You might remember the tagline of Mr Eugenides' old blog was "holding back the rage". I sometimes used to think that could also apply to this blog when I find myself in full-on rant mode, but I now realise that I'd be hard-pressed to match Edinburgh Eye on that score, judging by the strength of her reaction to my last post -
"Alex Neil isn’t fit to be Health Secretary if he thinks he can express such anti-women, anti-healthcare views in public. He should either retract or resign, since if Alex Salmond continues to keep him as Health Secretary, it’s a clear indication that to Salmond, Alex Neil’s views aren’t objectionable...
Oddly enough, my first stumble across the story was in James Kelly’s blog instructing me that what Alex Neil thought about abortion didn’t matter and shouldn’t affect my views on independence and I must be “thick” if I thought it should.
Other SNP defenders suggested that it didn’t matter what Alex Neil thought because as Health Secretary he didn’t really have anything to do with abortion. Or that it didn’t matter that Alex Neil was only as bad as David Cameron because Jeremy Hunt was much worse. None of these are good defenses, because none of them deal with the real problem – the SNP has appointed a man who holds anti-choice views on abortion to be Health Secretary: instead they create a huge problem, which is that with every defence of Alex Neil, the SNP is building itself up to be the anti-choice party in Scotland, the party not to be trusted on human rights."
Well, of course I wasn't 'instructing' anyone to do or think anything. Quite the contrary, in fact - I was objecting to the idea that all women must dutifully hold the views on abortion and independence prescribed for them by the Labour party. So I decided to set the record straight, and it developed into the following exchange...
Me : “Oddly enough, my first stumble across the story was in James Kelly’s blog instructing me that what Alex Neil thought about abortion didn’t matter and shouldn’t affect my views on independence and I must be “thick” if I thought it should.”
Actually, I didn’t say that, and I suspect you know I didn’t say that. I said that Labour must think that women are thick, based on a suggestion from one of their activists that practically every woman would now desert the pro-independence cause simply because of what Alex Neil said.
“Other SNP defenders suggested that it didn’t matter what Alex Neil thought because as Health Secretary he didn’t really have anything to do with abortion.”
He doesn’t. It’s a fact. Abortion law is wholly reserved to Westminster, and if it was ever transferred to Holyrood it would continue to be decided by a free vote. This is the point you’re missing – the Scotland on Sunday article was indeed misleading, but not because Neil was misquoted. It was their interpretation that “the government is signalling a change” that was misleading – or, to put it more bluntly, a lie. By definition, a free vote means that the government will not be taking a collective view on this at all, let alone signalling a change.
In one very limited sense you’re right – Alex Neil’s personal view DOES matter, but only because he has one vote out of 129. That’s it.
Edinburgh Eye : "I said that Labour must think that women are thick, based on a suggestion from one of their activists that practically every woman would now desert the pro-independence cause simply because of what Alex Neil said."
Yes. And the follow-on from that is that any woman who does reject independence because its adherents are all rallying round to support Alex Neil, must be thick.
Thanks so much.
"It was their interpretation that “the government is signalling a change” that was misleading – or, to put it more bluntly, a lie. By definition, a free vote means that the government will not be taking a collective view on this at all, let alone signalling a change."
Yep. The SNP had the option of avoiding this implication by promptly sacking Alex Neil as Health Secretary. They opted not to.
Me : "And the follow-on from that is that any woman who does reject independence because its adherents are all rallying round to support Alex Neil, must be thick."
Nope. This slipperiness isn't doing your argument any favours. First of all I wasn't talking about women who reject independence for the reason you suggest ("its adherents are rallying round"), and neither was the activist I responded to. He was suggesting that women would reject independence simply because they didn't like Alex Neil's personal views, and yes, if he really believes that, he must think women are pretty stupid.
I certainly wouldn't describe someone as stupid or thick because they turn against independence on the grounds that they don't like the SNP's support for Alex Neil, but I do think such a reaction is demonstrably irrational. The SNP is not independence, and independence is not the SNP. There will be an election to decide which party or parties governs an independent Scotland. If you have an issue with the SNP, vote for another party in that election.
A second aspect to the reason why that activist must think women are stupid is that he evidently perceives them as herd-like, with entirely uniform views. He believes diversity of opinion and individuality of thought on the subject of abortion is a male preserve. That's what I was getting at (as made abundantly clear in point 1 of my blogpost), so it just doesn't make sense to claim that it's a 'follow-on' from what I said that any individual woman must be thick if she reacts in a certain way.
"Why didn’t it occur to the vast majority of the SNP supporters, even those who say they disagree with Alex Neil, to actually step up and say that Alex Neil should cease to be Health Secretary?"
Well, I can't speak for other SNP supporters, but I'll tell you why it didn't occur to me. I not only think that Alex Neil is a fit and proper person to be Health Secretary, I think it would be utterly outrageous if he was sacked for simply expressing a perfectly legitimate and mainstream view that is also held by a significant proportion of the public, and indeed is held by more women than men -
"Polls consistently show the opposite – that women are more likely than men to support a reduction on the abortion limit. In the 2011 YouGov poll 28% of men supported a reduction, 46% of women did. In the 2012 YouGov poll 24% of men supported a reduction, 49% of women did. In the Angus Reid poll 35% of men supported a reduction in the limit, 59% of women did. In the ICM poll 45% of men supported a reduction to 20 weeks, 59% of women did."
Is it really "anti-women" to express support for the political views of millions of women?
* * *
One other point is worth making. Margaret Thatcher supported the reintroduction of capital punishment during her entire eleven-and-a-half years as Prime Minister. For most of that period, her party had a Commons majority of over 100. This was also a time when, unlike now, membership of the Council of Europe and the European Community would not have precluded the return of the death penalty. Mrs Thatcher of course sometimes expressed her personal view in public, just as Alex Neil has now done on an equivalent matter of conscience, and it did not lead to a rebellion against her leadership. On Edinburgh Eye's logic that means there was an "implication" that the Thatcher government was collectively in favour of capital punishment. But that logic is wrong, as a succession of parliamentary votes in the 1980s handily demonstrates.
The views of individual political leaders really are neither here nor there on the matters of conscience that are traditionally decided by a free vote. If control over abortion law is transferred to Scotland, it will be exclusively a matter for parliament, not for the government, and certainly not for the Health Secretary acting on his own initiative.
* * *
UPDATE : And some more...
Edinburgh Eye : Alex Neil is anti-choice: he's been appointed Health Secretary: the SNP supporters are rallying round to defend having a Health Secretary with anti-choice views: this turns me off independence because I don’t want to live in a country run by people like that.
And your reaction is to say you think I'm pretty stupid. You're still not being convincing.
Why defend Alex Neil and attack his opposition?
Me : "Alex Neil is anti-choice"
He isn't. That simply isn't true, and won't become true no matter how many times you repeat it. He favours a small reduction in the time limit on abortion. If simply being in favour of ANY time limit on abortion is "anti-choice", then practically the entire population of this country is anti-choice.
"this turns me off independence because I don't want to live in a country run by people like that."
And thus you prefer to live in a country run by people like Jeremy Hunt who, er, wants to cut the time limit on abortion much further than Alex Neil does. Yup, that makes perfect sense.
"And your reaction is to say you think I'm pretty stupid."
The one and only thing I think is stupid is your determination to convince yourself that I've called you stupid, in spite of repeated explanations that I've done no such thing.
"Why defend Alex Neil and attack his opposition?"
Probably because I think he's a principled man who has expressed an entirely appropriate personal view on a subject that is not covered by collective cabinet responsibility. I've "attacked his opposition" because they appear to be intolerant zealots who think there ought to be no place in public life for someone with the "wrong" views on a matter of conscience.
I'm not sure how much clearer I can make this.