On 28 July a gender critical woman demonstrator, Julie Marshall, was “punched in the face” by a political opponent in Aberdeen. The man who struck her was questioned and issued with a police caution not to punch people.
He was neither arrested nor charged.
A month later, Scottish Government minister Patrick Harvie was giving a TV interview at the scene of the forthcoming Rutherglen byelection when a man heckled him, calling him a “deviant”. Harvie responded that the man was a “bigot”.
The heckler has now been arrested and charged, though when Stuart Campbell spoke with Police Scotland, they refused to confirm with what offence he had been charged.
Now we might conclude from this that Police Scotland believe it is not a serious criminal matter to punch a woman in the face in the street, but it is a serious matter to call someone a deviant in the street.
Or we might conclude that Police Scotland is very heavily politicised. That it is at the beck and call of ministers. That it has taken sides in the “culture wars” debate that poisons Scottish politics.
The latter explanation is obviously true. This is not an isolated incident;
- The prosecution of Mark Hirst for saying that those who plotted to fit up Alex Salmond would “reap the whirlwind”.
- The prosecution of David Llewellyn for a Facebook joke saying Angus Robertson should be dumped in the Water of Leith.
- The prosecution of Marion Millar for gender critical tweets so inoffensive the Crown Office had to drop it after the case had started
- My own jailing for “jigsaw identification clues” on the perjurers against Salmond, no greater than – and mostly identical to – many “clues” published by pro-Sturgeon journalists on much bigger platforms
- The arrival of two senior detectives at my home just three hours after I stated that I have Stewart MacDonald MP’s leaked emails – which, as they acknowledged, is no crime
- The three weeks warning given to SNP Ministers by Chief Constable Iain Livingstone of the progress of Operation Branchform, leading to Sturgeon’s resignation and giving ample time to dispose of evidence before the theatre of search tents
I could go on. Police Scotland, like the Crown Office, is thoroughly politicised. It is used as a personal tool against the perceived enemies of Scottish ministers. It has taken sides in the culture wars.
If you are on the “wrong” side, you will get prosecuted for an innocuous tweet or a remark in the street. If you are on the “right” side, you can punch women in the face or parade a sign calling for the decapitation of those who disagree with you, and face no legal jeopardy.
But, you say, surely it is wrong to call people “deviant”?
Well, I do not approve of yelling “deviant” at people in the street. It has unpleasant connotations. But I am absolutely opposed to the ever increasing encroachment of the power of the state into the lives of ordinary people.
The coercive power of the state is an awesome thing to set in motion, and terrifying to those it is used against. It is entirely disproportionate in a case like this.
Patrick Harvie is a government minister. He is used to the give and take. His robust reply of “Bigot” was an appropriate and sufficient response. That should have been an end to it.
Harvie is hardly a virgin in the rough and tumble of politics. Harvie was himself rebuked by Age Scotland only a week ago for dismissing the views of individuals on the grounds that they are old. Is ageism somehow a more acceptable prejudice than (alleged) homophobia?
Politicians should beware of ageism. Older people have a much higher propensity to vote.
With Scotland’s notorious Hate Crime Act due to come into force shortly and make this kind of prosecution much more common, I wish to reinforce the argument against over-use of the power of the state.
Modern discourse has lost sight of the fact that behaviour can be unpleasant and even morally wrong, without being illegal. It is thankfully impossible to involve the state in every social transgression, but its sphere is ever-widening.
Social sanction not involving the state is important. If a person is a routine adulterer, making the life of their partner a misery, they are likely to lose a number of friends and be socially shunned. We do not have them arrested for the bad behaviour.
Similarly if I come to a dinner party and make fun all evening of your big ears and bad cooking, you will presumably never invite me again and the other people present will be likely to follow suit. That is social sanction.
There is also the question of what is criminal and what is civil.
The defamation courts are open to Mr Harvie if he feels he was unfairly called a deviant. Interestingly, “vulgar abuse” has always been excluded from defamation. Just hurling silly abuse has not been taken as a legal matter, and I suspect that is how both sides of the “Deviant!”, “Bigot!” exchange would be viewed by a court.
I always turn to John Stuart Mill in these questions as a source of great wisdom, and to those who would scoff, I would add that there is no doubt that were it not for the profound influence of the philosophy of Mill on British political society, homosexuality would never have been legalised in the first place, or at least not for many more years.
In On Liberty, Mill cautions heavily against over involvement of the state in correcting actions even when they are harmful to others:
“The acts of an individual may be hurtful to others, or wanting in due consideration for their welfare, without going to the length of violating any of their constituted rights. The offender may be justly punished by opinion, though not by law. As soon as any part of a person’s conduct affects the interests of others society has jurisdiction over it, and the question of whether the general welfare will or will not be promoted by interfering with it, becomes open to discussion…
…But disinterested benevolence can find other instruments to persuade people to their good, than whips and scourges, either of the literal or the metaphorical sort.”
Mill also argues that the effect of speech should be viewed in context. He gives the famous example that to argue that corn merchants are thieves who starve the poor is a perfectly legitimate expression of opinion. But to yell the same thing to a howling mob armed with torches outside a corn merchant’s house at midnight might be a different thing.
This I think is useful guidance in the Harvie case. As I said, I don’t really approve of calling people deviants, but to use it to a powerful politician in his pomp, surrounded by aides and police and giving a TV interview, is one thing.
If a gang of big blokes were following a gay person at night down a dark street yelling “deviant” at them, the situation and the perceived threat would be entirely different.
Mill is absolutely right to say that context is important. The word deviant in itself has very different nuances in different contexts, not all insulting.
What should be plain to any person with any instinct for freedom and democracy is that the greatest danger to society in this particular situation is the abuse of power, by or on behalf of a powerful minister, against a member of the public attempting to make his peaceful protest known, albeit not as perfectly as we might wish.
To leave the particular for the general, this is part of the Scottish Government’s reliance on culture wars as the wedge issue which firstly, removed the fundamentalist Independence supporters from the SNP, and secondly, they hope will keep them in power on a specifically generational political platform.
The claim of various minority personal identities by Scottish government politicians has become an intrinsic part of their political culture. There has in particular been a remarkable foregrounding of sexual identity as part of political life.
Now I am entirely tolerant and non-judgmental on different sexual identities, as long as neither children nor coercion are involved.
But to me politics is about the governance of society in a way that improves the lot of those masses living in poverty, with few economic or social opportunities for advancement, condemned to lives of insecurity and struggle.
Politics is not about how middle class people choose to sexually pleasure themselves or their fashion choices.
It is now generally understood that identity politics has been used to neuter class politics on the left. That instead of focusing on the need to redistribute wealth, political power and personal agency to the working class, energy has been diverted into ending discrimination for minority groups, to the extent that putting very wealthy women in power becomes a “victory” even when, once there, the very wealthy woman does nothing to eliminate child poverty.
Humza Yousaf writes in the Guardian, not about Scottish Independence or even wealth inequality, but about “toxic masculinity“.
I am not sure I understand this subject. Would, for example, having sex with a female assistant working directly to you, then accepting large cash donations from her father to pave her way to a lucrative job, be an example of “toxic masculinity”?
In the SNP this obsession with identity politics has become institutionalised, part of the very fabric of the organisation itself.
On the ruling body, the SNP National Executive, members elected by the entire membership are substantially outnumbered by members appointed by affiliated minority groups, sometimes with only a couple of hundred members.
Any notion of selection on merit through the party’s democratic processes has been dispensed with entirely. All women shortlists, which were initiated on a firm promise they would be for one election only, have become permanent. Most pernicious of all, the effects of preference for disabled candidates – self-declared as such – gave some truly bizarre results.
In possibly the worst of these, Emma Roddick received just 3% of the vote to be selected as the MSP candidate, but was promoted top of the list due to mental illness. There are many similar examples.
Now as a lifelong sufferer from bipolar myself, I don’t think anyone should be unfairly disadvantaged from mental illness, but to be made an MSP because of poor mental health is just strange.
When I was in the FCO I never thought I should be made Ambassador to the United Nations because I was bipolar.
It would have been most amusing if, when I came second to Mike Russell in election for President of the SNP, I had been declared the winner because I am bipolar!
The result of all this is that Scotland is governed by politicians whose primary political identity is their personal victimhood, be it through gender, race, sexual orientation or disability.
They continually wave the bloodied bandages of their personal victimhood at us – and they have their own Police Scotland Gestapo ready to arrest anyone who dares to impugn it.
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