100 days of the referendum (an insignificant milestone given prominence by the nice round number), and things are starting to get hot. National Collective are about to give Caledonian MacBrayne bumper summer profits as they convoy across the nation on their Yestival tour, Labour are out on the doorsteps with the LABOUR NO bus like a mystery tour of Scottish stately homes and seaside promenades – there were rumours of Anas Sarwar buying a Scottish Mining Museum souvenir mug in the gift shop – and Robin McAlpine and his Common People are trying to build a people powered revolution.

In communication, everything is about context, and how people respond to whichever busload of happy campaigners they run into depends not just on what is said but on who is saying it, and to whom. Resistant readings are an integral part of communication theory, and you can draw graphs to show how the receptiveness of one audience decreases as that of another increases dependent on what is being said. This is more or less why political parties can garner extremist votes and show apparent growth but simultaneously alienate other more moderate groups – the gamble made by people in charge of campaigning is that a certain message will bring on board fewer people than they can alienate. Perversely (and somewhat more dangerously), it also means that if mainstream politicians start adopting more fringe policies it lead to their legitimisation.

Then there is the person speaking – there is a good reason why people might be prepared to trust Gordon Brown more than David Cameron when what they say is much the same. Similarly, there are people who will take certain things from the mouth of Alex Salmond in a different way than they would from the less brash and avowedly non-nationalist Patrick Harvie. There really is no justice in it, but this is how it works. John Reid can call himself a patriot, but John Swinney cannot. If, as Robin McAlpine did, you say that the English are ‘not part of our lives’ you can be accused of excluding all the English people who live and work in Scotland, but equally it can mean that the Engllish experience is lived differently in governmental and economic terms. How people respond to such a sentence is guided by their preconceptions, likes and prejudices. Pro and anti independence activists alike are prone to it and we are all little balls of opinion and preprogrammed assumption. Most alarmingly given that we are going to vote in a very important referendum, none of us are half as rational as we think.

If you feel what I’ve just written is pure nonsense then just remember  thinking that if you read someone saying the same thing in the comment pages of a newspaper you agree with.

Some different ideas to go with your referendum: Scotland 44

scotland44-page001Better Nation does not have a publishing arm, and despite ideas of a Better Nation film being mooted over some drinks last year the realities of living a normal life bit. I have not however, been sitting idly on my hands for the past eighteen months, instead putting most of my effort into the Post Collective publishing project.

The Post Collective was set up last year to provide a forum for progressive green journalism in Scotland. Made up of a merry collection of academics, sometime journalists, economists and science professionals  the project regularly writes about contemporary Scotland, science, culture, politics and democracy on postmag.org. Post also publishes printed books and magazines, and though we do not have any clear view on the referendum itself as a group, we decided to try and make a collective contribution. The result is a forthcoming book about the future: Scotland 44.

Scotland 44 is not designed to argue for independence, instead it sets out a number of different possibilities for Scotland’s next thirty years that would improve the lives of Scottish people in areas from how we build our cities to how we fund the arts, manage information and privacy and generate energy. Arguing for independence as an end in itself will not do much to change Scotland without the will or ideas to significantly restructure the way the country works, and a no vote is no excuse for political stasis from either side.

That said, independence would seem to be the most opportune moment to rip it all up and start again, including an areas the independence debate is yet to touch on. One of Scotland 44’s writers, the urbanist Stacey Hunter of Edinburgh University, will for example be writing about an area the Scottish Government already has full control of. Could independence mean an end to the SNP’s love of suburban estates and motorways over communities and sustainable transport?

And how can power be taken from the Scottish Parliament and given back to people? What would decentralisation mean for democracy and the economy? How do you come up with an arts policy for a nation as diverse as Scotland? Who gets to be Scottish, and what will Scotland in 2044 mean compared with the Scotland of 2014 and 1984? If you could put science and education at the centre of society, how would it work? What does citizenship mean in post-2014 Scotland?

These bigger questions transcend a decision between Yes and No and demand answers from ourselves as much as they do politicians. If you want to pre order a copy of Scotland 44 or find out about and contribute to the ongoing work of the Post project you can do so here.