Monday 11 April 2016

In defence of John Whittingdale

Life imitates art, but when it does so it's unsettling. I'm in the process of writing a novel in which the protagonist publicly defends the practice of BDSM. That provides a degree of safe distancing; I am not my protagonist and, in any case, hardly anyone reads my novels so it wouldn't be a great deal of exposure.

I don't normally write publicly about my sexuality, and I am also not someone who's entirely comfortable defending Tories. However, let's start.

A couple of weeks ago in a press interview, Kezia Dugdale said, in simple, dignified terms, that she had a female lover, and this was published without sensation. The press had known the fact, apparently, for years, but no-one had thought it appropriate to 'out' her. Her privacy was respected, as it should have been. In the days after the interview was printed, the Scottish press and the Scottish chattering classes congratulated ourselves at how much we'd grown up as a nation, that we no longer saw someone's sexuality as a matter for public discussion.

John Whittingdale is a Conservative Westminster politician, not a Holyrood Labour one. Like Kez Dugdale, he isn't married to anyone else. Like Kez Dugdale, he has (allegedly) a single lover with whom he has had a moderately long term intimate relationship. Like Kez Dugdale, the press has known of this for some years. And, as in Kez Dugdale's case, the press have, with simple dignity, respected his privacy as they should.

One single journalist, James Cusick, no longer employed by any paper, has decided to break ranks and spread what amounts to salacious gossip.

John Whittingdale's lover is, according to Cusick, a young woman called Olivia King. She is, allegedly, a dominatrix by profession; from her pictures she reminds me very much of a dominatrix friend of mine of whom I think highly. The implication Cusick wants us to draw is that Whittindale is a masochist. There is actually no reason to draw this implication; many people who work professionally as dominatrices do not 'bring their work home', and may have completely different relationship dynamics in their private life.

In any case, it's precisely none of our business whether or not John Whittingdale is a masochist. What consenting adults choose to do consensually in the privacy of their own homes is their own business and no-one else's. Not ours, and not journalists' either. Most especially, it's none of James Cusick's business.

If Olivia King were transgendered, this would not be a legitimate story. If she were male, this would not be a legitimate story. If she were black, this would not be a legitimate story. If she were blind, this would not be a legitimate story. If she were a ballet dancer, this would not be a legitimate story. This is, in fact, not a legitimate story. One person choosing to make what on the evidence presented appears to be a warm, settled, moderately long term relationship with another is not a story. If an MP chooses to take his partner to the House of Commons New Years Eve party, there's absolutely no reason why he shouldn't. Everyone has the right to make the consensual relationships which suit them.

When I was a young man in Scotland, homosexuality was illegal; I knew people who were sent to prison for their sexuality. Now that I am old, the majority of the leaders of Scotland's political parties are - openly - gay, and no-one thinks anything of it. Only one form of consensual sexual expression between adults is still illegal. It's still illegal to hit another person, who invites it, for mutual pleasure. The BDSM community is the last minority whose sexuality could still - in theory at least - lead to prison. And it shouldn't be.

Human sexuality is extremely complex. It's extremely deep. It is fundamental to our beings, to our identity, to who we are as people.  To prevent someone expressing their sexuality consensually with a partner of their choice is to cripple them. We should not do it.

John Whittingdale may be a Tory. He may be a member of a government which I do not hesitate to call evil. He may be guilty of all sorts of things which are of legitimate interest to investigative journalists. But his sexuality is not one of them.

We're grown-ups now, not adolescents sniggering behind the bike sheds.

Sunday 3 April 2016

Draft letter to Nicola Sturgeon on #BothVotesSNP

Dear Nicola Sturgeon

You know as well as we do that the Scottish National Party is - deservedly - well on the way to an epic victory in the coming election. You know that the SNP will win all - or almost all - of the constituency seats - and will deserve to. But you also know as well as we do that victory in this election - that forming the next administration - is not an end for the SNP: it is only a means to an end.

The end is to create a better Scotland, and you believe - as we do - that to achieve that requires the powers which will come with independence.

In the recent referendum, our side nearly won. We nearly achieved independence. But if you are honest you will agree that the Scottish National Party did not nearly win alone, and that, alone, it would not have nearly won. Rather, a broad movement in which many non-party actors, Women for Independence, the National Collective and the Radical Independence Campaign not least among them, and many other party actors including the Green Party and the Scottish Socialist Party, put their shoulders to the wheel together.

To achieve independence we need to motivate a broad coalition across Scotland. That's why the party you lead - the Scottish National Party - is necessarily a broad church, why for those of us on the left your policies on land reform, on local and central taxation, on fracking inevitably seem timid and unadventurous. We understand that it is necessary for you to be unadventurous in order to not startle the horses on the right of your party, to keep your broad church together.

We greatly respect the competence, focus, hard work and dedication of your government over the past eight years. You, personally and collectively, have done very well and richly deserve the nation's backing.

But competence won't win us independence. Timidity won't inspire people to vote for a big change. The very strategy which is necessary to hold the party together is a strategy which will prevent it winning independence, alone.

It does not have to stand alone. It has natural allies, whom it could choose to foster. The Green Party, RISE and the Womens' Equality Party are all forces which could provide a Holyrood chamber much more supportive of and conducive to the policies you want to advance than the present chamber.

We're sure your recognise in Cat Boyd of RISE, for example, someone far closer to you across a wide range of policy issues than some members of your own cabinet. We're sure that you'd agree that however awkward Andy Wightman would be for any administration as a Green MSP, both the parliament and Scotland's rural policy would be the richer for his presence.

So we're puzzled and disturbed by your support for the 'Both Votes SNP' tag. You must know that tribal politics have been a damaging force in Scotland for generations. But more than this you do know that under the de Hondt system, because the SNP will win the preponderance of the constituency seats, it will win very few of the list seats.

To illustrate this, if everyone votes as current polling suggests they will, we would have seventy nine pro-independence MSPs - sixty nine SNP and ten Green - facing fifty unionists. But if everyone who plans to vote SNP on their first vote also votes SNP on their second, the number of pro-independence MSPs falls to only seventy four, and your allies the Greens are wiped out. Unionists would benefit, and the party which would benefit most from 'Both Votes SNP' is UKIP, up from zero seats to eight.

If, however, everyone who votes SNP on their first vote were to vote, for example, Green on their second vote, we'd have one hundred and eleven pro-independence seats, and only eleven unionists.

Both Votes SNP is a policy which wins the SNP votes at the expense of its pro-independence allies. Worse, it's a policy which actually loses thirty-seven potential pro-independence seats. But worse still, it's a policy which costs any future Yes movement a great deal of money and a lot of full time research and support staff, because as you know, behind every MSP there are two or three staff supporting them.

Both Votes SNP not only removes thirty-seven pro-independence votes from the parliament, it also removes not thirty-seven but about one hundred and twenty nine full time workers from the next Yes movement - and it gifts one hundred and twenty nine full time salaries to the next No campaign.

We're sure that you're confident that, should England vote for Brexit, you can get a motion through Parliament for a new independence referendum. But to win that referendum you will need allies. Now is not the time to be stabbing those allies in the back, but to be embracing them and leading them forward. Now is the time to create a Yes alliance, to agree with Greens and Rise who will stand for Yes on each of the regional lists, to withdraw the SNP's list candidates, and to encourage your supporters not to vote 'Both Votes SNP' but instead to vote 'Both Votes Yes'.

You know as well as we do that Scotland needs this. You know as well as we do that we will not achieve independence without it.

Yours sincerely

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