All decent minded people were shocked and horrified at the murder of 6 year old Alesha McPhail in the early hours of Monday morning. The fact it happened in Rothesay on the island of Bute, a place most Scottish people associate with summer days out and the last place you would expect bad things to happen intensified that.
But there was one person who saw this not as a tragedy but as an opportunity to further their hateful agenda. That person was, of course, right wing Uber-troll Katie Hopkins.
Hopkins immediately sought to link the murder of this little girl with the fact that, in 2015, 24 refugee families from Syria settled on the island. There is absolutely no reason to think any of these individuals was in any way responsible for this crime. Hopkins then posted an article implying a correlation between the arrival of the refugees and a 29% increase in sex crimes. At first glance this might seem a worrying and compelling statistic but upon closer inspection it falls apart for several reasons.
1. The statistics apply to Argyle & Bute Council, an area that encompasses over 80,000 people of which the island of Bute makes up barely 8% of the population.
2. The relatively large percentage rise between the two years quoted is mainly due to an unusual reduction in the first year, and over a wider period of time numbers of sex crimes have remained relatively constant.
3. The time period she quotes the refugee families didn’t actually arrive until the very end of the year and the vast majority of these crimes were committed before their arrival.
As an island with a falling population, the settlement of Syrian families has been an overwhelmingly positive thing for Bute. Upon their arrival locals ran welcoming committees to help what must’ve been a difficult transition from Damascus to Rothesay. There may have been trepidation from some local people initially but that seems to have subsided and three years on former Refugees have opened a barbershop and a patisserie on the island.
Today a graffiti artist summed up the feelings of Scotland rather succinctly:
We at Left Ungagged would like to echo that sentiment and categorically state that Scotland Welcomes Refugees and we agree that we would like Katie Hopkins to GTF.
The carnival is in my soul, I love it so very much. The smells, the sights and the sounds. It fills my senses with nostalgia and excitement. I’m sure this is true for many of us. As I wrote last time about Showmen this is another sad tale of a Fair that’s being treated not so fairly.
Feltham showmen have a history spanning over a century, residing in Feltham, in the council borough of Hounslow, just south of the M4 and West of London. On a bit of land that was formerly an orchard and piggery, descendants of the original plot owners today still live in chalets, brick built homes and caravans. Doing the same job their forefathers done. Bringing joy and fun to many areas around London including Wimbledon Common and Ravenscourt Park.
From wee babies to elderly residents, this community of showfolk are under threat. 60% of the land is privately owned by the Showmen families, however Hounslow council own 40%. Hounslow council have been reviewing their housing stock, they say the new London Plan requires Hounslow to provide 21,800 new homes over the next 10 years. It is no surprise then that such a perfect spot for commuting is under threat of redevelopment. But it is a surprise to the hundreds of residents that already live there.
On June 11th, Hounslow council leader Steve Curran said “The Feltham Masterplan… identifies the Station Estate Road ‘Travelling Show Peoples’ site as having potential for redevelopment for housing due to its close proximity to the train station and town centre.”
“In order to identify a suitable alternative site, we have carried a detailed assessment of the current and future needs of the existing Traveling Show People community at Station Road. We have also carried out a “Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Assessment (GTAA)”, which is a borough-wide assessment.
We continue to look for a suitable alternative site and engage with the community to assess their needs”.
I wondered about this impact assessment, as I covered in my last article, showmen are a unique culture. Business people who have mastered the art of logistical nightmares, literally living their livelihood. How can a Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Assessment take into account unique traits of the showman? Most with a home base, a large static chalet or even brick built homes. Often in yards where they can maintain their vehicles and machines. A showman may move vehicles and machines several times a day from fairground site to yard to stadiums, many will stay with their machines and vehicles on site but many also return home to their base. Where their children attend school and elderly relatives are cared for.Hounslow council say they carried out an impact assessment. So we had a look at the Hounslow Bedfont Lane and Station Estate Road TSP Accommodation Assessment.
This GTAA is a 33 page document, outlining the various types of accommodation that the showman use. The trouble is, without fully understanding the complex working and travelling routines of showmen, it would be easy to misconstrue the facts being presented to us. If the majority of households in the showman sites have mobile homes, then what is the problem with just moving elsewhere?
Except, that isn’t the case. A showman’s household may span several generations, elderly grandparents may reside with up and coming young showmen, some members of the household may travel from fairground to fairground, while others stay at their static site, in brick homes and bungalows, as well as modern chalets, often costing tens of thousands of pounds.
Does this assessment give a fair representation of the showman community in Feltham?
We asked showman spokeswoman Yasmin Parnham her opinion on the situation:
“While the GTAA does reflect on us and it does show indeed we have a need for additional yards due to growth within the families and business. We have given Opinion Research Services our full co operation but even though the assessment was complete we had to push the leader of the council for us to see the report even though we knew they had it we hadn’t seen the results.
We have been in total shock after finding out from a councillor Elizabeth Hughes sometime ago that our land was identified for compulsory purchase order, this she told a fellow showman in the local pub, since then we have been trying to get more information about this.
Showmen have lived on this site for 4 generations over 150 years when infact it was originally a pig farm and an orchard, Feltham has built up around us, we are the only ones included in the masterplan to be under threat of losing our homes.
I have been seeking help from all over and our local ward councillor John Chatt told me in a recent meeting how very upset he was over losing his local labour club where he used to drink, he was quite mortified I said ‘John that’s a club and you feel like this imagine how we feel this is our homes and livelihoods!’”
The local community have been rallying with the showmen and residents under threat from this Feltham Master Plan. The local Victoria Junior School Year 4 children were learning about the history of Feltham and were outraged by the story of the Showman’s site and offered to help. Lawyers have offered their services, thousands of messages of support have been flowing into the inbox of Yasmin and now have over ten thousand members (and growing!) on their facebook page. Although it is often misunderstood, the life of the showman is intrinsically linked with the community in which they live for the off season. That home base is just that, their home. Can you imagine being told in the pub that your home was under threat? How would you feel if your neighbour came to tell you that your council was proposing new homes where your home was? If the council have identified like for like alternative sites for this showman community then why don’t they build new homes there and leave this site alone? I asked Yasmin how the whole ordeal has impacted her:
“The threat of losing our homes is taking its toll on our elderly, there has been heart attacks, deaths and some of my friends are now on antidepressants through anxiety and stress, I have been too recently!
My own father has had a heart attack and has prostate cancer, whilst in his hospital bed he said if I manage to get through this we will fight the council…”
Please digest that for a moment. A specific group of people in a community under threat are getting sick through this whole ordeal, mental health is being affected, physical illnesses exacerbated and sick and hospitalised people are fighting for their homes! In Great Britain. In the 21st century.We can’t let these hardworking, community minded, culturally rich and historic folk fight this by themselves. Showmen the length and breadth of the countries of the United Kingdom will be fighting together, have no doubt. Let’s support them. Because remember our communities would be poorer without carnivals and fairs. What is a gala without a bouncey castle? What is a Highland games without a hook a duck? These events are vital boosts to lagging local economies. What is happening in Feltham to the Showman community isn’t fair.
I want to finish with the words of a Showman, because this is their story, I’m just sharing it.
“In 2018 should we not be trying to integrate our communities rather than making the showmen social outcasts on the edge of town!
Feltham has created what other towns have failed to do, they have a community that is made up of so many diverse groups of people that even though they are very different to each other they do not see themselves as separate groups but as one large community!
Is this not what every borough should be striving to achieve, rather than tearing it apart?”
As Britain’s Armed Forces Day approaches Scotland Against Militarism and others are working against the upcoming UDT Arms Fair due to be held at the SEC events centre in Glasgow on June 28th and 29th.
When we tell most people, even those who claim to be fully switched on and up to date about politics they are shocked to hear that an Arms Fair is coming to Glasgow, and sometimes even deny that it could be sponsored and supported by the Glasgow SNP-led council. This has been one of the biggest challenges for us to overcome, the fact that the council and the SNP group of councillors have done their best to hide the fact that they silently support this.
But as always, money talks. The SEC, which is 90% owned by the council, will be hosting the event. It’s important to name and shame who we are dealing with, the key people who are involved in this through the council are David McDonald the deputy leader of the council and public defender of the Arms Fair within the city chambers. He claims that it is simply a technological conference and that Trident is not involved, despite having speakers, displays and information relating to Trident at the conference, as well as a student recruitment drive led by Trident experts taking place at the event. The logo for the entire event involves trident – you would think they would do their research.
More hypocritical is Susan Aiken’s approach who claimed she only found out about the Arms Fair a few months ago despite being head of the Council and Glasgow Life. She has defended the Palestinian cause in the past but sees no issue with Israeli Defence Force technology being promoted at the conference and companies which are linked to the IDF being there. Some of the technology present at the conference will be the same tech which continues to oppress the people of Palestine but also keep them within from the land as well as the sea with underwater detection.
S.A.M (Scotland Against Militarism) and activists from CAAT Scotland (Campaign Against The Arms Trade) have been doing most of the ground work in Glasgow and beyond to try to get the event cancelled or at the very least remove council support. Recently we have held demonstrations outside the city chambers and outside Susan Aiken’s surgery where we confronted her about her support for the Arms Fair. She claims that cancelling the Arms Fair would damage the city’s reputation. The opposite is true, it will show Glasgow doesn’t deal with warmongering/human rights abusers such as Israel. Also the fact that the SNP-led council will only speak to us when we turn up at their surgery’s unannounced shows a real democratic deficit, despite David McDonald saying he would always be happy to meet with us, he also gave no reason for cancelling his surgery when Scotland Against Militarism announced our day of action.
Before that we met with Green MSP’s who gave their backing to the protest on the 26th of June at SEC.
We have a lot of actions lined up in the days and weeks ahead, we want to make it clear to the council that we won’t stop the disruption until they remove their support for this trident showcase. With the council blatantly lying about the links to trident we have no choice but to step up our campaign.
We urge everyone to get involved by contacting their elected representatives, taking part in actions and attending the protest weekend we have planned. 26th June: Mass protest 8am/10am, 27th: #ArtsNotArms a festival of music and Arts Against the Arms Fair, 28th: TBC
Scotland Against Militarism welcomed the news of the removal of the People Make Glasgow logo, but we won’t be backing down until full support is removed.
Scotland Against Militarism and the Sink UDT Campaign first pushed for them to remove the branding with our meeting with Susan Aitken, this was not a decision that the council came to themselves.
Most of all it shows that people power works and that the council realise they have got it completely wrong, but they are still refusing to remove full support. They recognise that people have claimed the brand but what they don’t realise is that people own the city too and we are not putting up with this.
We won’t be backing down until they remove their full support for the event, nothing less. Otherwise they are simply hiding their interests.
It can be difficult sometimes to gauge what will provoke a reaction in politics. It’s been commented on that Brexit doesn’t seem to have had as big a political impact in Scotland as was forecast. The events of the past few days suggests that may be changing.
I suspect many Scottish people – indeed many British people – still haven’t fully recovered from those crazy weeks after the Leave vote when the UK didn’t really have a government and no-one knew what the hell was going on. True, the UK now has a government of sorts but it’s still the case that no-one knows what the hell is going on, least of all that government.
In Scotland bemused despair at the antics of a UK leadership which is patently unable to agree a workable form of Brexit is deepened by the fact that the overwhelming majority voted to remain in the EU. At least down south a small majority voted to leave, even if many of them did so in the false expectation that the Leave side had a plan. For most Scots, though, the idea of leaving the EU was – and is – self-evidently bonkers. And everything that has followed on from that disastrous Leave vote has continued to be bonkers.
Small wonder political commentators have struggled to analyse Scottish public opinion. Basically, the average Scot wishes the EU referendum had never happened and that they could wake up – Pam Ewing style – and realise it was all just a bad dream. Especially that surreal bit tacked on at the end about Donald Trump being elected President and meeting Nigel Farage in a golden lift.
This kind of political environment has made it challenging, to say the least, for the SNP. One of the key problems around the Brexit debate has been that it’s all so damned legal. A debate about the (as yet theoretical) repatriation of powers from Brussels was never going to set the heather on fire, was it? Except that it did.
OK, when the Scottish Parliament declined consent for the EU Withdrawal Bill it didn’t set the heather on fire. It didn’t even really set twitter on fire, a medium far more flammable than heather. But when the UK Government over-rode that lack of consent with calculated contempt and SNP MPs walked out of parliament after they were denied a serious debate – woosh! Up the heather went.
Not only has the SNP gained thousands of new members but reports have been coming in from across the nation of “real people” being overheard discussing the issue and supporting the SNP’s position. What exactly is going on?
It is not, in my view, an endorsement of the SNP walking out of Westminster for good. Far from it. Rather, I think it’s a recognition of the hard work SNP elected members have been putting in to defend Scottish interests and a shared annoyance at the contemptuous response.
Like them or loathe them, I think most people would have to admit SNP parliamentarians have put in a hell of a shift on Brexit.
From the very first days following the Leave vote Scottish Government ministers – supported by the SNP’s elected members at all levels – have worked diligently and seriously to protect and support EU citizens, to make the case for the UK remaining in the single market and customs union, to argue the positive case for freedom of movement and to argue for a fair and consensual approach on the repatriation of powers, one which protects the devolution settlement.
On the whole they have received widespread if occasionally grudging support for their efforts and, I suggest, earned a degree of respect even from those who are not their natural allies. The cross-party support for the emergency Continuity Bill demonstrates this.
Labour argues that devolution is “their” project and that therefore the SNP’s effort to protect the devolution settlement is opportunistic and essentially bogus. But the SNP has done a good job working to protect devolution, as well as working to argue for the least terrible form of Brexit at a UK level – work that Labour should have been doing, but hasn’t been. I think people recognise that.
That’s why the casual contempt from the UK Government and Tory MPs at Westminster has actually shocked people. It’s almost as shocking as the lack of concern shown by Brexiteers for the impact of their pet project on the Good Friday Agreement. The whole debate has shown up what narrow nationalism really means. A complete lack of care and thought for the distinct interests of the devolved nations of the UK by a group of politicians who appear more clown-like by the day.
This is now having a political impact in Scotland. Surprising people are contemplating independence and, if not exactly embracing the idea, wondering if it might not be the least worst option.
It’s absolutely vital in my view to understand the political dynamics of this. Yes, the MPs walkout was a dramatic moment. But it only had an impact because of the months and years of hard work that preceded it.
There’s a clear lesson here I believe for the independence campaign. If we work hard, if we make our case in a serious and evidence-based way people will listen to us. They won’t necessarily agree with everything we say but they will respect us for working to earn their trust and they will give us a fair hearing.
The same, of course, is true of those who believe in the Union – but they are hampered by that very cause which ties them to a Westminster system of government which has been exposed over the past few days as being antiquated, inept and downright farcical, requiring MPs to scurry in and out of lobbies like mice in a maze and devoting nineteen minutes exactly to overturning the serious political work of decades, with backbench Tory MPs who haven’t had a serious political thought in years braying like donkeys as they did so.
This does not have to be our future. Bemused despair does not have to be our response to this boorach. The impact of Brexit can lead us in a completely different direction and I think something really changed this week to make more people understand this. We still have a mountain to climb but the way forward is, I believe, a bit clearer and more people are coming to join us on the journey. We should welcome them with open arms.
You can read more of Mhairi’s writing here or listen to her and other contributors on our podcast
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.
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!
“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.
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.
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.
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.
Hence the logic behind banning some plastic convenience items, such as straws that was featured in my last article on the subject, Plastic Pleurisy.
Now the newest great idea is to ban wet wipes. There has been a bit of an uproar from parents on the issue, there’s many articles that share parents concerns. But do I even need to mention the needs of the disabled? Yes, it seems I do.
Now, you’ve a wee baby and how gross to imagine carrying about a wet rag you’ve just used to clean up a really dirty nappy. Now imagine that baby is a grown adult. Are you still carrying about that cloth? No, no you are not, it’s probably binned. Adding to the every growing number tonnes of rubbish in our dumps.
Double incontinence is a concern for many disabled people who want to go out in public, wet wipes are a necessity. Not a convenience. Yes wet wipes shouldn’t be flushed, and they are causing huge fatbergs in sewer systems around the country.
What is a fatberg? It is a huge build up of mass in a sewer that is caused by things that aren’t meant to be flushed down the loo. There was a whole program about it, where they dissected one, if you want to physically balk when you watch tv then its not hard to find the link online. But here in Scotland we have adverts on tv telling us how our water systems work and regularly advertise what and what not to put down the loo. I think education is a better alternative than flat out bans.
The needs of disabled folk are quickly becoming afterthought in Tory tokenistic environmental policy, and it’s the afterthought that irks me so much. But that’s to be expected from a party who’s welfare reform can be called nothing else than a bureaucratic attack on the sick and disabled citizens of their own country. What’s surprising and depressing tho is the ableist responses from the general public;
Apart from the clearly ableist commentary, the backlash is growing against parents who know what disabled/changing room facilities are like. (Let’s be honest, they are usually one and the same.) There is no bidet and they almost always already smell of poo. There is the cries of “what did you do before wet wipes existed?” and that is true, I asked my 77 year old mum what she used to use, she told me a natural sponge, however there wasn’t many public changing facilities. And of course, babies were in natural terry towelling nappies. As for disabled folk, well my mother recalls seeing the first public disabled toilet in the 70’s, before then disabled folk were rarely seen out. Most likely ostracised from their communities and societies for reeking of pish.
Sometimes disabled folk are stuck in bed, and besides the uncomfortableness of a bed bath, it’s quite humiliating to have someone else clean your private parts. There’s a dignity some folk don’t even have the privilege of having. I’m not going to go down the line of telling you all about catheters, digital stimulation of bowels, adult diapers and other toilet stuff, I’m gonna guess you also go to the loo, you know sometimes you get a dodgy tummy, I’m sure I don’t need to go into the details of why a packet of wet wipes is an essential item in a bug out bag for any disabled person.
What I am gonna do however is talk about actual non essential plastics. Things that no-one needs whatsoever and is a waste of plastic.
No 1. Balloons, now my mum says I’m a party pooper for this one, but really what is a balloon for? Those plastic foil, usually filled with helium (which by the way is in short supply and essential for running MRI machines) and attached to a plastic string. We blow them up and give them for celebrations where they are put in a corner to slowly deflate and wilt away, only to be flung in the bin or they float away still filled with precious gases and end up in the ocean anyway.
No 2. Plastic wrap on things made of plastic. If plastic is so durable it can stay in our environment for centuries, and won’t break down naturally then how come we need to wrap up plastic garden chairs in plastic cling film? That seems a real waste of plastic.
No 3. Plastic coffee stirrers. Apart from the fact you can stir your coffee with practically anything else, why do we have little strips of plastic in the billions, available next to plastic pots of milk and sugar at many a coffee shop and canteen?
So there are three other plastic things, totally unessential to anybody. Total frivolous waste of plastic, plastic that will probably end up in our oceans. I want to tackle plastic pollution as much as any other tree hugging environmentalist. I want to save our planet, it’s the only one we have. Mother Nature is my deity and I don’t want to offend her, but I am so sick of bearing the brunt of powerful people’s decisions. Please think before you ban plastic products that of are real use in making disabled people’s lives easier. We don’t want a return to hiding in institutions, hospitalised indefinitely and made to feel ashamed to go out in public. I obviously don’t speak for all disabled folk, but I speak as a human who was once fully abled bodied. I never expected to suddenly soil myself in Ikea, I didn’t know some student nurse would give me a bed bath when I had my periods in hospital.
And that is the other thing, this ban of wet wipes is also classist. Imagine being homeless or having no access to hot water. How could you stay clean? What if it happened to you? We are all human beings, we all have to take responsibility, that is true. But can we just think of each other before we start banning stuff?
The UN must recognise Palestine’s right to exist, says leading Human Rights Campaigner
Today 136 out of 193 UN member states have formally recognised Palestine. The UK needs to show some leadership and be amongst the first Western European countries to recognise Palestine and its right to self-determination.
British Government already recognises the principle that the Palestinian people have an inalienable right to self-determination but has not granted this officially because it wants to reserve the right to do so at a moment of its choosing to best help bring about peace.
That moment is now. Recognition is a good starting-point for negotiations and would help guarantee that the focus of talks is about how Palestine becomes a viable and secure sovereign state – not whether it becomes one. Denying recognition as the current British government is doing is entirely at odds with the principle of self-determination.
Of course, neither Israel nor Palestine’s right to exist should be subject to veto or any kind of conditions and we must actively challenge any refusal by either side to deny the other’s right to exist. It can be difficult to understand the scale of the human tragedy that is occurring on this narrow strip of land, day in day out. Not just when the camera crews and journalists are there, but every single day.
It’s vital that human rights violations and violence on all sides cease and that the international community take strong action to hold the perpetrators to account.
One of those core causes is the eternal question mark that hangs over Palestine’s right to exist. Recognition would help the process of removing that question mark and allow Israelis and Palestinians to look forward to a future defined by equality, justice, freedom and peace.
In Gaza, entire families sit in the darkness of their living rooms, with candles creating the only light. Thousands of families have lost loved ones in house fires. Gaza’s residents face so much struggle and pain, just to secure one of life’s basic necessities.
Today, if you ask Palestinians in Gaza how they are doing, they might respond: “Alive, due to lack of death.” This commonly used expression captures the misery of everyday life in Gaza.
Every second in Gaza under Israel’s blockade – where water and medical care are luxuries – is tainted by tragedy. Every time a family can’t afford to put food on the table, every time a house fire claims yet another victim, every time a cancer patient can’t acquire life-saving treatment or another desperate human ends their life, the dreadfulness of the blockade comes into full view.
The UN has declared Gaza “unliveable”, and the blockade creates a passive, collective death. What will it take to convince the international community that the people of Palestine, like all humans on this Earth, deserve to live in dignity?
So long as Israel maintains great control over Palestinian lives but denies them their basic rights and freedoms, it cannot call itself a democracy.