First published on March 29, 2021
Oh, what I wouldn’t give for a tenth of the confidence of a disgraced male politician.
Can you imagine what womankind could achieve, were we to possess just a modicum of the shameless hutzpah, the boorish self-belief, the “indefatigability” of a certain generation of pale, stale male, hell-bent on reclaiming the power they’ve lost, again and again and again, through their own lack of judgment? I tell you, we’d be unstoppable.
Instead, I write this from the bottom of a well of self-doubt, knowing the headline alone will send a lot of angry men in the direction of my inbox – like their political heroes, they never wait to be invited. No, unerring self-belief is a finite resource, and increasingly, it seems like middle-aged men with a history of misogyny, courtroom appearances and questionable behaviour are hogging the supply.
Sarcasm aside, these are serious times for the women of Scotland. Because while it would be easy to look at our female first minister, our world-first free period product policies and our NHS pay rises, compare them with Boris Johnson’s Westminster and pat ourselves on the back for a job progressively done, it’s missing the point.
Scotland is not doing well by its women right now. And this election is about to make things a whole lot worse.
Poll of the patriarchy
Take Friday’s Alba Party launch. Much has been made of the laughably Accidental Partridge-esque tone of proceedings. But behind the comedy, Alex Salmond’s worrying return to the Scottish political scene (is it a return if he never truly left?) is now guaranteed to destructively dominate every level of the debate, despite being fuelled entirely by self-importance and not the social justice he nauseatingly claims as his motivation. Hell, it’s already dominating, and he’s only been back for a weekend.
Behind the bravado and bluster, Salmond would like us to ignore the fact he still won’t apologise to the nine women who accused him of sexual assault and attempted rape. Indeed, he refused to say sorry again as he launched his new pet party, despite being asked repeatedly at his conference and on Channel 4 News. He claimed he had been found innocent in court – actually, he was found not guilty and, in the case of one allegation, not proven – but then skimmed, flippantly, over the vital fact that his behaviour, while not proven criminal, fell well beneath even the lowest bar we should be setting for people in positions of authority. He might think lying on a bed with a staffer for “sleepy cuddles”, having “consensual” extramarital intimacies with another, or grabbing aides to recreate romantic Christmas card scenes is ok because it’s not strictly illegal. As a nation, we should disagree on the strongest possible terms.
What really grates, however, is not just the lack of apology or the brazen disregard for the women at the centre of that case. No, what really rankles is that he has not, in the wake of so much upset, even considered stepping back, looking in the mirror, asking his reflection what he can really do for his country and concluding the answer might, just might, be to shut up and let someone else have a turn at the mic.
He is a man driven by ego and an unquenchable desire to reclaim his glory days in the political spotlight. And increasingly, his level of self-delusion is looking like a litmus test for entering our electoral fray.
Scraping the barrel
Joining Salmond on our ballot papers of iniquity this year are expected to be ‘Gorgeous’ George Galloway and convicted perjurer Tommy Sheridan. And oh, what a lot this trio have in common beyond their Russian media platforms.
These are all men who demonstrate a superhuman ability to deflect shame and blame, who will never miss an opportunity to claim conspiracy, and who always betray their own delusions of grandeur in the process. Not for them mere rejection from voters. No, when these men fall, it’s because they’ve been pushed by shadowy dark forces, be they ‘Zionists’, media tycoons or former political proteges.
Not for them the loss of a seat. No, when they’re beaten they shout and scream and punch the air, try their damndest to take their parties down with them, and then set up their own better, bigglier parties to beat all the others, having seemingly never advanced emotionally beyond the tactics of school bullies controlling entry to the treehouse. And that lack of emotional maturity? It applies to their views of women, too.
Take Sheridan, formerly of the Scottish Socialist Party, later of Solidarity, who last week announced his candidacy for Action For Independence before yesterday shifting his allegiances once again to Alba – are you keeping up at the back? When he went to court on perjury charges, having lied in his defamation case against the News Of The World over reports he twice romped his way around a Manchester swingers club, he used the platform to vilify the female colleagues who refused to stand by him.
In an article written in the aftermath of his imprisonment, under the headline The women who refused to lie for Tommy Sheridan, former SSP MSP Rosie Kane summarised his character thus: “Tommy only has two ways to deal with women. If he can’t fuck us, he will fuck us over.”
Then there’s George Galloway, a man of self-confessed “ostentatious, rapacious heterosexual promiscuity”, who, in 2012, came under fire from rape crisis charities after he stepped up to defend Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Shockingly, Galloway used his platform to claim that a man having sex with a sleeping woman who had previously consented did not “constitute rape” and was instead “something which can happen” because “not everybody needs to be asked prior to every insertion”. Yes, you read that right.
Galloway, who was expelled from Labour and went on to helm the Respect Party – a misnomer given that, under its banner, he accused Labour’s Naz Shah of lying about being forced into marriage at the age of 15 in a campaign described by the Fawcett Society as ‘sexist, vicious and personal’ – has now returned to his native Scotland to set up the All for Unity unionist party. His opening salvo? Telling the SNP’s justice secretary, Humza Yousef, “You’re not a Celt like me”. Nice.
All jokes aside
Over the last few days, as this delightful trio stepped up to reclaim the space in the spotlight they believe to be rightfully theirs – proving once again that their answer to being uninvited is always just to host their own party instead – the jokes have been flowing fast and loose on Twitter. Some of the jibes have been hilarious.
But this isn’t funny really, is it? Wherever your political allegiances lie, whether you want to see another SNP majority or not, there’s little question this new field will alter the debate irrevocably for the worse.
How much attention will be paid, for example, to the fact Labour couldn’t find a single woman of colour to run, when the commentariat is busy salivating over the prospect of another round of Salmond vs Sturgeon? How many column inches will be spent considering the impact of the Greens being pushed out of the running in the year Scotland is due to host the COP26 climate summit? How much nuanced discussion of equality can we expect when we’re still focussed on Salmond’s vendettas, or debate around building back better from the pandemic when we seem to now be stuck in some sort of politically-meta Groundhog Day? No, it’s not funny at all, when you think about it. It’s a long way from it.
Ultimately, they say all revolutions eventually devour their offspring. I guess that’s what we’re witnessing. But to watch Salmond satiate his gluttonous appetite for revenge by chewing on his own is nothing short of nauseating. And the fact our worst political opportunists have now arrived at the table, scenting blood? Well, that only makes the whole buffet of embarrassments even more poisonous…