What does Pride mean to me? Amber Poppitt

Reading Time: 5 minutes
Amber Poppitt

History has been far from generous to the LGBTQIA+ community. Bullying, hatred, societal prejudice, oppression and laws criminalising our existence has generated an unnecessary amount of torment throughout the centuries. Although numerous acts have been introduced in recent years to try protect LGBTQIA+ people from the systematic injustices inflicted upon us, it wasn’t all that long ago when such acts were pretty much non-existent. During the mid-20th century, homosexuality was still classed as illegal under varying sodomy laws. In many countries, this resulted in police raids on bars that were known to serve gay and transgender people.

America was one of those many countries where homosexuality was banned by law, meaning similar raids were habitually conducted across their many states. On June 28th 1969, however, one raid at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York, didn’t go quite as planned. Instead of allowing the police to carry out their usual incursions, the 200 Stonewall attendees decided enough was enough and resisted. Authorities responded by attempting to arrest everyone inside the pub, however before backup had time to arrive, groups of protesters had formed outside.

In practice the riots carried on for the following five days, however their overall impact lasted far longer than anyone at the time imagined. The actions of June 28th 1969 resulted in a catalyst that helped to reshape the ways in which LGBTQIA+ people were treated by society at large, a moment which can be seen as the start of a liberation for queer people across the globe.

As the years passed, change started to take shape. More and more public figures came out, countries across the world lifted their laws punishing people for same-sex relations, and acts are introduced to protect those who are at risk due to their gender identity or sexuality. From Stonewall to the legalisation of same-sex marriage taking place across the globe in the present decade, fight for liberation still continues today.

Many of these changes were made possible thanks the protests, resistance and marches which stemmed from that very night back in 1969. Demonstrations similar to those held outside the Stonewall Inn continued year-after-year, continuously pushing for change.

Today we refer to these sorts of demonstrations as Pride events, and they are just as important today as they were half a century ago. Such movements not only take place all across the globe, but speak to all of those who belong to the LGBTQIA+ community from ever walk of life. Whether you’re asexual, bisexual, non-binary, pansexual, transgender, agender, bigender, genderfluid, genderqueer, gender variant, androgynous, aromantic, androsexual, bicurious, demiromantic, demisexual, polyamorous or any other member of this wonderfully variant community; Pride is the moment in which non-heteronormative folk can come together and continue the march for liberation which begun during the midpoint of the 20th century.

Due to the sheer scope and variety of the LGBTQIA+ community, however, Pride has a variety of meanings for many. Each individual will have their own interpretation of what Pride means to them based on their backgrounds, experiences and worldviews. So, based upon my own experiences as a trans woman raised in 90s Britain, what does Pride personally mean to me?

Firstly, from my point of view, Pride is a way to look back on the achievements made over the years. It’s a time to celebrate the decriminalisation of homosexuality; establishment of countless gay liberation fronts; repeals made toward those who ‘committed’ the victimless crime of loving another; openly gay & trans candidates running for office; liberating trans people so they’re free transition legally, socially & physically; the introduction of laws protecting LGBTQIA+ people within workplaces; and the countless other steps made toward equality. Over the years an endless amount of individuals have worked endlessly, risked all they have and faced a tirade of struggle in a bid to make the world a better place for the LGBTQIA+ community. Pride celebrations are a means of expressing our gratitude to such folk, thanking them for helping to make the world a more bearable place than it once was. There’s far more work to be done of course, however Pride is a point where we can look back and say thank you to those who’ve got us to where we are today.

Another way in which I look at Pride is by seeing it as an exercise in standing up to the mistreatment and hate still present within our societies today. Bullies, bigots and hateful fools love to hit out at those whom they believe they have power over. For far too long, those very cowards have felt emboldened to make the lives of those unlike them hell. They’ve hindered rights, laughed at the existence of others, beaten, murdered and claimed superiority all because they grew up in a society that made them believe they were superior. Pride is our way of saying no more; a defence mechanism designed to push back against the struggles we continuously face. Pride is our way of telling the hateful members of our society that we are strong, resilient and here to stay. Each and every march is our way of pushing back against the self-assumed dominance held by those who hate us.

Furthermore, Pride can in many ways be seen as a bond that assists in bringing the diverse and multifaceted members of the LGBTQIA+ community together. As already mentioned, there’s a vast amount of sexualities and identities existing beyond the walls of heteronormativity. Considering how large this community is, divisions do at times occur. No single person or experience is the same, meaning it can at times appear as if we’re striving for different goals. Truth is, we’re working toward the same universal outcome; we want a world free from bullying, mockery, violence, shame, misunderstanding, dehumanisation and hatred. The liberation to love who we love and be ourselves without scorn is something we can all rally behind as a collective. Pride is the time where we can all finally come together, embrace the power of working in numbers and stand up as one. By coming together we create an unbreakable unity; a collective working to change the foundations of our societies for the better.

Finally, Pride is an exercise in flexing our visibility; a way of reminding the world that we are more than an idea or stereotype. Over the centuries, LGBTQIA+ folk have been habitually erased from the history books. This is a practise that’s still carried out by many in this day and age. When we’re not being mocked or misrepresented by callous stereotypes, our lives are trivialised and rendered false. Bigots tell us our gender identities are delusions, that our desire to love more than one gender is nothing more than greed, that our love toward someone of the same gender is the by-product of mental illnesses, or our sexualities/genders are contemporary fads uncommon within the human experience. Despite their assumptions, we all exist, we’ve always exited and we shall continue to exist until the end of time. Pride month is the moment each in which we remind the world that we are valid, that our identities are real, that we bleed like everyone else and that we deserve rights just as much as every other human living on this planet.

As already mentioned, Pride can be subjective based on whoever you ask. But that’s its beauty. It allows a vast community of people to come together, recognise the universal struggles each one faces and provides a platform where we can all push for change. To me Pride is a way to look back and thank the liberators of yesterday, celebrate the diversity of the queer community, tower above the bigots and articulate our authenticity to the world. Whether others agree with this is beside the point. No matter how you look at it, just remember that Pride is a movement that will allow progression to continue, no matter how dark the world may feel at times.

Happy Pride Month everyone.

 

You can read more from Amber on her Writing page and she also contributes to our Podcast

Real Carers Week

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Sandra Webster

I am privileged to belong to a group of passionate writers who are called Ungagged. I love them because they share voices that deserve to be heard and often are not. At the end of Carers Week, am proud to be writing for them.

Once a year we carers get patted on the back and told what a fantastic job we do. I think there will come a time when we all realise the love and compassion carers have, make the world a better place. We do what we do at the expense of our own health, there are no health and safety measures put in place. In a past life I was a paid carer a career, fantastic colleagues. I worked in places with great practice. I had time off and paid holidays. My work then could not prepare me for the reality of being an unpaid carer. We care round the clock often 24/7 when our caring role is over many of us have PTSD and are expected to find work quickly. We have much to offer our skills include advocacy, form filling, managing our time effectively. Most employers will look at our “work history” and not regard this as real work. However we do what we do with love in our hearts.

This week has been a rollercoaster for me but is just a typical one. I have read so many stories on social media. Some of us have been tweeting #RealCarersWeek. We live in the shadows and keep the dark times to ourselves; posting pictures about happy times masks how difficult our lives actually are. The stories I have read this week have made me cry and smile and make me realise I am not alone. I rarely get out. I saw a dear friend who is also a carer this week and got to a gig!! I thought I would not get but I have not had a night out on my own for over a year and we made it. It refreshed my batteries but I felt so guilty going. I know many folk will get that.

Carers contribute more than the NHS budget in unpaid care. What would happen if we downed tools but w won’t of course. The Adam Smith foundation presented a paper this week which said women should expect to be unpaid carers. That is the crux of the matter it is mostly seen as “women’s work” though I know more and more men who are carers. Assumptions are made as well as cuts to essential services. I believe in people being seen and part of their community but this is used as an excuse to making cuts to essential services. Such services are crucial and I am all for volunteers and charities but they should not provide essential centres. Language about community care are used as an excuse to make cuts.

So another Carers Week is almost at the end for us though #RealCarersLives continue 52 weeks a year seven days a week. We have to battle and advocate for support for our loved ones forgetting ourselves. Am glad that so many people have shared their stories on #RealCarersWeek this year. It is up to a 1000. I live in hope things will get better this week but in reality doubt it. Am proud on behalf of Ungagged to wish all who care the best, always at your back. Come and share the microphone that is Ungagged and let others hear your story it is an important one. Love and strength to you all. xx

 

You can read more of Sandra’s Ungagged writing here or listen to her on our podcast

What does Pride mean to me? -Brian Finlay

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Brian Finlay

Everyone’s opinion of Pride is different. Pride events have increased in size and the number of events being held in large cities tends to have a mainstream festival feel. I find that small town Prides, such as Kirkcaldy, who are holding their second Pride this year, try to have the local community at their heart by including local bands and such like. I have felt, in recent years, that rainbow capitalism has replaced the organic and inclusive resistance movement that was set up to protest the injustices of both inequality and persecution of the LGBTIQ+ community in the larger city Prides.

Rainbow capitalism is the targeting of marketing at the explicit inclusion of LGBTIQ+ community to produce profit. This manifests through tailored products and services being offered to boost economic activity for corporations and marketing campaigns. That said, some of the core messages of Pride still exist and these events continue to inspire and mobilise LGBTIQ+ activists to tackle contemporary issues. These include the ongoing fight for LGBTIQ+ inclusive education in schools, spearheaded by the TIE Campaign, and issues surrounding sexual health and the stigmatisation attached to them.

What Pride means to me has changed over the years. I saw it initially as a weekend to meet up with friends, family and loved ones to see a variety of acts from drag queens to mainstream popstars. It was a piss up where you could feel relaxed in an LGBTIQ+ inclusive environment; much more public and open than that of a bar. To an extent, I feel this is what most peoples’ attraction is to Pride is but after becoming more politicised in recent years I’ve started to view it in a more critical light. I feel large city Prides have become just another summer festival which aims to push boundaries of its size and capacity whilst focusing on the status of the artists performing. This year in Glasgow the event will take place in Kelvingrove Park with an after-party concert with the camp pop sensation Steps. A ticket will cost you £45 for a two day ticket, to the other acts and activities, and the entrance fee to the after-party concert. This all seems ‘fair’ for seeing such a popular act but is that really inclusive at that price? Albeit it tickets for the weekend, without access to the after-party is £15. The Pride website homepage is littered with ‘pro-LGBTIQ+’ corporations such as RBS and AXA insurance with very little about the core issues Pride should be raising. The focus has shifted far too much towards rainbow capitalism rather than the issues impacting on LGBTIQ+ people here in Scotland, the wider UK and overseas.

Well, so what? There is nothing wrong with this casual capitalism creeping into community events, it reflects the shift in mainstream society, more is the pity, but we should be remembering what Pride is about and the struggles that the LGBTIQ+ community face and have faced.

On the 28th of May 1988, little more than 30 years ago, Lark in the Park took place in Edinburgh to protest Section 28 which had come into effect a few days before it by Margaret Thatcher’s Government. This prohibited the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ in the classroom, or other public buildings, and silenced any discussion of LGBTIQ+ issues or its existence for nearly 13 years; which was during my time in the education system. As a gay man, I find it sad that LGBTIQ+ inclusion was not encouraged or promoted during my time at school as it could have enhanced my experience of the Scottish education system and could have made me feel confident expressing my true self. I was lucky to have an open minded and caring family that always taught me it was ok to be ‘who I really was’ but that experience is not echoed in every LGBTIQ+ individual. If a young person has questions or concerns around LGBTIQ+ issues should, and should always have had, access to support; not have their community silenced under a right wing Tory Government. It was as little as 17 years ago the repeal of the Clause 28 campaign was successful in installing change in Scotland. This meant the younger generation have had the ability to seek out support and not have LGBTIQ+ issues silenced or forced underground in civic life; all because of Pride and public demonstrations.

The Lark in the Park was pivotal in raising awareness of this nasty policy and lead to prominent LGBTIQ+ speakers publicly coming out, literally in some cases, to express their disgust and opposition to Thatcher’s obsession of control and ‘tradition’. This meeting of like-minded people and political activists present to show solidarity and displaying willingness to resist oppression and inequality faced by a minority group in society, from the mainstream media and their own Government. That is what Pride should be. Politics should be front and centre. We should all be standing side by side with the trans community who are experiencing dreadful levels of suicide attempts and ongoing low levels of mental well-being. On average, according to Stonewall, 48% of young trans people have attempted suicide. What is causing these people to feel so low and isolated that they want to end their lives?

Moreover, we should be remembering and highlighting what is happening abroad where homosexuality is illegal in some Commonwealth countries and beyond. We should also be remembering that in Chechnya gay men are being hunted down by the authorities and facing persecution. These are the important issues; amongst many others.

What Pride means to me is the increased commercialisation of a community event that was originally intended to express discontent and show an appetite for equality. In large city events, we see mainstream festivals that are sponsored by big business and are obsessed with securing the best and biggest acts to attract more numbers. However, alternative Pride events are organised in venues in Glasgow and Edinburgh, which tend to reflect the true nature of what Pride once was, with no or very little fee for entry. Try and seek them out if you can; if not do enjoy the party. Whilst doing so, always try and reflect on the injustices facing the LGBTIQ+ community globally and take political action where you can.

Happy Pride to one and all!
Brian Finlay

 

You can read more of Brian’s writing here

Union of Equals?

Reading Time: 2 minutes
Maggie Chapman

Union of Equals?

The last couple of days have been quite extraordinary. We have seen changes made to Scotland’s devolution settlement without Scottish MPs being heard, nevermind the Scottish Parliament giving its consent. We witnessed a Conservative MP suggest that suicide was the choice open to Scottish MPs who thought this was perhaps not the way democracy should work. And we’ve seen an SNP MP barred from the Chamber for trying to use the Parliament’s own standing orders to get a debate on the division of powers between Holyrood and Westminster, leading to the whole SNP group walking out of PMQs.

Was the walk out a stunt? Yes. Was it the right thing to do? Yes.

Political stunts most certainly have their place in campaigning, in politics, in the theatre that is the oppositional nature of Westminster. It is quite clear to me that there is no other way the SNP MPs could have protested the series of events that would show up the UK Government for what it is: self-important, shambolic and completely uninterested in the wishes of either the Scottish parliament or the Scottish people.

Westminster is a farce. It has been for some time, but yesterday’s events show just how broken it, and therefore how broken British democracy, is. True debate, where everyone respects each other, listens to each other, learns from each other, is just not possible. There does not seem to be any real respect for individual or groups of MPs. And there is certainly little respect for the citizens that parliament is supposed to represent.

Without respect for democracy, the UK is well and truly broken. Theresa May talked of a Union of Equals. Well, she and her government wouldn’t recognise equality if they bumped into it in the streets. Probably because they have no idea what actually goes on in the streets of the UK. They certainly do not understand, or seem to care about, the streets of Scotland that I call home.
You can read more of Maggie’s writing here.

Disorderly Democracy

Reading Time: 5 minutes

 

Disorderly Democracy

Constitutional Chaos following Brexit Power Grab

Image by Red Raiph

By Debra Torrance and Derek Stewart Macpherson

Debra:

What the heck happened in the House of Commons?

Today, Wednesday 13th of June at Prime Ministers Question there was “unprecedented chaos as a SNP member of the house was ejected by the speaker, and the rest of the party walked out” – BBC News.

But what actually happened? What’s going on?

So after receiving a text, since I’m currently bed ridden with MS issues and nerve pain, unable to do any walking, a message saying SNP MPs walked out of Westminster.

Hmm? What? I immediately sat up and opened twitter and my messenger. Yup. On the face of it, they did. All of the Scottish National Party Members of Parliament who were there for PMQs got up and walked out after Ian Blackford, the SNP at Westminster group leader, requested to move to a vote on a private sitting.

The speaker of the house John Bercow, seemed flustered and gesticulated with his aides in front of him over rules and passed papers between them. He demanded Ian Blackford sit down and said he preferred the vote to be held after the session, to which the SNP MP requested “I beg to move”.

I am not all that familiar with parliamentary language, but that sounded pretty official. Ian Blackford is a knowledgable guy and extremely professional. Bercow ejected Blackford and the SNP MPs stood up and followed their leader.

Some commentators have suggested this was a pre-planned stunt, but for me Joanna Cherry’s actions suggest it wasn’t, she scooped up her belongings and walked out with a wave, the exact same way I’ve witnessed many women do when they have had enough.

To me this was a principled action by professional people who have committed years to their work in Westminster, followed archaic and seemly endlessly bureaucratic legislation and traditions to serve their constituents in Scotland.

And Scotland is what this is really all about, the EU Withdrawal Bill debate so far has been a farce. Scottish Parliament, Holyrood has devolved powers enshrined in its very existence. Powers which the Tory party are trying to steal back through Brexit.

Video by Sarah Mackie

Now if you disagree with this, that’s all very well, but how are we meant to have a democratic debate on the matter if no Scottish MP gets the opportunity to speak about it in the chamber? If sessions are allowed to be filibustered and timed out by nonsensical votes, what other options do representatives have?

Is the walk out a stunt? Did the SNP speak about such actions? Yes it is as much a stunt as mocking an opponent when you get an opportunity to speak at a debate in the chamber. Was there chat about the possibility of a walk out among SNP politicians? I dunno, probably, but I don’t think that means it was pre-planned. Watching it over again, it looks so spontaneous. It felt impromptu.

How were the SNP meant to know Bercow would act in that way? They followed the rules and evoked powers entitled to them as members of Westminster Parliament.

To me the whole thing just highlights the democratic deficit of this institution and the entire governance of the supposed United Kingdom. I’m proud of the SNP MPs walking out, they used their feet when I can’t. Thank you!

 

Derek:

“Today, Wednesday 13th of June at Prime Ministers Question there was “unprecedented chaos as a SNP member of the house was ejected by the speaker, and the rest of the party walked out” – BBC News

Well, it’s hardly unprecedented, it’s the sort of thing that happens from time to time in Westminster system parliaments all over the world. And I’m still not sure that’s even what happened. Did the Speaker intend to eject the member, or merely to sit him down? Well, apparently later he clarified that he had been expelled. However many people believe in the BBC clip he can be heard to say, “Well we’ll have to have the vote then.”

How he intended to have a vote the mover of which he had just ejected is unclear. A case of premature ejection it would appear. It sounds as if he realised he’d got it wrong just as the SNP members were following their colleague out.* It adds to the sense that Bercow’s grip is not what it once was, that he’s stressed and making mis-steps.
*
The procedural motion Ian Blackford moved was one of those parliamentary delaying and disruption tactics that are often used when a government is trying to ram something through, which is what’s happening at the moment with the EU Withdrawal bill. They had to overrule the House of Lords on no less than 15 amendments, which left no time to debate the Scottish concerns and the fact that Holyrood has refused consent.

So was it a stunt? The reason for the ‘chaos’ is that there is a very real constitutional crisis here, and it’s one entirely of the government’s own making. The Scotland Act of 1998 is very clear – anything that’s not specifically reserved to Westminster is devolved to Holyrood. Including each and every power being repatriated from Brussels. But the government doesn’t want to give Scotland some of those powers. There are 158 of them. The government wants to retain 24 including some really quite important to Scotland economically such as agriculture, fisheries, food labelling and public procurement.

Why do they want to do that? Presumably so they can use some of those things as bargaining chips in Brexit negotiations. And why is it such a problem? Because it undermines the devolution settlement, and because it puts the parliaments on a constitutional collision course. They have passed (or will shortly in Westminster’s case) conflicting Brexit bills, and the courts will have to resolve their constitutional competence over the various matters at issue.

This is a pretty big gamble by the May government, and it’s one that a hell of a lot of smart legal money thinks they might well lose. Not only that, but the potential precedents the case could set may have ramifications for years to come, on subjects as yet unimagined. It might even touch on the great question. The ultimate question. The question of life, the universe and everything! Well no, not quite, but nearly. The question of sovereignty, that of not only the Scottish parliament but of the Scottish people. And of a fascinating little constitutional law bomb set many years ago, by that indefatigable champion of Scottish independence Winnie Ewing.

Way back, on the first day the shiny new Scottish Parliament at Holyrood was due to sit, somebody had to declare it open before it could even elect a Presiding Officer, so the task fell to the oldest member of the House, Winnie Ewing MSP. She said,

“I want to start with the words that I have always wanted either to say or to hear someone else say – the Scottish Parliament, which adjourned on March 25, 1707, is hereby reconvened.”

Those were carefully chosen words. That particular parliament has had a lot of bad press, some of it from me, but whatever else it might have been there’s one important thing we know that it was – sovereign.

But despite the obvious weight and moment of these matters, the government did not see fit to allow MPs a chance to debate them, in its haste to ram through its ramshackle legislation. What the SNP members are trying to do is demonstrate how serious this is. How constitutionally significant. A lot of people have exhausted their attention spans when it comes to Brexit. They just want it to be over. I understand that, but this really does matter. The high-handed actions of this omnishambles of a government threaten to undermine the very constitutional foundations of the Union. And it might not end the way they expect.

 

 

You can read more of Debra’s writing here, Derek’s writing here, and listen to them both on our Podcast

Free education: The Foundation of a Better Society

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Free Education: The Foundation of a Better Society

 

I am passionate about education. I believe that it has the power to transform individuals, communities and society for the better. As such, I think education should be free. And that means free education throughout life, not just primary and secondary schooling. As Rector of the University of Aberdeen and a member of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, I am proud to have learnt from and stood with so many students who are also committed to free education for all.
The Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) has just published a report showing that fewer than two in five students in the UK think they are getting value for money. At the same time, levels of student wellbeing continue to fall. One interesting aspect of these results is the difference in satisfaction between the four nations of the UK: 60% of students in Scotland, where Scottish students do not pay tuition fees, felt they were getting good value, compared with 48% in Wales, 36% in Northern Ireland, and 35% in England.
It is tempting to conclude that the absence of fees in Scotland – something for which I have campaigned and continue to support – is the main reason for the marked geographical variation. It does, I am sure, play a part. But I think the report, and indeed the whole approach to assessing student satisfaction on the basis of value for money, require deeper exploration and challenge.
Education must not just be seen as the means of churning out economically viable and valuable cogs (students) for the labour market. There are innumerable studies that highlight the non-economic benefits of education. This is especially true of the education of women and girls. Education makes us more fulfilled and compassionate people, builds more equal and resilient communities and creates healthier and happier societies.
We must, I believe, resist the marketisation and commodification of education. We know that market forces do not – cannot – value what really matters. We know that tuition fees and inadequate financial support to live leads to debt. And we also know that the student debt repayment system is just a nonsense, being very complex and inefficient. But more than this, we know that debt is a way of disciplining workers: of forcing people to pursue market-valued careers that do not sustain human life, rather than the creative and caring careers that provide solace for the soul or care for our communities. People are driven out of and away from careers that are socially helpful, like nursing, teaching, caring, creating, just to repay debt. And they are forced to be compliant workers: profit maximisers in the neoliberal economic machine, not complaining, not causing a fuss.
And we know that debt is not only bad for the economy, it is bad for all of our mental health. Financial pressures are a major source of anxiety, depression and other ill-health for students and young people. The Hepi research finding that student wellbeing is decreasing should cause alarm bells to ring for all of us. Why support a system that we know makes us ill?
The Westminster government has created an environment in which public spending reduces year-on-year; where cuts have become a normalised part of service provision. And I profoundly reject this ideology.
I want a society that values education as a universal good; a society that gives people the chance to learn about music, the arts, philosophy (subjects facing cuts at every level of education) as well as science and technology; a society that seeks to support the creation of well-rounded, creative and caring people, not just atomised labour market fodder.
And so we should build an economic system with this at its heart: one where universal goods are provided by a healthy public sector that is supported by redistributive taxation and where the wealth of society is used to create health, happiness and better lives for everyone.

 

Oh Dear, Dr Greer

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Perhaps the first serious, scholarly book I ever read for pleasure, rather than as part of a syllabus, was The Female Eunuch. I can’t remember now how I came across a copy or who recommended it to me, but I most certainly can remember the experience of reading it; I had never thought about my place in the world, my life choices as a woman or my body in those terms before. I had never thought there was another way of thinking about these things, to be honest, and I knew instantly that this book was dangerous in my small ‘c’ conservative, large ‘C’ Catholic home. I read it mainly in the library when I was at college or when I was alone in my room, and certainly never dared to leave a copy lying around the house where my parents might find it. Apart from its primary message of female liberation, I was struck by the tone of self-acceptance, of sisterly encouragement and the remarkable idea that we as women can be ‘good enough’ entirely on our own terms. As the kind of teenager who was crippled with shyness, hamstrung by feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, and self-hatred, and who was sure she would never measure up to the standards of beauty displayed on TV and in magazines all around her, it was truly astonishing and empowering for me to read lines such as

“Status ought not to be measured by a woman’s ability to attract and snare a man.”

This book made me a feminist, without a doubt, but it also made me a kinder and more open-minded person too, I think; less likely to judge others by what passes for society’s standards relating to beauty, conduct, achievements or creativity, and more likely to seek out and listen to different and dissenting opinions from all sources.

Iconoclasm has always been one of Germaine Greer’s unique selling points, and of course a degree of this is necessary if any changes in society are ever to occur. For any change at all to happen, someone has to start by thinking the unthinkable, saying the previously unsayable and giving confident and articulate voice to unpopular opinions. Dr Greer has done this all her life, and while I have often disagreed with what she is saying, I have mostly admired her willingness to tackle difficult subjects. Over the years, it has been inspiring to hear her confident delivery of and navigation through problematic issues, particularly in a media world which hasn’t exactly been overburdened with eminent and articulate academic women. If I’ve ever previously thought that what she was saying was nonsense, well, so what? It would be a dull world if everyone cleaved to the same orthodoxy, wouldn’t it? And besides, where is the harm in listening to differing points of view? Surely that’s how we learn and progress?

But not this time. Not this time.

Speaking at the Hay literary festival this week, Dr Greer called for the lowering of punishment for rape, saying that it should be mostly viewed as “careless and insensitive” rather than as a violent crime. Warming to her theme, she said some rapes are just “lazy” and that the penalties for some rapes should be lowered. She suggested perhaps tattooing an ‘R’ on the hand, arm or cheek of rapists, and that community service would be an adequate and appropriate penalty. She also downplayed the trauma suffered by rape survivors, saying she doubted that the figures saying 70% of survivors suffer from PTSD are correct.

While it is worth bearing in mind that she was primarily speaking at the festival to promote her forthcoming book ‘On Rape’, and presumably believes that all publicity is good publicity, it is also likely that these views are included in the book itself. It is therefore almost certain that this conversation is a distillation of her real views, rather than just self-consciously controversial opinions dreamed up specifically to grab the headlines.
She is right, of course to start a discussion about how the current judicial system is failing when it comes to rape. Here are some 2017 England and Wales statistics illustrate the scale of the problem:

• 1 in 5 women aged 16 – 59 has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16
• Only around 15% of those who experience sexual violence choose to report to the police
• Approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped in England and Wales alone every year; that’s roughly 11 rapes (of adults alone) every hour
• Only 5.7% of reported rape cases end in a conviction for the perpetrator
• Around 80% of murders in the UK result in convictions

However, I cannot fathom how she thinks that the way to fix this appalling state of affairs is to minimise the crime itself, and trivialise the experience of the survivors. Blurring the lines like this is dangerous. Rape is never about bad manners, laziness or insensitivity. Rape is always an assault against and invasion of the person, and by ‘the person’ I of course mean your body. Someone physically invading your space in the most intimate way possible without your consent is an attack on your physical autonomy, whether accompanied by physical violence or not, and is always, always an abuse of power. It is worth repeating at this point that rape is always about power, and frequently about humiliation, and never about desire or lust alone. Men rape essentially because they can. Because they are stronger and more powerful than the survivor, and feel entitled to exercise that power to take what they want, when they want it.

The one characteristic shared by all the laughably few convicted rapists in this country (and presumably everywhere else) is denial. While some degree of remorse, and acceptance of culpability is necessary for most other prisoners before they can be considered for parole, this does not seem to happen with rapists. They can seemingly return to the town where their crime was committed on completion of their sentence, still denying that a) it was rape b) it was them or c) both of the above. This being the case, how on earth does Dr Greer think her remarks will be received by these men? Warmly, I would guess, as they will surely add her incendiary opinions as evidence to justify their warped narrative of events by adding d) it was no big deal anyway, so why the big fuss? to what passes for their worldview.

Dr Greer is a noted academic, a world-famous writer and broadcaster, and probably one of the world’s most celebrated feminists. She does not and never has claimed to speak for all women, but her position of prominence carries with it real responsibility for her words, and their message, and I cannot believe that she does not understand this. What she has said this week is dangerous, disingenuous, damaging, divisive and disgraceful; if it has been said with one eye on the headlines, it is also desperate. I never did believe in bra burning – neither did she, to be fair – and certainly would never advocate book burning, but that charring smell I can now scent is the bonfire of her reputation. She has forfeited the right to be taken seriously as a commentator by voicing these crass, insensitive and wrong-headed opinions, and I will never give credence or respect to a word she utters or writes again.

AUOB? Kick Out The Fascists

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Ball to the Wall

Tommy Ball

AUOB? Kick Out The Fascists

Why YES doesn’t need fascists marching under our banner

 

The Yes campaign/movement is one of the most remarkable organic movements in history. Opposed by the British government, the Crown, and all but one daily and Sunday newspaper (and increasingly, seemingly, by its own major political party), it seems to have lost little, if any, support in the four years since the first independence referendum. It retains its civic characteristic, having steadfastly refused to be racist or isolationist; violent or bigoted. This has disappointed a great many people on the British government side of the constitutional debate.

 

Yet we have a dirty little secret, and that secret needs to be outed, aired, and smashed.

 

We all have differing opinions on the value of marches and parades, and the participants therein (my own view of the latter coincides remarkably with my opinion on what sort of potatoes ought to be consumed on a Sunday). Let us concede that the independence march this month in Glasgow, at least, did no harm.

 

I was cheered to see a banner on the march bearing the legend TORY SCUM OUT. This annoyed precisely the right people. Staunch, florid-faced, tweed-wearing chaps who have spent their political careers defending rape clauses and poll taxes miraculously transformed into a bizarre cross between Maude Flanders and Kenneth Williams upon seeing it. Demands were made of Nicola Sturgeon – a First Minister who could never be accused of taking too close an interest in the wider Yes movement – to apologise for/immolate herself in a baby box in protest at/condemn the banner. Questions will be asked in Holyrood in the shrillest of fashions. Stephen Daisley was said to have collapsed in shock and was only induced back into consciousness by the wafting of a pie in front of several of his chins.

 

But here’s the thing. They were right.

 

Not about the content of the banner, nor that it was or is wrong to hate Tories. These people are worthy of our hatred and contempt. They force rape victims to undergo interrogations to prove they are worthy of state support. They pack black British citizens into aeroplanes and deport them to Jamaica. They drag disabled children into assessment centres to satisfy themselves that they’re “disabled enough” to deserve support. They are scum. And they do need ousted.

 

But what they don’t need to be ousted by is Siol nan Gaidheal, the makers of said banner. This is an ethnic nationalist grouping. A bona-fide blut und erde gang of fascists. They see our English neighbours not as partners in rebuilding our country, but as a fifth column; an enemy within.

 

It shames us to have such people marching in our demonstrations. And it needs to stop now. We pride ourselves on inclusiveness, but that inclusiveness can never and must never extend to those who would be exclusive. “Our” fascists are still fascists. And fascism must always be opposed.

 

What SnG is doing to us is exactly what Britain First is doing to Centrist Das. TORY SCUM OUT is our equivalent of “WANT TO STOP THIS PUPPY BEING TORTURED? LIKE THIS BRITAIN FIRST PAGE”. It’s not good enough. These people ought to be persona non grata-d from our campaign.

 

The problem with Unionism is that too many good people stood back and watched the far-Right take over on the ground. They normalised the far Right within Unionism. We don’t need that.

 

We need to exclude if we want to be inclusive. A nationalism which panders to fascism is not one of which I want any part.

 

The next time SnG turn up to a Yes march, imagine what you’d think of them if they carried a Union Jack instead of a Saltire.

 

The only thing a fascist needs is a boot to the face. He doesn’t need embraced by a campaign like ours.

 

I’d rather a break bread with a thousand Tories than a single Scottish fascist. Let’s nip it in the bud and nip it now.

 

 

Tommy Ball contributes to the Ungagged Podcast. You can find more of his Ungagged Writing here.

Weaponising Fragility

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Victoria Pearson

Weaponising Fragility

How Ruth Davidson betrayed women, yet again

On May 25th, in the late evening, Ruth Davidson tweeted that at lunchtime she had been followed through the streets by a man shouting Indy slogans while filming her as his dogs barked.

As someone who has experienced my fair share of street harassment (I speak about it on this podcast, skip to 1hr 10mins in if you want to listen), my heart went out to Ruth. I’ve got four children myself and I well understand how vulnerable pregnancy makes you feel. Ruth’s account of events reads as an incredibly scary experience – being chased by someone yelling slogans at you while dogs bark at you must be terrifying . My mental image of a pregnant woman running away from someone shouting at her while dogs terrified her further was powerful, as I’m sure a skilled orator like Davidson was well aware.

And then the footage of the incident emerged. I’ll link it here so you can come to your own conclusions,

But what I see in that video is very far from the events described by Ruth in her tweet. I see a constituent break into a slight jog in order to catch up with their elected representative and ask them a valid question in a respectful tone. At no point was the questioner rude, abusive or even loud. At no point did they cross into Ruth’s personal space – they were never in arms reach of each other.

Granted, some people are afraid of dogs, but the dogs in question were small, and well under control -at no point do they approach Ms Davidson – and cannot be heard barking on the video at all. Also, Ruth Davidson doesn’t appear to have a debilitating dog phobia:

And she doesn’t appear to feel at all threatened by the questioner. She turns her back on him, and walks away at a relaxed pace, surrounded by her colleagues. He wasnt intruding on her leisure time, or following her into a medical appointment, or bothering her on a bus – she is very obviously out at work, doing her job as an MSP.

On parliament.uk, it states that an MP (so presumably also an MSP who is leader of the Scottish branch of her party) “generally try to meet as many people as possible” so that they can gain “further insight and context into issues they may discuss when they return to Westminster”

It seems only fair then, to assume that answering politely worded queries from probable constituents is a key component of an elected representatives job.

Some may say that demanding time and attention from women on the street is harassment. In the vast majority of cases I would wholeheartedly agree. Indeed I make that same argument on my podcast about street harassment. But Ruth Davidson was not a lone woman on the street being harassed and intimidated for attention. She was a woman at work, and being asked questions is her job.

So surprise surprise, Ruth’s telling porky pies. Why am I moved to write about it? It’s not exactly new behaviour.

Well, quite apart from the fact that if that man hadn’t been filming the encounter, he could’ve got into serious trouble – either through legal means or the knock on social effects of having people erroneously believe you are an abusive man who chases terrified pregnant women through the streets with your furiously barking dogs; a woman with power was prepared to sacrifice the quality of life of a stranger in order to present a narrative, and that’s both cruel and breathtakingly manipulative.

The actions of women like Ruth Davidson who exaggerate and fabricate encounters like this are harmful to women and girls everywhere, and perpetuate rape culture by giving weight to the idea that women aren’t to be believed when we talk about very real instances of street harassment and abuse that we face every single day.

Every single time we talk about harassment and abuse, women are shouted down by people who talk about false allegations that ruin lives. For a woman in the public eye to make a false allegation of harassment is unforgivable. To make one that is so easily disproven shows, at best, political naivety that makes her unfit for her post, at worst a malicious streak wide enough to throw a probable constituent under the bus while simultaneously trashing every woman who has been brave enough to talk about their experiences of #everydaysexism , street harassment and abuse. Frankly put, how dare she trivialize our experiences in this way?

In the UK we have a woefully low conviction rate for rape and sexual assault, we have a culture of blame surrounding the victims of street harassment, any displays of solidarity or supportive dialogues women try to set up online are swamped by MRAs and “egalitarians” sliding in to derail conversations with cries of “well, actually…” And “but what about..?”, gaslighting survivors of abuse and suggesting the majority of accusations of abuse and harrassment are false, and Ruth Davidson has just handed them yet another weapon to attack us with. So much for sisterhood.

As a survivor of abuse, an endurer of street harassment, the mother of a daughter, a feminist -I will always instinctively #BelieveHer. Which is why I’ve nothing but contempt for those in the public eye that muddy the waters by weaponising an image of vulnerability in the way Ruth Davidson did in that encounter and the subsequent, clearly well thought out tweet that followed some hours later.

Shame on any woman that would throw us all under the bus by polluting dialogue about our very real experiences of street abuse with spurious accusations like this. I can only conclude with what those before me have said – Ruth Davidson, You Ain’t No Feminist, Sis.

 

 

 

Victoria is a regular contributor to the Ungagged Podcast, and you can read more of her Ungagged writing here

Too Poor for Prosperity?

Reading Time: 7 minutes
Nick Durie

The Scottish Government’s Growth Commission has raised more questions than it has answered, it has worried and angered many independence supporters, and far from starting a debate about the positive vision of the growing economy of an independent Scotland is has set independence supporters against one another on the basis of those who will support any policy proposal if it supports independence, and those who want out of the UK because of the model of society it represents.

During the independence referendum of 2014 many critics of the prospectus put before them by the Scottish Government was that in their view it was overly optimistic, that its claims were insufficiently supported by hard data, and that in places it was guilty of boosterism or magical thinking. The Growth Commission was created in response to these criticisms. It was tasked with showing how and independent Scotland could grow its economy and create the fairer society the YES campaign had argued for in a hard numbers driven analysis. Andrew Wilson, an ex-RBS economist was chosen to head the commission.

It took a number of years to publish its report and the commission took evidence from a range of contributors. There is much working in the report, which is lengthy and serious, but which nevertheless diverges very far from the 2014 vision of independence to such an extent that it too is guilty of magical thinking.

Andrew Wilson has talked about “inclusion”; the Scotland we seek to build needs to be more equal than the one we are leaving behind. However nowhere in the report’s 354 pages does it mention full employment, family wages, the beneficial effects of trade unions, or the multiplier effect of government spending. Apart from what is not in the report, there are other examples of magical thinking. The report commits to Sterlingisation. Politically this is not possible. It may be economically worth considering, but voters will be incredulous that this is the plan. Moreover buried on page 92 of the report are a series of monetarist principles which effectively advocate a straitjacket on public spending which, apart from being simply wrongheaded, will prove intensely electorally unpopular.

As Ben Wray, the Editor of Commonspace summarised this section today;

“The growth comm’s analysis is that they will inherit a deficit of 5.5% from rUK, and that this will need to be reduced within the transition period to no more than 3%, with no assumptions about growth and using the Pound Sterling this means it will have to be done through tax rises or spending cuts. They argue that on current growth and inflation rates this would mean a “cash terms increase” in public spending, i.e. a real terms fall. The rule they have for the transition period is that the deficit will always be lower than the growth rate – i.e. take more out of the Scottish economy through revenue than you put in through expenditure. The report does contain the proviso that if growth is very lower there may need to be a spending stimulus in the early years, but the general idea is fiscal consolidation.”

The SNP has fought one referendum and a number of elections arguing very precisely against this kind of politics. Austerity is electorally toxic. Moreover the traditional Unionist argument against independence is that it will lead to deepening austerity, as the Unionists believe, or claim to believe, that Scotland is economically poorer than the rest of the UK, and is subsidised by the Union. Unionist commentators, such as Kevin Hague, have observed with glee that the report apparently shares their analysis.

As well as the questions the report raises (such as why are we being asked to embrace monetarism and below growth public spending, and re-introduce Gordon Brown’s public sector borrowing requirement), the report has also been framed as a discussion document. However that has not stopped many in the movement seeing the report as an effective policy statement. This is dangerous for several reasons.

For prominent SNP blogger Peter A Bell, responding to this writer’s framing of the commitments to strong fiscal consolidation contained on page 92, as Sado-Monetarism, this was an unacceptably trenchant criticism,

“How I despise the pseudo-intellectualism of terms such as “sado-monetarism”. It positively reeks of those posturing, self-righteous, self-regarding, elitist Byres Road cappuccino Commies.”

Echoing very similar sentiments, polling blogger and independence supporter James Kelly reckoned,

“Whisper it gently, but the fact that the radical left are unhappy with today’s events may be no bad thing. Byres Road and the road to victory are not necessarily one and the same. #ScotRef”

Strong stuff, but these are indeed sentiments that suggest ‘discussion’ may not be so broad rangning as to enable the questioning of the particular type of economics that Mr Wilson has advocated. It also pays little heed to the fact that Wilson is advocating a major strategic shift to the right. In 2014 the Salmond administration advocated Keynesian economics, social democracy, reindustrialisation, full employment and a cradle to grave welfare state. As one social media commentator put it,

“I know this isn’t a policy declaration, but it is an alarming sign to people who are rightly sceptical of Westminster and the politics that have polluted the country for the past 30 years. It’s a worrying signal.”

The location of such concerns as elitest, and those of the middle class intelligentsia do not chime with my own experience of advocating those Salmond era policies, as an anecdote I recently retold illustrates.

“During the referendum I remember standing at a stall on the edge of the scheme being approached by a skagged out one legged man in early middle age, clearly slowly dying of leg abscesses from arterial injections. Anecdotally many heroin addicts die this way. This man adopted a socratic tone with me, speirin questions of the benefits of a YES vote. As I outlined the mission with our core messages (secure reindustrialisation, win full employment, restore family wages, and end benefit sanctions) he started to hirple away on his crutches. “Guid!” He said. “That’s how A votit that wey in the post. Just wantit tae check.” Alex Salmond’s SNP government and the YES campaign had engaged *this* man, a man slowly dying from his own miseries for the generalised want of those four things. It’s a far cry from banning pizzas to tackle “social exclusion.””

My own experience of making the argument for independence thousands of times on doorsteps has been that the promise of full employment is in fact the single most passionate and moving thing I can say about the prospect. Abandoning this policy in order to pursue monetarism and fiscal consolidation is unlikely to be anywhere near as popular.

This takes us to the social history of the independence debate and the YES movement’s composition itself. Independence actually has to be voted for, and the support for it is very demographically biased towards younger people, and working class people, who together form a majority of the population.

That is not to say that everyone in those demographics is convinced of independence but they are certainly more likely to endorse it than other cohorts of people. For the majority of those people their support is conditional, and stems from the history of our campaigns for this objective, and their relationship to our campaign messages, or as I prefer to look at it, our war aims.

Scotland is a very unequal society and the majority of people are not doing well out of the British system. As many who have spoken in defence of Mr Wilson’s proposed change of tack have claimed, there are sections of society which believe that a more equal society where everyone has a job and a decent home is unrealistic to achieve. Those people would be attacted towards a more conservative assessment of the benefits of having a new country, they claim. The trouble with this thinking is that there is no guarantee that shifting towards a radical right wing prospectus will go unnoticed by those who currently support independence because they believe it will be something hopeful in their lives and future chances. Those who espouse firm commitments to Thatcherite/monetarist principles in Scotland – while numerous in middle class encloves, ironically, like the foresaid Byres Road (I know this because I have canvassed that street many times with a Keynesian full employment message) – are far far less numerous than those without a ha’penny to rub together.

In light of this tension there is always the rejoinder – much in evidence this week – that after independence the people can choose whichever government they like. That’s true of course, but the problem with this assumption is that many people, perhaps a majority of voters, will not be voting on the idea that they can choose the government of an independent Scotland many years down the line, but on the prospectus put to them before the vote, for how an independent Scotland will look like. Pursuing policies in such a prospectus (which is essentially what Andrew Wilson has created: a policy document) which then go on to be unpopular, or unpopular with a number of previously supportive groups of people, could prove very destructive towards our chances of building an independence electoral majority.

To conclude then, in my view the basic analysis of the 79 group – that Scotland’s middle class will never embrace radical constitutional change as a bloc, and drive that change, and that they are a conservative demographic minority, and that the only way to overcome their check on social progress is by engaging the working class majority of Scotland – is both essentially true, obvious, and that therefore our task is to communicate the advantage to the working class of independence, to achieve sufficient working class and wider progressive turnout, to swamp the votes of conservative Scotland.

What Andrew Wilson proposes is a stark change of message for our movement, towards a more mainstream British vision of a monetarist, fiscally conservative Scotland. He devotes 354 pages to spelling out how this would work, but for all that he has talked of inclusion, he has ignored previous highly successful messages of support for full employment and reindustrialisation, which electrified working class Scotland in 2014, but which our campaign had insufficient discipline to get to turn out and defeat the organised phalanx of conservative Scotland, which already has the right wing Scotland it wants.

It is unclear what possible benefit there may be behind turning the independence movement against itself on whether to embrace the right wing changes he advocates or not, but it seems fairly clear it plays into the hands of those who say that Scotland is too poor to achieve prosperity for all. Simply surrendering to this miserable doctrine in lengthy technicolour seems both very unlikely to convince them to embrace change but very certain to upset a lot of good people, while creating an atmosphere of hostility within the movement between those horrified at the economic volt face, and those more horrified at what they perceive as a breach of discipline.