The Guardian view on Scottish politics: a battle with no winners

Author : iam404mun
Publish Date : 2021-03-24 19:53:52


The Guardian view on Scottish politics: a battle with no winners

Scottish politics is a small world. Inevitably so, in a nation of 5.5 million. The Scottish National party is also close-knit, once famous for presenting a unified front to outsiders. That is how it grew to become the dominant force, now in its 14th year in government. It also helps explain why the feud between Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond has been so bitter and all-consuming as a spectacle. In terms of SNP division, it was a volcanic eruption on what had previously been a largely featureless landscape.

The lava has stopped flowing, but the ground is scorched. The origin of the dispute is allegations of sexual harassment and assault made against Mr Salmond, which he denied. A court acquitted him on all charges last year. A parallel controversy ignited around the Scottish civil service’s handling of the allegations; its own botched inquiry (revealed in a different court case to have been “tainted by apparent bias”); and questions of what Ms Sturgeon had known and when, and what action she had or hadn’t taken.

Mr Salmond alleged a malicious plot. The first minister pleaded memory lapses. Whether she had knowingly breached the ministerial code became the crux question. Earlier this week, an independent inquiry decreed that she had not. A separate report by an investigating committee of MSPs was more critical, but the force of its conclusions was blunted by leaks and conspicuous partisanship. A vote of no confidence against Ms Sturgeon at Holyrood flopped.

While Mr Salmond is still settling scores with more legal action, most of Scottish politics is moving on to May’s devolved elections. Ms Sturgeon is battling for a majority that she could brandish as a mandate for a second independence referendum. Opposition parties are trying, as ever, to swing the conversation away from constitutional issues and on to the SNP’s record on public services.

Between those competing agendas there is not much room for reflection on what the whole shabby circus has revealed about the culture of Scottish politics. Aside from specific allegations and irrespective of individual cases, the prevailing discourse around sexual harassment has been thoughtlessly or aggressively politicised, distorted by ideology and made a subset of hyperpartisan opinion. Many Scottish women have found that demoralising and intimidating.

The right of a complainant to anonymity has been routinely forgotten or wilfully trampled on many fronts in vicious political trench warfare. The Scottish government has relinquished any claim to be capable of handling sensitive internal matters with judicious professionalism. The same goes for the SNP. The boundary between the two is often blurred, which is a feature of stale incumbency and a symptom of failing accountability.

In the digital arena, casual and violent misogyny have seeped ever further into the mainstream. Ms Sturgeon’s position looks secure, but it is hard to escape the conclusion that, in the past year, Scotland has become a more hostile environment for all women. Away from politics, women have heard a message of discouragement against speaking out against abuse.

This has been an ugly battle with no winners. Women’s rights and the duty to handle allegations fairly have not often enough been the primary concern, as Ms Sturgeon has acknowledged with regret and a pledge of reform. It is hard to foresee what, if any, electoral consequences the saga will have. But by its divisions, its closed culture and its corporate failures, the SNP has inadvertently made a case for change in the way Scotland is governed.
Although The View co-host – and outspoken critic of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo – Meghan McCain apologized this week for having dismissed as irrelevant Donald Trump’s racist nicknames for Covid-19, she hasn’t backtracked on her disdain for what she calls “identity politics,” a stance that today prompted a rather sideways Twitter exchange with Cuomo accuser Lindsey Boylan.

Before it was over – if it is over – Fox News Channel senior meteorologist Janice Dean also weighed in.  As Boylan said in one of her tweets, there’s a lot to unpack here, so here goes:

On today’s episode of The View, the hosts were discussing Asian-American representation (or lack thereof) within the  Biden Administration, specifically about demands being made by Democratic senator Tammy Duckworth for greater diversity.

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While most of the cohosts sided with Duckworth, the conservative McCain, not surprisingly, did not. McCain warned about a “slippery slope”of placing race and gender over qualifications and skill sets (and suggested Martin Luther King Jr. would agree with her).

“Just to put a cap on this,” McCain said, “The View is 25 years old next year and we’ve only had one Asian-American host co-host this show. So does that mean that one of one of us should be leaving at some point because there’s not enough representation? Is identity politics more important than the qualifications of a job, and I think that’s a question going forward that the progressive left is going to have to reconcile.”

After the show aired, Boylan, the former Cuomo aide who has accused the governor of sexual harassment and is now running for Manhattan Borough President, tweeted a clip of McCain’s comments, noting, “A lot to unpack here. All I’m going to say is @MeghanMcCain needs to read up on what identity politics actually is. Please.”

Responded McCain: “Hi Lindsey, would love to have you come on @TheView to talk about this and also your accusations against Governor Cuomo. I believe the show has reached out already. I find real conversations much more impactful than keyboard politics behind a screen.”

To which Boylan responded, “I think we start to respect someone when we don’t change the topic to feature the abuse that they’ve suffered when they actually haven’t invited you to that conversation.”

McCain tried again: “Respectfully, I would love to talk to you in general about identity politics and have also remained horrified by all of the accusations from you against Governor Cuomo.”

Enter Fox News Channel’s Dean, who tweeted to Boylan, “Meghan is a target of hate every single day on this platform. Unfortunate that you want to pile on. If you would like to talk with her in person to let her know how you feel and talk it out like adults I can connect you.”

In several response tweets, Boylan wrote back to Dean, “Actually I completely disagree with you Janice. She’s talking about identity politics the same week that a group of Asian Women were murdered this week in part because of the narrative that she helps validate. I am raising an Asian American daughter and I refuse to continue validating that or allowing those with a platform to do so.

“If either one of you want talk to me about that lived experience I’m all ears.

“Just let me know when you’ll sit down and listen to a group of Asian women who have experienced racism and hate in this country because of exactly the kinds of things that @MeghanMcCain is validating which I have called out.

“And until then I’m just gonna look away and focus on what I need to do to raise my Asian-American daughter in a safer America.”

And finally, McCain seemed to take a more philosophical approach. Though not a direct response to either Boylan or Dean, The View co-host tweeted, after the exchange, “There’s no crying in baseball. I’ve accumulated tough, crocodile skin being in this industry as long as I have. I know who I am and what I believe in this world – just glad I can keep so many (many!!) of you talking and thinking even if it’s that you hate me and my opinions.”
DID Boris Johnson draw on a classical education at Eton and Oxford in mobilising the ancient Greek notion of irony to tell his back-bench MPs that Britain’s successful coronavirus rollout was down to those quintessential Tory values of “greed” and “capitalism”?

Or does he believe this stuff?

Whatever, he quickly realised that it was necessary to deploy a rhetorical device of classical antiquity to clothe his immediate realisation that, outside of his privileged circle, the opposite is generally held to be true.

But his words are taken to signify their literal meaning: “The reason we have the vaccine success is because of capitalism, because of greed, my friends.”

And because this does not sit well with a weary population on the anniversary of the first Covid-19 lockdown the Number 10 media operation played Johnson’s customary comedian shtick that it was a joke, as “lighthearted” and “off-the-cuff.”

The pretence is that his words were aimed at celebrating big pharma’s role in the vaccination programme when the reality is that private enterprise has spectacularly (and corruptly) failed while public-sector investment, universities and our NHS have made the difference.

Where parasitic capitalist greed has given us Serco’s test and trace and dozens of dodgy deals that enrich ministers’ friends, it is the values of public service, public investment and dispassionate scientific rigour that have made the vaccine rollout a success.

The government professes itself keen to play down tensions with the European Commission and diminish the threat of a vaccination war. 

In a brazen display of hypocrisy, Johnson told Number 10 press corps that “we in this country don’t believe in blockades of any kind of vaccines or vaccine material, that’s not something that this country would dream of engaging in.”

This from a government that, like the EU member states, deploys an active strategy of sanctions and blockades aimed at countries like Iran, China and Russia.

Johnson’s hasty retreat from his involuntary utterance illustrates just how sensitive ruling circles are about the ways in which the post-2008 financial crisis, the parliamentary corruption scandal and the shameless profiteering that marks the coronavirus crisis are energising a nationwide debate about values.

While millions make sacrifices to meet the social and collective goals that the lockdown entails, a numerically small but shockingly rich stratum sees the crisis as opportunity for even further enrichment.

It is against this background that we can understand the obscure manoeuvres around the AstraZeneca vaccine. 

When competition for big pharma’s mountainous profits are at stake there is no limit on the dirty tricks deployed by all manner of dark forces at play in the market for drugs.

When speaking with his tongue unguarded Johnson exemplifies what the North American liberal economist John Kenneth Galbraith meant when he described the modern conservative “as engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”

Of course, conservative values don’t only express themselves in their classical form as a justification for the system that confers wealth and property on some and a lifetime of waged labour on others.

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