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.

The strange world of George Galloway

Galloway is an odd figure. A once-respected (well, from some)  firebrand of the left managed to destroy his reputation and image by a succession of increasingly unpleasant steps into politics that involved him becoming the sort of person he’d once rally against. His latest stunt is to ally with Tories and Unionists to oppose Scottish independence as a talking head for the Alliance For Unity party, who are a motley mix of hard/far right types and Unionists desperate for anything to fight the rise in support for independence.

He’s somehow managed to become a figurehead for these people as he goes full Farage as he too becomes Steve Bannon and Michael Gove’s latest glove puppet. The thinking seems to be that Galloway is left-wing (which is dubious), and most folk in Scotland are leftish so the people will flock behind him and chase the Nasty Nats out of town.  The problem is Galloway has an image problem and not just related to this insanity from Big Brother.

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Galloway is the act of a desperate foe. An attempt to unify the Unionist cause behind a Farageist figure who they think will win. but many soft Unionists or genuine undecideds, or simply No votes from 2014 will be horrified at his suggestion only born Scots should vote in a second referendum, and that Scottish born immigrants in the rest of the UK should have the vote. Essentially full-blown ethnic nationalism, something the Unionists accuse Indy supporters of.

The fact is the only way it should be decided is by those living in Scotland eligible to vote. Galloway is a desperate sad act who exists only for the furtherment of Galloway and this is purely his latest grift. Remember this in the months ahead as a small minority pretend he’s some sort of giant killer.

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.

Eight years since the London Olympics

Back in July 2012, the London Olympics were looking to be a huge joke. What was clearly a new vanity project for Labour and Tony Blair at a time of prosperity became a millstone around the neck of a Tory/Lib Dem coalition who didn’t seem especially interested in culture or sport, and a London Mayor’s office run by Boris Johnson who was making mistake after mistake in the run-up to the event.  Security was a mess, nobody could buy tickets and if they did they were either too expensive or for events you didn’t want. Basically, as soon as we hit the month of the Olympics all that was expected was a giant mess.

Friends of mine, however, were going up to volunteer for the games, and one asked me if I wanted to go up and work a few days over the event doing some work in one of the offices on-site. So I went up a fortnight before it started, checked things out, saw it was carnage and decided to stay in Bristol for the duration as although the money was good, I didn’t really want to crash in a hotel in London nor did I want to piss all the money away.

The opening ceremony was to be done by Danny Boyle which at first excited people but then leaks of the show came out making people worried it was going to be shite. The ceremony was a Friday night which for me meant finishing work around 5pm, taking a walk home, and stopping by my local pub til who knows when? It was also cold and wet which that summer had been. It’d been dismal that year with few sunny days to call even a sunny spell.

With the ceremony on live TV in the pub, I couldn’t be arsed going home as I’d not just got a beer in, but it’d be funny to take the piss down the pub with everyone else so the ceremony started and we started taking the piss. What’s all this with the sheep and shit? Then slowly the banter stopped ”(hang on is that Underworld?? Was that Fuck Buttons????”)as more and more of us were sitting around watching and listening to it. We then realised this was something quite special, so I sat down the pub watching this event unfold before nipping home when the athletes started coming out (of course grabbing a fish supper on the way) to watch the rest at home.

That opening ceremony did define something for many. It defined the myth of a working United Kingdom and also showed that out of sacrifice we did create the NHS which to this day is still an extraordinary thing to do in that shattered time just after WW2. It showed the amazing contribution to music and culture these islands have produced and it probably still is the only bit of mass theatre most people have seen. It’s beloved of middle class liberals especially as they see it portraying the UK as it is, instead of as it could be. Obviously Boyle wasn’t going to go full in with politics, and in retrospect it is extraordinary how much he did manage to put in.

But for one evening in a grim, wet July things seemed good and it seemed like maybe the UK isn’t as bad as we think. Of course reality kicked in once the Olympics and Paralympics ended, and then a few years later in 2016 the reality of the UK was spattered across our screens for all to see.

Here though is the official Olympic channel coverage of the opening ceremony. It does have some wonderful Barry Davies commentary where he’s going full Partridge but it is a great document of something special eight long years ago.

35 years of Live Aid

Today, 35 years ago Live Aid happened featuring two huge open-air concerts in London and Philadelphia and global hunger was wiped out overnight making the world an almost utopia. Except it didn’t. So let’s be blunt from the off; as an event to help people Live Aid’s reach was limited, and although aid did get to people, it also got in the hands of warlords who bought guns and other weapons who then proceeded to murder tens of thousands of people. Bob Geldof’s successor to Live Aid, Live 8, ended up siding with Western governments allowing them a shield to back off doing anything real to wipe out Third World debt.

Of course, people giving money in 1985 didn’t know this. I bought a copy of Do They Know its Christmas? like millions of others thinking my few quid that I’d spent on a frankly shite record (which has long, long been sold off) would actually do something. I’d dabbled with the idea of getting a ticket and going down with some friends but I bluntly, shat myself about going down to London myself, spending a day in Wembley, then heading back to Victoria in the wee hours to wait for the bus back. A few years later I wouldn’t have blinked about it, but it is a regret as we had people who’d come into the shop I worked in who could have easily gotten tickets.

In those pre-internet days knowledge that Live Aid was not doing what it set out to do was in circulation, though hard to get but journalists were at least aware on both sides of the Atlantic there were problems. The problem was the narrative was written in stone. Bob Geldof was a saint, and his free-market vision of aid relief might involve giving millions direct to a butcher but let’s skim over that so we can feel good after all, it’s better to be kind than pick Geldof and Live Aid apart because they did help people?

And here we are 35 years later still being fed the same narrative. Yet for all my moral outrage at what Live Aid, and especially Geldof, is actually responsible for, I’ve been constantly drawn to the Live Aid concert itself as possibly one of those moments which helped shape the next 35 years for me in selling me the idea of large open-air festivals such as Glastonbury.

liveaid

As for me on that day, I remember having to pop into work to help deal with a delivery but managed to get away so I was home by midday to watch the start of it which then saw me stuck in front of the TV for the next 14 hours or so. I witnessed poor Adam Ant single-handedly destroy his career to Queen dragging theirs out of the gutter. Watching it back today little of it stands up musically, nor do many of these acts know how to play to a crowd of 100k. Queen was one of those exceptions as was David Bowie who was going through his megastar phase before making the horrible mistake which was his career from 86 to the early 90s. I still shudder at Tin Machine which reminds me I must tell my Tin Machine story one day…

But that day was about spectacle, not to mention the actual technical marvel of putting the thing on, and the BBC showing it to the UK in those early days of satellites. A lot of what was done that day pushed technology on so that just a few years later satellite TV became a thing and you’d see dishes go up on the sides of houses of the few who could afford it back then.  It was amazing to see things flit from the UK to US and back again. Who cares that many of the performances were poor, it was the spectacle which mattered and looking at the continuity back then it’s clear that was how it was affecting people who were there.

Of course there were some things which did happen. Most of the acts saw their careers either blow up like U2 or Madonna or come back from the dead like Queen and Status Quo. Others saw careers prolonged for a year or two longer than they should have been with Adam Ant being an exception.  Live Aid also saw how music changed for the latter half of the 80s so that these big acts dominated to the point where chart music stagnated. No wonder the breakthrough of rave and Indie music in 89 was lapped up as we’d struggled with that post Live Aid bubble.

35 years later the legacy of that day beyond the memories people have of it as a glorious spectacle is complex. Geldof has clearly profited in terms of relevance since then as in 1985 his 15 minutes of fame was well and truly up, but his move into international politics is going to either make him a saint or hang like a set of chains depending on how you’ve informed yourself. Most people though see him, and Live Aid/8 (I remember Geldof appearing at Glastonbury in 2005 being welcomed uncritically on the main stages, but elsewhere you’d be able to find opposing voices to what he was doing, not to mention that both concerts are lacking in black acts) are purely noble causes and not the complex mess it really is.

Still, musically if you’re an act looking to play a big festival you can do worse than using Live Aid as a guide as to how to do it. Queen and U2 are your guides.

 

About that ‘cancel culture’ letter

A letter condemning cancel culture signed by over 150 academics, writers, journalists and others. In 2020 this shouldn’t have to happen, but it has and although the statement is as anodyne in defence of free speech as possible, it’s been causing controversy as people say there’s no such thing as cancel culture while at the same time rallying behind calls to cancel people listed on the letter.  The letter itself can be found at this link.

Thing is instead of an open debate we saw what the letter is talking about play out in real-time with people posting just why free speech is under threat, and why a certain aspect of the left has decided to be just as authoritarian and censorious as certain aspects of the right. As an example, the actress Jodie Comer was revealed to be dating a supposed conservative which has seen the most appalling screeching nonsense about how she’s Satan incarnate, and of course guilty without trial, evidence or indeed, sanity from her accusers.

There’s the element of witch-hunting here, and certainly, there’s an obvious joy from some that they can wield such power (I’d recommend Jon Ronson’s book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed to see just how dark cancel culture can get) that a young woman like Comer can wake up to a stream of frankly, insane bullshit about her private life. Then there’s the reaction of people who think Person A is guilty by association so they hold or advocate the views of Person B who they don’t like. Remember when Johnny Depp was attempted to be canceled due to domestic abuse allegations which eventually ended up showing that in reality, Depp was the victim rather than perpetrator? Now that’s readily forgotten as people support Depp in his legal action against The Sun but for a while there it seemed like the internet had crucified Depp.

Problem is when we now spend so much time living online and everyone is a cop trying to police people for wrongspeak we have a situation where there is no debate. When that spills into the real world, especially in an academic context so that debating opposing views is shunned, or worse then we’re diving headfirst into a dystopia where everyone has to conform for fear of cancellation and all that brings.

So personally I’m done with being associated with an illiberal section of the left who want to control rather than convince, and that lives are simplistic things where people should only associate themselves with other like-minded people. Ideas are not exchanged, therefore they’re never challenged and we leap on this course of anti-intellectualism as this culture war between the hard right and left knock chunks off each other. I fear for where things are going and I’m not convinced there’s a way to pull back however, the only chink of light is the majority of people still find this alien which is why so many of these types on right and left, have major problems when entering the real world. Hopefully sanity will prevail.

 

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.

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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.

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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.