Friday, August 13, 2010

A cruel and chilling message to victims

There has been an interesting discussion going on over at Lallands Peat Worrier about the causes of the 'gender gap' in the SNP's support, and what can be done about it. But the poster Am Firinn makes an interesting point about one thing the SNP categorically shouldn't do, even if there is a chance that it might help matters. He points to the Scottish Parliament debate on June 10 about domestic violence against men, and the way in which even "normally sensible" Labour MSPs like Malcolm Chisholm were prepared to dismiss the problem as trivial.

I must say, having had a quick look at the Official Report from that debate, I think Am Firinn has got a point. The most telling contribution comes from the SNP's Christine Grahame, in which she explains how the biggest problem that male victims face is that they simply have nowhere to turn, because of the popular perception that domestic violence is exclusively something that men do to women. And if you want to know where that popular perception comes from, you need look no further than the Labour contributions to the debate. To those MSPs, male victims are few in number, in many cases are really the perpetrators of the violence anyway, and even just acknowledging the existence of the problem is an unwelcome distraction from the message that domestic violence is all about 'gender inequality' - ie. an inequality that women are on the wrong end of.

What I found even more depressing is that it appears SNP members joined with Labour to vote through Johann Lamont's amendment, which made the gender inequality point, and also noted "that overwhelmingly victims are women and that eradicating domestic abuse will only succeed where that pattern is acknowledged". This ignores the fact that there is quite simply no credible evidence to support the assertion that the "overwhelming majority" of victims are female - if anything, there is rather a lot of evidence to suggest that a significant minority of victims are male. And if this is solely a 'gender inequality' issue, how do we explain the many victims of domestic abuse in same-sex relationships, including lesbian relationships? What might be the case is that there is a gender inequality in terms of the outcome of abuse, in that violence inflicted by women tends to take a different form, and men are perhaps better equipped to physically defend themselves. But there again, aren't many men culturally conditioned never to strike a woman, even in self-defence? There's certainly precious little cultural conditioning of that sort in the opposite direction. And isn't the fact that male victims of abuse are less likely to receive help - or even be believed in the first place - also a clear-cut case of gender inequality?

So it cuts both ways, and there's no mystery about what is perpetuating the latter problem. The message from Labour (and, to be fair, from many other quarters) that some victims of domestic violence are less equal than others is a cruel and chilling one.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Selective standards of proof

Brian Flynn is the brother of one of the American victims of the Lockerbie bombing, and was also one of those consulted by Kenny MacAskill in a video conference before the decision to release Megrahi was taken. He has had a high profile in recent days, castigating the Scottish government, alleging nefarious motivations for the decision on the basis of "evidence" that frankly isn't there, and last but not least demanding the resignation of both Alex Salmond and Kenny MacAskill.

It's difficult to know how best to respond to someone who has suffered so much, has a huge amount at stake in all this, and clearly has no agenda other than the truth as he sees it. But it seems to me that when the integrity of others is being wrongfully impugned, it's still important that those points are rebutted. In particular, it strikes me that Mr Flynn is guilty of a clear double-standard - he is very quick to label anyone who questions Megrahi's guilt as the peddler of wild conspiracy theories, and yet the evidential basis for those "theories" are demonstrably about a thousand times stronger than the "proof" he cites for his own apparently unshakeable belief that the SNP were nobbled by businessmen in the Libyan corner.

Here is the comment I left at Mr Flynn's latest article in the Guardian -

As I've said to him on another website, I have every sympathy for what Mr Flynn and his family have gone through since 1988. But the fact remains that his logic is self-contradictory, evades certain inconvenient facts, and thus leads him to direct his anger towards the wrong place.

The point about the dictatorship in Libya having been strengthened by Scotland's actions is first of all a totally unproven assertion, and frankly highly implausible. The idea that a devolved government could ever have anything like as much impact on international affairs as Mr Flynn is suggesting stretches credibility to the limit. But the much more important issue is this - does Mr Flynn want the rule of law to prevail, or doesn't he? If he does, then he can't seriously argue that Kenny MacAskill should have been taking account of any theoretical side-effects of his decision. He was acting in a quasi-judicial capacity, and thus had to focus on the narrow matter of whether Mr Megrahi satisfied the conditions for compassionate release, and whether it was appropriate to release him. If he'd done anything else, he would be guilty of Mr Flynn's charge of treating Megrahi differently from others for political reasons. But he didn't.

"two months before the release, the Scottish National party received a visit from the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), a Middle East-based sovereign wealth fund critical to SNP's plans for capital investment and greater economic independence from the UK"

A fairy story. The only thing that can give Scotland "greater economic independence from the UK" is legislation at Westminster, not shady deals with mysterious Qataris.

"Clearly, the vaunted Scottish justice system had been corrupted by the political needs of the SNP."

This really is an extraordinarily silly charge, and it resembles the one made by Menendez and co over Lord Trefgarne's (utterly unimportant) letter. Mr Flynn's logic seems to be that because it can be shown that someone said something to the SNP, the SNP are somehow automatically "implicated" in it. It apparently doesn't even change anything if it can be clearly shown that the SNP gave a firm response that political and economic considerations would under no circumstances be taken into account.

"And dozens of prisoners die of natural causes every year in Scottish prisons. Why was al-Megrahi considered a special case?"

The whole point is that he wasn't. Many terminally ill prisoners have been recommended for compassionate release before, and it has always been granted by Scottish ministers. If they had rejected this particular recommendation on political grounds, they would indeed have been treating Megrahi as a special case. They didn't.

"How is it right that al-Megrahi served only 11 days for murdering a little child four days before Christmas in Lockerbie?"

And if he hadn't been granted compassionate release, how many days more would Megrahi have served for that murder? One or two, at the very most. I can understand the emotive power of those kind of statistics, but they aren't terribly meaningful in these particular circumstances. It simply wasn't in Kenny MacAskill's power to give Megrahi the kind of punishment Mr Flynn feels he deserves.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Summer quiz no. 2 : Find the political blog!

First things first - as promised, the answer to the first quiz. It was of course the man affectionately known by the Scotsman as "a senior Labour MSP" (there are apparently no others), George Foulkes. A frank admission at this point - I couldn't dream up enough clues to cover all the letters of his full official name His Eminence Baron Sir Lord Georgie Foulkes, for which I humbly apologise.

OK, now onto the second quiz! This time you're looking for the name of a well-known Scottish political blog, but other than that the rules are the same as before. Find the answers to all the following clues, then take the first letter of each answer, and rearrange those letters until you have the name of a blog. If the answer to any clue is the name of a person, you are looking for the first letter of their first name, not their surname.

Clues :

1. The (slightly misleading) shorthand name for the new voting system John Smith introduced for Labour leadership elections in 1993.

2. The constituency that Labour's former Welsh Secretary Ron Davies will be contesting for Plaid Cymru in the Welsh Assembly elections next year.

3. What a larger-than-life Liberal MP suggested might be done to the SDP at the moment of its birth.

4. The parts of Tony Blair's body to which the hand of history naughtily strayed, coincidentally just after he had left his soundbites at home.

5. The country that became an integral part of the United Kingdom during Pitt the Younger's tenure as Prime Minister.

6. According to Ann Widdecombe, Michael Howard had "something of the [fill in the blank] about him".

7. A Tory government minister and prolific diarist who Clare Short accused of being drunk while making a statement at the dispatch box.

8. Along with Foyle, one of two constituencies in Northern Ireland to have been recently represented by a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

9. The retailer that specialises in products for pregnant women and young children, and that was name-checked repeatedly by David Cameron during the Prime Ministerial (sic) Debates.

10. The Labour frontbencher who, in the wake of the 1996 Scott Report, addressed Ian Lang with the words "I warn the President..."

11. The popular game which George Bush Sr. tried to convince Denis Thatcher was more "fun" if there was running involved.

12. The only person to contest both the 1999 and 2006 Liberal Democrat leadership elections.

13. The organisation that Nigel Lawson dubbed Britain's "national religion".

Once again, I'll reveal the answer when it's time for the third quiz!