OTS Readers, we're working hard to make this website a permanent fixture in the independence debate.  We're currently running a fundraiser to help cover costs. You can read our full breakdown on our GoFundMe page. If you can't donate, please share this link or contribute to the discussions. Thanks!
Help Keep OTS Going

Cliques, Egos and Culture Wars

'What is needed more than ever in Scotland right now...is adults back in the room.'

Monday, March 4, 2024
7 mins

by Cath Ferguson

Scotland is not alone in being beset by all of the above over the past few years. The UK, and globally, has seen an explosion of deliberate division, fanning of flames, normalisation of hatred and ‘no debate’ rather than debate and diplomacy. Genocide and war is being pumped at us 24/7 and normalised.

It is perhaps that which makes the petty squabbles going on within Alba right now so infuriating. What is needed more than ever in Scotland right now - not only in the independence movement but across the board - is adults back in the room. People who can have grown up debates, disagree robustly but without rancour. We need to jettison those who can operate only with a wee clique of pals around them, who help them smear or take down opponents. Alba is full of those serious, grown up politicians - mostly culled from the SNP whose leadership went full scale on the ‘no debate’, smears and destroying people route. We need to raise those people up, wherever we find them, not tear them down.

On the ‘trans’ issue in particular, it is critical that we separate the vital political and opposition function of policy analysis and challenge from the more personal and gutter-level aspects of what has been an appalling few years of very sudden division - up until 2018, the unionist media were showing irritation about how unified the Yes movement was. (Iain Macwhirter: Come what may, the SNP stubbornly refuses to split | The Herald (heraldscotland.cohttps://www.heraldscotland.com/news/16688812.iain-macwhirter-come-may-snp-stubbornly-refuses-split/m)) “Trans ideology” and all the abysmally drafted legislation and deliberate division that came with it, arrived very suddenly around that time.

With any deliberately manufactured culture war, there are two sides: there has to be. Over the past few years, there is no question which side has been ‘winning’ in terms of capture of governments, organisations and the policy levers. It has been a hellish few years for women, in particular, but also anyone standing up for safeguarding, or challenging bad policy. It is understandable that many who’ve gone through that and lost jobs, livelihoods, had names dragged through the mud are angry. Policies such as self ID, hate crime legislation and the new ‘conversion ban’ are terribly written and dangerous. They need fought at a political level, and Alba is the only party in Scotland doing that, other than the Tories under whose watch all this has happened. The fact the party that’s been UK government over these divisive years are also the ones claiming to be fighting this is the strongest evidence of deliberately manufactured and inflamed division.

That being the case, it is incumbent on anyone seeking progressive or grown up politics - and indeed independence - to recognise this and try, where possible, to take the heat and toxicity out of the debate. The absolute last thing Scotland, or the independence movement, needs is Alba becoming a party predominantly on “the other side” of the same toxic, divisive culture war that killed off the SNP. Both Alba and the SNP need to be primarily focussed on independence and building a better, progressive, unified-where-possible Scotland. That means rising above the shrill extremists, not engaging with hatred and personal abuse. Sticking instead to the policy analysis, pointing out flaws, demonstrating downsides and creating better policy. Without actively attacking individuals or sinking to the levels of those who attack and hound people out of roles.

This is why Eva Comrie leaving is so disappointing, as she was without doubt one of the serious adults in the room, with the best grasp on equalities policy and how it affects people across the board. The current Alba equalities policy is not ‘anti-trans’ or anti anyone, however it does firmly centre women and their rights to talk about their own needs. But it is also why it’s disappointing that her leaving has led to calls to remove Yvonne Ridley, who is also a strong woman, willing and able to debate, an expert in the middle east and firm advocate for ending genocide, who also stands up for women’s rights. (Her similarity to George Galloway in her high profile as a pro-Palestinian campaigner may explain why The Times and so many other establishment types were gleefully piling on over this past weekend). A thriving pro-independence party, filled with grown ups capable of debate should be perfectly able to accommodate both these women, and if we find ourselves in a position where we instead lose both, that would be heart-breaking.

I’m not going to go over the stushi here, partly as I’m sure there is more to it that isn’t public, but also because even typing it out, it sounds ridiculous, childish and petty. Suffice to say it was - as so much blood-inducing, murderous hatred is these days - sparked by a tweet. A tweet condemning the UN for taking on a trans woman as for a woman’s position. Which then other people on Twitter magnified, despite it being quickly deleted and apologised for, as Yvonne realised the wording was bad. It was “bad” because, while condemning the appointment, it used the language of “the other side”. Now, it is true, for those embedded in the culture war that language like “assigned at birth” and “cis” is the language of trans ideology. It’s the kind of language that now infests bad policy and is meaningless, at best, harmful at worst. However, for most people not involved, they simply don’t understand what it means, which was the point Yvonne was mostly making.

Language around the “trans” issue is one of its key flash points - “trans” is in inverted commas, by the way, partly as “trans” itself is a word without any definition and none of this is really about transsexual people or their needs, but that’s an entirely different article. It’s a whole new language, designed to obfuscate and confuse, as well as silence critics. This is, in large part, why the legislation around it is so appalling. It’s legislating for feelings, for vague words without definition such as “trans” and “gender”, and frankly offensive ideas such as “living as a woman”, which can only ever be based on sexist stereotypes. At the same time it removes words which do have meaning, such as woman and removes the ability to speak about reality, eg to say “That man is a rapist” or to provide healthcare that is appropriate based on sex. It is legislation designed to silence and stifle debate.

This is why, at its heart, it is an ideology its proponents cannot: it falls apart at the first scrutiny. It is also why any party seeking to debate it can and must take the high ground and debate on the policies and ideology itself, not on getting involved in the culture war part of it. We cannot do that by using the warped language that comes with it, but we also must not do it by attacking and hounding out people for using the “wrong” word, saying the wrong thing, or taking a position that isn’t 100% in agreement with some unwritten position “our side” has in a culture war designed to divide: that way lies a simple mirror of the SNP with the same lack of debate, the same hounding out, the same purity spirals, and with independence no longer at its heart. That, of course, is what those driving these culture wars want.

What the independence movement needs is a whole lot less division and more working together on a route to independence. That will involve working around those who cannot do that because they’re too immersed in culture wars, and sadly right now that involves a whole host of SNP and Green MSPs still in Holyrood, producing the worst legislation of our lifetimes. All Alba can do is work with those who can be persuaded and not succumb to people who want to take Alba the same way of “no debate”, flogging and hounding people out for mistakes. That doesn’t mean allowing people to radically change policy, just not create the same climate that forced us to leave the SNP in the first place, over the same “flame” issue.

Alba policy - largely created by Eva - is absolutely clear and articulated day in day out by people like Ash Regan and Neale Hanvey. Yvonne Ridley is not against it in any way, as far as I’m aware. Let’s stick to that high ground, quit the playground Twitter antics and division, and start building each other up and working together, both within and across parties and organisations, as well as possible independent candidates who may emerge from the smoke and dust of the past few weeks.

Off-Topic Newsletter
No spam. Just the latest releases and tips, interesting articles, and exclusive interviews in your inbox every week.
Read about our privacy policy.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Download Aesop's Fables!
Download Now!
Get The Off-Topic Scotland Newsletter

Get Off-Topic Scotland in Your Inbox

No spam or ads, just the latest posts and updates from Scotland's newest pro-independence blog.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.