Saturday, October 5, 2013

A post-feminist future?

Apologies for going slightly quiet in recent days - I've been having a bit of a manic spell (I could tell you what I've been up to, but you wouldn't believe me!). I still plan to write a post about Arthur Donaldson soon. In the meantime, I just thought I'd recommend a rather wonderful article I stumbled upon about the crossroads facing modern feminism -

"More broadly, I am convinced that if feminism is to have a positive future, it must reinvent itself as a gender equity movement advocating for both sexes and against all sexism. Focusing solely on female disadvantage was perfectly understandable when, whatever paternalistic benefits women might have enjoyed and whatever burdens men might have suffered, women were the ones lacking the basic rights of adult citizens. But today, there is simply no moral or rational justification for any fair-minded feminist to ignore (for instance) the more lenient treatment of female offenders in the justice system or the anti-father biases in family courts. The concept of feminism as equality of the sexes is increasingly on a collision course with feminism as a movement championing women."

The way I always put it is that if feminism is simply about equality, then I'm a feminist - but it's a bloody silly word for it, because equality is by definition about two genders, not just one.

Incidentally, I typed the whole 1400 word article into Google Translate and converted it into James Mackenzie-speak, and it came out as just four words - "what about teh menz". Hmmm. It's an admirably concise language at times. In fact it doesn't have far to go to emulate the virtues of Orwell's Newspeak, which of course managed to condense the unwieldy American Declaration of Independence into the single word "crimethink".

Monday, September 30, 2013

Easton sees no Scottishness

There's a really, really odd article on the BBC website by Mark Easton that attempts to portray the census results on national identity as some sort of good news story for Britishness.  I hesitate to call it a propaganda piece, but it has to be said that Easton has in the past made no secret of the fact that he considers himself to be British rather than English or Scottish, and he's not exactly shy in this article of praising his own preferred identity to the skies -

"Britishness is attractive to those with a mixed cultural heritage. It has always been an accommodating label, tolerant of complexity and difference."

Any actual evidence to support that rather grandiose claim? Er, nope. The man's entitled to his personal opinion, but whether he's entitled to shove that opinion down the throats of others on a website that is legally bound to be politically neutral is another matter. And Easton gets well and truly into the realms of fantasy when he tries to discern some statistical proof that "attractive, accommodating, tolerant" Britishness is on the march in census results that are, frankly, nothing short of catastrophic for his worldview. 62% of Scottish residents reported that they are Scottish only, 60% of English residents reported that they are English only, and 58% of Welsh residents reported they are Welsh only. Easton acknowledges that this is the first time that the national identity question has been posed and that it is therefore impossible to make direct comparisons with the past - and yet still feels free to jump to the heroic conclusion that the dismally low adherence to a British identity is probably higher than it would have been in previous decades. Oh, and he expects it to get "higher still" (ahem).

"It may be that our increasingly mobile and cosmopolitan society sees the British identity become more popular than it has been in its 300-year history."

WHAT???? Here's a small suggestion, Mark - take a look at some footage of England football fans waving the flag of the whole UK to celebrate their national team becoming world champions in 1966, then look at the sea of St George's Crosses that have dominated England matches since 1996, and then try telling me that we're on the brink of some kind of renaissance of British national identity.

Much of the article clings to the not terribly impressive statistic that young people in England are fractionally more likely to consider themselves British than their elders - while hastily glossing over the fact that the polar opposite is true in Wales, and that the equivalent statistical comparison isn't even available for Scotland and Northern Ireland. Easton seemingly doesn't think this detracts from his argument much. Tell me, Mark - if three of the four component parts of Britishness don't really count for much in your mind, is this identity really what it's billed to be? Or does it just amount to a fluffier version of Englishness?

For my part, I wholeheartedly consider myself British, but I most certainly didn't tick that box as one of my national identities on the census form - because authentic Britishness (as opposed to Greater Englishness) isn't a national identity at all, it's a multi-national identity.

* * *

This tweet from Better Together made me laugh -

"If you're at #cpc13 [Conservative Party Conference] drop by stall 26 and find out about how you can help keep Scotland a strong & secure part of the UK #indyref"

I wonder if the advice at that stall includes the words "defect" and "disband"? You may as well be brutally honest with them, guys...

Sunday, September 29, 2013

We need to talk about independence

As I think I've mentioned before, I hardly ever talk about politics in 'real life'.  In fact, I sometimes wince when I hear people express political views that I agree with, if the context seems inappropriate.  In the run-up to the 2011 Holyrood election, I remember standing in a queue for Celtic Connections, and listening to a woman bore a couple of English students witless with rambling talk about unionists and Iain Gray.  All I could think was "oh for pity's sake, what good do you think this is doing?"

I'm beginning to realise, though, that the equation has completely changed now that we're in the referendum campaign, and that there's far more danger in not speaking out than there is in looking like the pub bore.  While I was off on my travels, I found myself in the company of some English people at dinner in Austria.  When they found out I was Scottish, the subject turned almost automatically to independence - something which has never happened to me before, perhaps indicating that the proximity of the vote is finally starting to attract some interest south of the border.  "Well, I just hope we stay united," one of them said, turning to me with a knowing smile.  My interpretation was that she assumed that any Scot who could bear to have dinner with English people must be anti-independence, and that she could therefore 'risk' taking it as read that I was an ally.  I felt a bit sick, because I didn't really want to get into a political discussion, but I realised that my silence would be taken as assent.  So after a couple of the others had made some disparaging comments about independence, I forced myself to say "I have to tell you, I'm in favour of it".

It became very awkward from that moment on.  First of all, there was the familiar knee-jerk assumption that it must all be about a childish rejection of "us", the English - "do you still blame us for Glencoe?" one of them asked.  Yes, it was a joke, but the fact that questions like that were the first to enter their minds (as opposed, for example, to asking me for my own reasons for believing that Scotland would be a better country if it controlled its own affairs) spoke volumes.  Then there was the phenomenon that I used to encounter regularly at PB - an assumption that political discourse across the UK is so homogenous that the debate on independence in Scotland cannot possibly be any more advanced than the kindergarten stuff in the London media, and that many key issues have therefore yet to be properly thought through.  Someone asked me whether we would keep the monarchy in an independent Scotland, and did so in a tone of voice implying that it was a killer question that nobody had ever thought of before.  I paused for a moment, trying to work out how to explain in a few words that I am personally a republican, but that the likelihood is that the monarchy will be retained for the time being, and that I'm not overly fussed by the prospect.  She leapt on my hesitation and said "ah, you see, he'll have to think about that one!"

I fared slightly better when the usual topic of size came up.  "When you look at all these countries around Europe and realise how big they are," one of them said, "I don't know how we think we can possibly compete if we start breaking apart..."   I struck a 'look around you' pose and pointed out that Austria isn't that much bigger than Scotland, and is much, much smaller than the rest of the UK.  She didn't have an answer to that, but did suggest that it might be time to "stop arguing now".

I went back to my hotel room and felt incredibly frustrated.  It wasn't a dispute I had sought, which is perhaps just as well, because if I'd had any hopes of having my views treated as 'adult' ones in a discussion like that, I would have been bitterly disappointed.  I wondered if perhaps I should have kept my mouth shut, because after all I hadn't even been talking to people who have a vote next year.  But then I thought - no, it's all part of the same feedback loop.  If you keep silent at a moment like that, then it perpetuates the myth south of the border - which is ultimately bounced back to us via the London media - that 'real' Scots don't care about independence.

We have to talk openly about our support for independence, not because it isn't sometimes very awkward to do so, but precisely because it is.  That awkwardness is the sound of silly preconceptions being challenged.

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You can't really miss from the masthead that this blog has fared rather well in previous "best political blogs" polls, and I'm delighted to learn that it can now add to that the accolade of having been voted the UK's 36th worst political blog.  I tend to take the view that there's no such thing as bad publicity, so many thanks to my ex-PB chums (I presume) for making it possible.  You're the best, guys!  Actually, it's quite a stellar list by any standards.

Talking of PB, while I was away I effectively won a long-running 'duel' with the PB poster AndyJS about the likely outcome of the German election.  Andy had expected a repeat of the Schleswig-Holstein state election from last year, with CDU supporters voting tactically in big numbers to ensure that the FDP stayed above the 5% threshold needed for parliamentary representation.  I never thought that was remotely likely, because in contrast to Schleswig-Holstein the CDU's own place in government wasn't in doubt, and there was no particular reason to think that CDU voters strongly preferred the FDP as a junior coalition partner to either the SPD or Greens.  I must admit, though, that I was still (pleasantly) surprised that the FDP weren't able to sneak above the threshold on their own merits.