Sunday, 19 June 2016

Scottish Labour should apologise for the violence in Scottish politics

Since the tragic events of last week, there has been the most unseemly, grubby rush to the gutter by Unionist activists in Scotland. 

STV's "digital political editor", an extreme-right wing shock jock, seems to have immediately considered how he could use i) the murder of a young mother; and ii) his position at STV to attack the SNP. 

Others have chosen to compare the Yes campaign to the fascist terrorist who murdered Jo Cox in cold blood.

The Unionists have whined incessantly about how "divisive" the independence referendum was (of course, Unionist-held referendums in 1979 and 1997 were in no way divisive, and were instead celebrations of British democracy). 

(If readers will forgive me for wandering off on an unrelated tangent, I would also point out that the 2014 referendum, in which the Unionists scored 55% to the Nationalists' 45% was presented as "an overwhelming defeat for ra nats", whilst the 1979 equivalent, where the Unionists scored 48% to the Devolutionists' 52%, was taken by the British to be a win for the Unionists.)

Perhaps we might examine how this "division" came to be. There was certainly no hate speech or violence from the Yes side during the referendum. 

Violence and hate was introduced into Scottish politics by the Scottish Labour party (along with other Unionist fellow-travellers; although Scottish Labour hold the primary responsibility for it) during the 2014 referendum. 

While they had perpetrated a shameless, personalised hate campaign against Alex Salmond for many years previously, it took on a sinister new turn during the referendum. 

Scottish Labour's leader in Westminster at the time, Margaret Curran, even laughed and joked in an interview about the possibility of Alex Salmond MSP being killed, going as far as to say that should Salmond meet his death, she would "not ask who" was responsible. 

Later in the campaign, Curran said she would be "uncomfortable" if there were to be a foreigner in her family, using precisely the same phraseology later employed by Ukip fuhrer Nigel Farage, where he said he, too, was "uncomfortable" with foreigners on his train. 

Ukip, trying to whip its core voters a certain way, saying they'd be "uncomfortable" sharing a train with foreigners; Scottish Labour, trying to whip its core voters a certain way, saying they'd be "uncomfortable" sharing a family with foreigners. 

One of the grubbier legacies of the referendum was the constant, inexcusable effort by the Unionists to harness the far-Right. They pulled the genie out of the bottle to help save the Union, and struggle now to stuff it back in. Nobody will forget the wild celebrations of Scottish Labour when Scotland elected a fascist, David Coburn, to be its final MEP ahead of the SNP and the Green party.

Scottish Labour's hatred of the Yes campaign - and, increasingly, of Scotland itself - was so ferocious and so unyielding that they preferred a boost to fascism than a fillip for independence. 

Scottish Labour weren't alone in the Unionist side in excusing, enabling, and condoning fascism to try to hurt the Yes campaign: the repulsive William Rennie, leader of some Liberals (fresh from publishing racist, anti-Arab caricatures on his social media account in a lowbrow attempt to bait Alex Salmond), leapt to the defence of Nigel Farage, the leader of Britain's fascists, when he was confronted by Left-wing pro-independence protesters in Edinburgh.

Whilst the rest of the civilised world opposes fascists, with people in the United Kingdom, including Scotland, having a particularly proud record in vocal rejection of fascism, Rennie chose to back fascism rather than be seen to stand with pro-independence people, demanding, with crushing inevitability, that "Salmond must condemn" people who were neither members of, nor - in the main - supporters of his party for refusing to give a fascist house room. If that wasn't enough, Liberal UK Cabinet minister (at the time) Danny Alexander also campaigned along with fascist MEP David Coburn.

However, it was Scottish Labour whose choice to stand with fascists against working-class Scots would resound the most. Whether it was Aberdeen Labour MP Anne Begg campaigning alongside the leader of the National Front, a Labour council diverting taxpayers' funds to fund a fascist group's intimidatory parade, or their Better Together campaign sharing the BNP's social media output, every single time they had to make a choice between standing with fascists and standing with pro-independence campaigners, they cooried right in with the Nazis. 

As sickening as their cavorting with actual fascists to save their Union was the hate speech. Mentioned above was Margaret Curran's unconscious echoing of Nigel Farage's "discomfort" of foreigners, and the laughing about the prospect of Alex Salmond's death.

But, as Alex Massie pointed out after the horrendous tragedy in Yorkshire, if one continually screams "breaking point", one mustn't be surprised if a follower eventually breaks. And like night follows day, after Scottish Labour said that if Alex Salmond was to be killed, there would be no questions asked (imagine the levels of hate required for an actual Shadow Secretary of State to make a comment like that), the death threats and intimidation started. 

The awful stories in the newspaper about the threats of violence, and worse, being sent to female MPs didn't come out of nowhere: Scottish Labour circled the wagons around their then-MP Ian Davidson, when he threatened to violently assault a SNP MP (the same Scottish Labour MP - chillingly, in light of last week's horrors - subsequently went on to discuss stabbing "wounded" Yes supporters to death), refused to remove the party whip from him, and conducted a campaign against the female victim of his threat.

One Unionist from Glasgow mused that he "might assassinate Alex Salmond", whilst an Aberdonian fellow-traveller threatened to "slit Salmond's throat right open". The dénoument of the dehumanisation of the then-First Minister by Scottish Labour, and the death threats - all of which went uncondemned by the struggling pro-Union party - was an actual attack on Salmond, where an enraged (is there any other sort?) Unionist tried to run the First Minister's official car off the road.

If he had been killed, I wonder if Margaret Curran would have "asked who was driving" the vehicle?

The outcome, of course, was the violence from Unionists during the referendum campaign. A Labour MP battered a woman handing out Yes leaflets at a polling station. A Unionist battered an octogenarian Yes campaigner with such ferocity that he was hospitalised. Yet another Unionist threw a chair at an eight-year-old child for daring to attend a Yes event. And a pro-independence MSP was throttled by still another Unionist. And, worst of all, a Unionist kicked a pregnant woman the stomach. 

The day after the referendum, Unionists rioted in Glasgow, attacking and beating Yes supporters; during which they firebombed the Sunday Herald - then the only Yes-supporting newspaper in the country. 

Firebombing newspapers, death threats to and assaults on the First Minister, full-scale rioting, and vicious assaults on their opponents: and on not a single occasion did Scottish Labour condemn the violence, the intimidation, the threats and the abuse, nor did it ever call off its supporters. 

Scottish Labour collaborated with fascists during the referendum and cannot reasonably express surprise that those same fascists are now emboldened. They used violence and hate as a political tactic. They should apologise now, and they should repent. 

The take-home message is this:

When the Left and Yes campaigners came onto the streets to oppose fascism, the Unionists either sat on their hands, or came out to support the fascists. They put the Union ahead of anti-fascism. 

They legitimised fascism.

They hold, and they know it, no little responsibility for the fascists being emboldened. 

Shame, shame, shame on them.

In the interests of balance, I feel I also must, in response to the partial list of violence and aggression by Scottish Labour above, give a full account of violence from the Yes side to the Unionists, which follows below. 

1. Someone hit a man on the shoulder with an egg. His shirt got dirty. It came out in the wash.

2. That's it

Monday, 13 June 2016

We need to talk about Scottish homophobia

and I don't mean pursing our lips and tutting about secondary school children calling bands they don't like "gay". 

We need to talk about entrenched, institutionalised homophobia. Not old grannies on buses wishing that "they'd do it, but not talk about it in public", but homophobia on a scale of government. 

This week, we witnessed the largest-scale massacre of gay people because they were gay in the West since the Holocaust. Regardless of how the media may try and deny the homophobia inherent in the Orlando massacre; regardless of how they try to spin this as Muslims attacking the Western way of life, it has a simple explanation: a Western man who hated gay people attacked a gay bar with a submachine gun with the aim of killing gay people. 

Hours after the attack, the First Minister tweeted her condolences, showing a photograph of the rainbow flag flying at half-staff over Government Buildings. She said "Scotland stands in solidarity with the people of Orlando, and with LGBTI communities around the world".

Ruth Davidson, the Unionist leader who has done so much - so quietly, and with such dignity - to bring gay people into the mainstream of Scottish society, traveled to London to stand watch at a vigil for the victims. 

But aren't these just mealy-mouthed platitudes in the face of the reality? Omar Mateen was inspired to commit his massacre by his belief that gay people did not deserve the full civil and human rights enjoyed by the rest of society.

Yet Nicola Sturgeon, who claims to stand in solidarity with the gay community, not only tolerates people who shares Mateen's beliefs, but shelters them in her Cabinet. 

Not just a random MSP, not just a junior minister, but two actual Cabinet Ministers share Mateen's views that gay people should not be extended the full civil rights the rest of society have.

Can one possibly marry the First Minister's kind, and no doubt heartfelt words, with her actions in which she chose to make homophobic bigot Roseanna Cunningham her Environment Secretary? When she speaks of "solidarity" with the gay community, are we supposed to put to one side her homophobic Rural Secretary, Fergus Ewing, who has consistently and volubly sought to extend to gay people fewer civil rights than heterosexual people?

How can her "solidarity" be viewed with anything other than contempt when considered alongside a government which contains homophobic bigots like Cunningham, Ewing, and Europe Minister Alasdair Allan, who shares with the above, and with Mateen, a view that gay people do not deserve full civil rights, and has spent much of his political career attempting to block civil rights for gay people?

When, in her group of MSPs, she shelters homophobes like deputies Lyle, MacDonald, Thompson and Mason, who have fought to prevent gay people being extended the full panopoly of rights and privileges afforded their heterosexual compatriots (one of whom votes in such a fashion with the greatest of hypocrisy)?

And as for Ruth Davidson, the self-styled "Opposition Leader"? At least our First Minister has the excuse that she, not being gay, cannot feel the pain felt by the gay community at her continued promotion and tolerance of those who believe that civil rights should not be availed of by gay people. 

Davidson does not have that excuse, and yet she has tolerated and promoted Murdo Fraser, Gavin Brown, Liz Smith and Margaret Mitchell.

It is not often that this blog makes anything other than a moue of distaste and occasional disgust towards the secondary Unionist leader, Kezia Dugdale. But of the three Mateenite bigots in her parliamentary party in the last term, she - deliberately or not - saw to it that two of them, MacMahons Siobhan and Michael, did not return to Holyrood, and that the third was defeated in her bid to be our Presiding Officer. 

Dugdale alone comes out of this with credit. 

Sturgeon, and to a lesser extent, Davidson, emerge from this most appalling tragedy increasingly looking like they are content to shelter fellow-travelers of the Orlando murderer. 

We don't need your sympathy or your solidarity. We need you to act. 

And your first action must be to remove from your front-bench team, and then from your party, those who do not believe that gay people should be granted basic civil rights to match the heterosexual majority.