Scotland’s proposed hate crime laws are an illiberal mess.

There’s a lot bout Scotland to praise from how the NHS is still free to its arts to attempts to make us more akin to a liberal Scandinavian democracy than whatever the UK is turning into. On the whole, the governing party of Scotland, the SNP, have guided Scotland in right directions over the last decade but they have a problem with well meaning, but legally troubling laws. The ‘Named Person’ idea was, and is, a great one but was badly put together legally as was The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act was an actual attempt to deal with sectarian abuse in Scottish football but again, it fell apart because it was well meaning but legally a mess.

The latest bill to come down the line in such a way is the proposed new hate crimes law which finally gets rid of blasphemy in Scottish law but replaces it with new types of blasphemies which a progressive 21st century democracy should not have. To quote from this piece

Offences are currently aggravated by prejudice against a victim’s race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or their transgender identity.

Hate crime can take many forms including verbal abuse or insults, assault and damage to property, but also online abuse on sites like Facebook or Twitter.

When a criminal is convicted of a hate crime, an ‘aggravation’ can be added to their sentence, meaning that if, for example, someone attacks an individual based on their race, then a racial aggravation can be added to the crime of assault.

The Scottish Government’s proposed legislation would incorporate the existing aggravating factors but also add the characteristic of age, with the potential to include sex at a later date so misogynistic harassment can become a standalone offence.

If passed by parliament, the Hate Crime Bill, will also make “stirring up of hatred” extend to all the characteristics, rather than just against race, which has been an offence in Scots law for decades.

The characteristics aimed to be protected under the bill are listed below.

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Race, colour, nationality (including citizenship), or ethnic or national origins
  • Religion
  • Sexual orientation
  • Transgender identity
  • Variations in sex characteristics

So far, so relatively uncontroversial though one has to ask why sex is not included in the list (it may be added at a later date) when we live in a time when misogyny is rife and other, more vague criteria is included.The issue rises when we hit what makes an offence which is the offence of ‘stirring up hatred’ which under these proposals would make it an offence for a person to behave in a threatening, abusive or insulting manner, or to communicate threatening, abusive or insulting material to another person where in doing so, the person intends to stir up hatred against a group of people by reference to race, colour, nationality (including citizenship), or ethnic or national origin. The problem comes when the offence is that someone is ‘likely’ to result in hatred.

This opens up the bills from one supposedly designed to update hate crime laws to one which suddenly closes down free speech and freedom of expression while opening up a Pandora’s Box where any group could easily abuse the act to suppress an opposing opinion. Imagine a group of highly organised people organising a campaign to get someone prosecuted because they don’t like what they’ve said? Removing religious blasphemy for secular blasphemy is not progress.

What marks criticism of this out from other bills is the level in which Scotland’s legal organisations themselves are providing warning and lead the opposition to parts of the bill which will limit freedom of expression and will criminalise people who may well be unpopular among a section of people, but offering a different opinion may offend but if as a society we limit offence then we’re heading towards a very controlling, bland society. So to take just comedy, this bill could criminalise Frankie Boyle, Billy Connolly, The Life of Brian and much of the rest of Monty Python’s output, the works of Chris Morris and pretty much any important work of comedy of the last century.

Juries will have to decide if a statement, or a work of art, or just a Tweet, is designed ‘to stir up hatred and as the bill excludes protecting “expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse” it seems as said, designed for small, powerful groups to target individuals especially, If we’ve hit a point where society is so weak, and arguments are so thin that they need to game the system then we are basically fucked.

So I hope the SNP listen, take the bill back and change it otherwise it’ll become law and a few high profile cases will show it to be a mockery, and the Scottish Government will have to rethink something which will not do what it may set out to do. We need a society where dissent is tolerated.

Glasgow runs screaming back into lockdown

Over the last few months Scotland has done well to contain Covid-19, but since lockdown has been loosened up there’s been worries that another lockdown is just round the corner because well, people are twats. So now Glasgow has jumped to the top of the twat list because for weeks now people have been doing their best to ignore social distancing and other precautions so we now have to back to restrictions because people are twats.

Just as I was plucking up the courage to go to what few places are open, this rolls around ahead of what many here are predicting another full lockdown by the end of the month.

All because of twats…

Scottish independence is now supported by a majority

The latest polls for Scottish independence put 55% of people for, 45% against which is the latest poll which shows an increase in support since the start of 2020. This of course is good news, but if you’re a Unionist then the panic is setting in, and setting in hard because simply put if Boris Johnson is the voice of the Union then fuck the Union.

Of course it is just a poll, and the other problem is the SNP are seriously dragging their feet but the fact is people are on a clear path to independence, barring the diehard Unionists of course.

Alex Salmond’s retrial by television

On Monday night the BBC broadcast The Trial of Alex Salmond, a documentary of Salmond’s sexual offences trial of early 2020 presented by Kirsty Wark and made by her production company. It is an extraordinary film in that it was clearly made to put Salmond through a retrial by television as he was found not guilty by a jury back in March.

Salmond is a controversial figure at best. I’m drawn to respect some of the things he did (there is no chance in hell we’d be having this conversation about Scottish independence and it being so close without him) but I’ve always been wary of him which is maybe a throwback to my former Labour past. He’s what’s called a ‘Marmite figure’, but that said he’s still amazingly popular among a section of SNP supporters, even the wider independence movement. He is also incredibly unpopular with a large section of the Scottish establishment which brings me to last night’s programme.

Wark clearly assumed Salmond would be found guilty as indeed, much of Scotland’s media class did but his not guilty verdict threw a wobbly for her, so she just ended up making the programme she would have anyhow giving minor lip service to the case against Salmond being thrown out.  And here’s the thing, you and I may mot like Salmond. We might find him a bit old school but he was found to do nothing criminal but Wark ensured the viewing public was retried in public.

The reaction was hard, even from people not especially on Salmond’s side. Here’s Gerry Hassan as an example.

hassan

I’ve never known a programme to go after a person found not guilty like this without an inch of new evidence and if we see the media go after a powerful figure like Salmond, what’s to stop them doing the same to anyone? Now there is a documentary to be made about the case, the #metto connection and how the Scottish establishment reacted to it but this isn’t it. This was a personal attack borne out of frustration that the law didn’t do what it wanted them to do so they lashed back in a way which smeared someone without the fairness of a trial.

And this is the point. If the media contains people who are able to conduct personal attacks on mainstream television thanks to the BBC then we have a justice system under attack from the powerful who don’t get what they want, and it doesn’t take a genius to work out the terrible consequences of that for a supposed free and fair society.

The second DC Implosion

Back in 1978 DC Comics suffered a massive implosion of titles, creators, and staff, as financial realities kicked in as DC Comics were purged to the extent where it was questionable whether DC could even exist.  Fast forward to 2020 and DC Comics are suffering a culling of staff including long-established names like Bob Harras being given their P45. Bleeding Cool have a piece on it here.

1520621973_520569ab59d7d99108247c86ff9eaccf

I expected a reaction from new owners AT & T started flexing their muscles, but with Covid destroying industries everywhere, DC were going to make changes but this is harder than expected. Also titles are going to get cancelled. As the BC articles says expect the Batman, Superman and Justice League titles to be safe. I’d assume Flash, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern to be safe too.  Everything else is at risk. This isn’t that bad of a thing as DC needed a clear out of titles, not to mention some new creative directions but this is a horrible way to enact anything like that.

Hopefully this isn’t the beginning of the end of DC as a comics publisher, but it certainly is a shifting in the American comics industry of the likes we’ve not seen in a few generations.

The death of The Guardian

The Guardian is to shed 250 jobs as the perfect storm of Covid-19 and at least a decade of fucking up comes home to roost.  Now there is a death of print generally but The Guardian has been the victim of its own decisions from then editor Alan Rusbridger throwing the paper at the US market and changing the focus of it from a UK left of centre, often socialist newspaper with a basis in investigative journalism, into an opinion led paper rammed full of clickbait aimed at the American left while distancing itself from its roots in Manchester. Even stalwart Steve Bell is losing his job.

It is a loss. The UK media landscape needs a strong left of centre voice and this will further weaken the paper, though it shows little signs of recognising that the descent into identity politics, not to mention the close relationship to the Lib Dems while alienating readers on its position on Scottish independence, socialism, women and a number of subjects which have seen the paper pitch itself at a small clique of supposed left wingers who seem to be far removed from leftish policies.

There’s always been an authoritarian, pro-establishment streak to the paper, but it’s become a paper where different views, and voices have been thrown off to leave it as a mildly middle class liberal sludge with the odd outrider reminding us of what it once was.

I stopped buying it around the time of the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, and stopped reading it around a year ago when it became intolerable in the fact their editorial lines were interfering with being an investigative newspaper. However nature does abhor a vacuum and there’s much online which has replaced it, but the one thing which is hard to replace is investigative journalism. It’s hard, long and often expensive and it will do us no good if the victim of the restructuring of the UK’s media landscape sees the end of investigative journalism.

It could still attract readers back but in the week since this was announced I’ve seen no signs of it having improved so it’ll be sad to see it damaged like this, but in reality, the damage is mainly self-inflicted.

 

 

Just wear a mask

As of the 10th of July it became a legal requirement in Scotland to wear face coverings in shops and public transport with the advice being if you can wear them at all times when outside then please do. However for now, it’s just shops and public transport where it is a legal requirement. Simple enough right? Well, as in the USA, people are complaining that it is ‘inconvenient’, or a nuisance or they won’t wear one because of ‘personal freedom’.

The simple fact is that we can’t stay in lockdown forever, and the chances of a vaccine for Covid-19 is further away than most people think. There may well be good treatments we find out in the future, however as the weeks move on we’re finding more about Covid, and little of it is good so you want anything like a life prior to five months ago? Wear a fucking mask or you put not just the vulnerable at risk, but yourself as you really don’t want a mild case of this as people who caught it back in February or March are still suffering through it. We’re only now getting some idea that this is going to end up putting a lot of people into long-term post-Covid care.

It doesn’t cost you anything. It helps us come out of lockdown so that those of us who have been shielding since March and have barely left our homes can come out in a few weeks to hopefully pick our lives up again. I don’t care if you feel silly, it makes you and I safer so that hopefully whatever is our new normality can proceed in what is going to be hard enough times.

Dawn of Planet of the Cops

The essay Planet of the Cops by Freddie deBoer has been something I’ve gone back and forth to since I first read it a year or so ago. As the days grind on it becomes more and more apprent that deBoer has more or less defined where we are in the West in 2020.

The first paragraph is more applicable now than it was then.

The irony of our vibrant and necessary police reform movement is that it’s happening simultaneously to everyone becoming a cop. I mean everyone — liberal, conservative, radical and reactionary. Blogger, activist, pundit, and writer, obviously, but also teacher, tailor, and candlestick maker. Cops, all of them. Cops everywhere. Everybody a cop.

Everyone is policing everyone. Everything is polarised. Everything is either black or white. People side with tribes regardless of how it goes against their personal trust in things like science, or their own political ideology which we’ve had in some shape or form for years, especially from the right, but now the left have grabbed this authoritarianism with both hands. And I’m not talking about people being exposed as crooks and complaints going through the correct channels, I’m talking of people being cancelled because they may have Tweeted something stupid even over a decade ago.

Take the case of Hartley Sawyer who plays Elongated Man on The Flash. He made some racist and misogynist Tweets which read like bad jokes however this was back in 2012 so someone has scoured his timeline looking for something to punish him. In this case, it’s lost his job. But yet something similar happened with James Gunn when old social media posts emerged but that had huge chunks of the left trip over themselves to excuse, and demand his job back at Marvel, which eventually happened. What’s the difference? I dunno. Neither should have been sacked is the main point but a witch hunt needs witches.

Liberalism and critical thinking is under threat now from right and left, which means one can be left wondering where exactly did it all go wrong. How did we go from the potential for free speech the internet gave us even a decade ago to an online Stasi state where someone, somewhere is looking through all your social media to find one post they can declare as wrongspeak so they can get you fired. As deBoer says, is it any wonder leftish parties in the West are struggling to gain support when these parties at their core are run by small, but powerful groups more interested in maintaining political purity and identity politics over winning elections or fighting for a singular cause which may well change things for the better for so many. Solidarity, especially class politics seem to be gone replaced by this.

So we have situations where people can raise campaigns to cancel someone because they liked a Tweet from someone ‘problematic’ but put the same effort into understanding how class politics affects people’s lives or take the time perhaps to look into a situation to find the truth, is simply not going to happen as a whole. And more and more people dirft away from a left more interested in eating itself, or standing up for anti-scientific positions, or dragging up a post someone did a decade ago so they can call on the rest of the Stasi to get the person sacked.

As deBoer says…

A cop culture is one where a mob forces a company to patch its game because the treatment of video game parrots is somehow deficient. Do you buy that narrative at all? Do you think any single human being is so fucking daft as to believe that lots of children are going to be inspired by Minecraft to feed their real parrots real chocolate chip cookies? Or do people like being cops? Do they like being in a position to make demands? Do they like lazily threatening people, “nice company you have here… wouldn’t want it to get embroiled in some controversy”? People are alienated and worn down and hopeless, and so they see their opportunity to finally be the one pulling over somebody else’s car, lazily tapping the glass with their flashlights. “I’m the one in charge now,” he thinks, as he sends an email to somebody’s boss over a Facebook status he doesn’t like.

The effect of all this is draining. It is cumulative and it solves nothing but it helps polarise things more and more, as people, scared of being sacked or ‘cancelled’ go along with the mob because they know one wrong thing said and that mob turns on them.  Good causes end up ruined or easily mocked by people who don’t live their lives in the middle of all this, so for them instead of being drawn into something which they may support are alienated because there’s no discussion, no thought. Just a doctrine that one must observe or face the wrath of the mob.

I have no idea where this ends. However we need to make a stand for things like critical thinking, science and the ability to win arguments though fact & reason, instead of death or rape threats added onto the threat of getting the person sacked. Plus if we let the right, especially the hard right, dominate the fight for free speech that will not end in a good way.

Hopefully things change soon but I really do fear we’re living in a neverending Planet of the Cops.

 

Panic on the streets of London

Yesterday on the streets of London, thousands of far-right protestors took to the street to protect statues, mainly by fighting, drinking, fighting, throwing out Nazi salutes, fighting, beating up people who have nothing to do with anything to do with the protests, drinking and of course, fighting.

Oh, and pissing next to the memorial of a policeman killed in a terrorist incident. In the background to what is now a clear and outright culture war is Covid-19 which cares nothing for any cause, but it will kill a proportion of people it infects. It’s clear a second wave will come and it’ll come hard however that will play background to this as over the next few months the UK government looks for distractions for their Brexit policy.

At the same time, some protestors do have to introduce some nuance into their worldview. Some of these statues do need to go as they’re not relevant to the 21st century, but as much as I may despise someone like Churchill he needs something to acknowledge what he did to defeat the Nazis in World War 2, and there’s a number of people who may hold dubious views or were bastards but again, we need to note what positive work they did.  History is messy and nobody is pure.

But we’re in a culture war now. Where this ends up I have no idea but we should be very, very wary of the far right being able to mobilise a few thousand people on the streets of London during a pandemic. The next few months especially are not going to be especially fun ones, especially once the depression the UK is flirting with kicks in and the effects of that hurt.

 

The fall of Edward Colston

At last the city of Bristol is free of the Edward Colston statue.

colston1

During the Black Lives Matter protest yesterday, crowds pulled it down and chucked the thing into the harbour where it suffered as watery a grave as some of the 18,000 human beings his company killed over the time it shipped slaves to the UK.

colston2

First, the Covid issue. As you can see from the second picture any social distancing there was broke down, and I’m assuming everyone there won’t be quarantined for the next fortnight so it means the virus will spread. We can’t excuse one protest because we agree with its aims over any others, so this now opens the doors for other protests which on top of what seems like lockdown fracturing means there will be spikes and this will put pressure on an exhausted NHS.  Other protests in the UK did manage distancing, and organisers did make it clear protestors have to quarantine afterwards, so that should be the basic minimum from now on.

As for the incident; good. That statue needed to go and for decades has been a smear on the city. When I first moved to Bristol and when I first found out what the statue was and who he was, it was outrageous that at that point in the early 90’s in a city which was so multicultural celebrated a man who brand human beings with his name. The problem is the name and acts of Colston are woven through Bristol to the extent it’d be impossible to purge it completely but it now falls upon institutions carrying Colston’s name to do what they can because frankly, if that isn’t going to happen now at a time when the world is focused on this, then it never will.

Bristol made its wealth through slavery, as did cities like Liverpool, Glasgow or any major city in the UK. In some cities a debate has raged for decades, in some (Glasgow for example) there’s only a serious debate starting now as to what to do with the names which hold the names of slave traders and trading, and also those institutions who are still financially benefiting from slavery even today.

Whether this moment leads to lasting change remains to be seen. We’re in a pandemic still and life won’t ever be the same once lockdowns are loosened further but there’s also a potential second wave being predicted, plus on top of that a global depression is coming so overall we’re entering uncertain times however these sort of times are hell to live through but it may end up with the sort of social change needed in the 21st century.