That phrase about even a broken clock being right twice a day comes to mind on reading Robin McAlpine’s admission that his politics have been “fucking awful”. On Tuesday, he took to the pages of Bella Caledonia in response to criticism he’s faced since speaking at Saturday’s “Hope Over Fear” riddyfest in George Sq. However, there wasn’t much more room for introspection in his tantrum about why he – the darling of the indyleft, director of the Common Weal and the man who puts the “me first” in “All of Us First” – should be allowed to do whatever the fuck he wants.
It’s difficult to know where to start in demolishing McAlpine’s squirming attempt to ignore the point – that for a year or so, he has played a role in attempting to resurrect the career of Tommy Sheridan, by being one of the few notable Yes types willing to share a platform with him.
The piece makes a plea for unity in the classic left-wing tradition, using Bella as a forum to bludgeon internal criticism at Common Weal with no end of pot shots at those counter-revolutionaries at National Collective. People opposing Sheridan are probably poets or some other kind of petit-bourgeois scum and are definitely enemies of the working class/face paint. His proclamation, that he can reveal to us the “only really truly working class part of our wider movement,” could be a line from any dusty pamphlet, written by the leader of any leftish political sect, since the dawn of time. And all from a man who, just a fortnight ago, starred in a tedious Guardian essay that reads as a who’s who of the woolly soft-left. Yet he feels justified in accusing anyone who disagrees with him of being part of an out of touch metropolitan elite.
Taking middle class paternalism to comical new lows, yon Robin Could (“you please let someone else get a word in”) turns social anthropologist when he observes with awestruck whisper how “They sing and dance, shout and cheer – and smile. A lot. They pop over to the pub for a pint and come back. They hug you, take selfies of themselves with whomever they can find.” Aren’t THEY great, those working classes.
McAlpine’s piece opens with much gushing about how little attention he wanted for himself when he founded his own organisation and how he’s been desperately burying his head on the sand over Tommy – by turning up at his rallies and then writing about it. He moves on to intentionally confuse “blacklisting”, a policy used by bosses to victimise workers, with “no-platforming”, a policy used by most of the left and beyond to de-legitimise dangerous people and ideas (ever noticed how no one stands next to the BNP candidate on election night?), in this case used by political organisations to protect those victimised by Tommy’s one man crusade to destroy the truth.
The often argued case against no-platforming which McAlpine deploys as a defence in his piece is that we should engage with the arguments of our enemies in order to expose them. We’re not sure how McAlpine thinks this applies to Tommy, who he isn’t criticising and whose side he was thoroughly on when he made the decision to share that platform with him.
It’s not a particularly difficult approach to understand. You won’t catch Nicola Sturgeon, or Patrick Harvie, or folk from Women For Independence sharing that platform, because it’s so incredibly obvious why that’s a problem. For the SNP, it’s simple political pragmatism – Sheridan is a bad takeaway curry waiting to jobby over every campaign he touches. For WFI, an organisation brimming with women who Sheridan openly tried to destroy, it’s a matter of whether we value their input more than the man who abused them and can’t even bring himself to pretend to apologise.
One of the most bizarre claims in the piece is that the organisers of Hope Over Fear “simply don’t get why they are pariahs in the movement.” Yes they do. They are aware that they tried and failed to build support for their tactic of everyone committing mass perjury to defend Sheridan, aware they lost the argument and chose to split the left in the process. They have been through this same experience and criticism over and over, not least when they tried to take over the anti bedroom tax movement in 2013. They aren’t ignorant Robin and neither are you. You’re just demonstrating spectacular complicity.
McAlpine stretches his rather scant understanding of class/gender politics even further, by attempting to suggest we should listen to people who have “different experiences” of Tommy’s misogyny, whatever that means. Tommy’s never been a misogynist to me, so well, that’s just your experience. Some of us won’t wait around for history to repeat itself. Robin McAlpine had a chance – to say he believed those who Tommy damaged and that he valued their experiences and their contribution to our movement more than the thrill of sharing a platform with the man who attempted to paint them as liars, badly, and failed, and lost, and whose tale unravelled so spectacularly and publicly and definitively. He turned his back on them, with pish about how he doesn’t doubt the sincerity of “this view”, even if he’s just said he has chosen to ignore it on the basis it’s all middle class and they probably only experience misogyny because they’re women. Cool story bro.
Most worryingly perhaps, there’s a threat, that Tommy’s about to leap forth, *FINALLY* able to defend himself, since he’s been so shy about calling everyone “scabs” and “cunts” for the last decade. Let’s just be clear here – if and when it’s revealed that one of Tommy’s defence witnesses was also a perjurer, no facts change about what Tommy did. Andy Coulson & Co. didn’t need to hack Tommy’s phones because he, quite literally, got into bed with the Murdoch Press, he took a News of the World journalist to a sex club and then dragged her through the courts for his own benefit. McAlpine is indulging in a fantasy, about the monster rising to rid Scotland of the truth once and for all, without considering how upsetting that might be to those who’ve done their time explaining the stuff we all already know.
[CONTENT WARNING: Discussion of transphobia, domestic violence, child abuse, rape]
In a way, it’s probably a bit silly that anyone expected better from McAlpine over this issue. He already showed his arse the last time he took to Bella to air his defence of the worst sides of Yes, bemoaning that he doesn’t “write in support of Wings anything like enough” when Wings faced exclusion from more official sections of the Yes movement with more to lose from associating themselves with bad guys (sound familiar?). Regular readers of this blog will know that Stuart Campbell, the self-styled Reverend of indy blog Wings Over Scotland, has attracted our ire before for being a massive transphobic arsepiece. Take a stroll through Wings’ writing and his tweets and you’ll find a staggering amount of misogyny, from the casual right up to defence of former SNP MSP and convicted domestic abuser Bill Walker. Wings knows he’s abusive, he’s unrepentant and he revels in it. And Robin McAlpine knows that too. So when he wrote in 2014 that he was “yet to find a reason to quarantine” Wings and when he writes now “If we cut Hope Over Fear out of the ‘agreed canon’ of the movement … we’ll all be looking over our shoulders to try and guess who is next. Wings Over Scotland?”, rest assured that he knows exactly what the criticisms of Wings are, and he chooses Wings over trans people and over women.
McAlpine’s feigned innocence/ignorance over the abusive political histories of Our Great Leaders, Sheridan and Wings, reads like so much we’ve heard before – basic 101 feminism is a middle class diversion, wait til after the revolution (or the founding of the ‘high pay economy’) and if you’re not willing to hold hands with people who’ve spent years spitting in your face and undermining your work, you’re the one with the problem. We can’t stress enough how disingenuous this is. The question isn’t how much does he know, it’s how much does pretending it’s not a problem benefit him. But far be it from us to suggest there’s any correlation between several men with a penchant for self-appointed leadership’s possible end goals…
This isn’t the only time recently McAlpine has shown a reckless disdain for people living with the effects of abuse. He recently used the well trodden metaphor about how the UK was a family – “Britain, when you told us how much you valued us in your family of nations, we didn’t realise it was going to be the Fritzl family and you were going to keep us in a basement and abuse us.” People repeatedly raised concerns during the referendum that talk all the chat about divorces, broken homes and being held back by abusive partners wasn’t helpful to the Yes cause. One in three women homicide victims are killed by their current or former partner, so applying the same false outrage to the fact Holyrood doesn’t control VAT is pretty shite, to say the least.
One of our readers contacted McAlpine’s office to ask why he thought it was appropriate to make comparisons between the union and the abuse, imprisonment and rape of Elisabeth Fritzl at the hands of her father and forwarded on to us his email response. His defence included such zingers as “I was well aware that the comment was provocative before I wrote it” (dig, dig, dig) and “had I had any reasonable expectation that anyone involved in the case would have any chance of seeing the comment, I would not have used it”. So that’s alright then, because it’s not as if there’s an incredibly high prevalence of rape and child sexual abuse that people everywhere around us are dealing with all the time and throughout their lives, but so long as the Fritzl family *themselves* don’t see it, no harm done to anyone right!
The idea that people who are living with abuse are somehow distant and separate from us needs to end cause it’s a load of shite. And even if you foolishly believed it, why would it be the case that they’re not the type of people we’re trying to appeal to with our words? We have to ask ourselves who gains from pretending that women who have been abused within the left in Scotland aren’t involved and present in what we’re doing, even if there is a large number who have been forced out by the enabling of this kind of behaviour that McAlpine has so eloquently advocated for in Bella Caledonia.
There’s been a lot of talk about ‘red lines’ in this election period, Trident or education or more devolution for Scotland. What could be a more fundamental red line than the right of women and LGBT people to participate? We’ve said it time and time again, and the conclusion is always that when you condone the platform that the Tommys and the Wings of this world are carving for themselves, you necessarily condone excluding the people they abuse, and all the countless others who have felt the same pain and disillusion at the hands of the many other abusers who have carved their personal centres of power across the left. It’s not about one man and it never has been – that one man just happens to exemplify everything women have been banging on about for years.
McAlpine’s sudden focus on class seems sort of confused with his usual approach. As Robin happily admits, “sides” don’t sit easily with him. This will come as no surprise to anyone who has attempted to follow the ideological (mis)meanderings of the “All of Us First” ethos, as has been discussed extensively elsewhere. In his concluding remarks, McAlpine states that, “there is almost no chance that I could find a form of words which will make everyone happy.” This demonstrates exactly the problem, that we cannot ALL go first (and that McAlpine’s main concern is being SEEN to not be shit, not actually not being shit). The form of words, “I believe in an independent Scotland,” didn’t even please the majority of people – but we said it because politics is about making choices. If you don’t want to pick sides, between right and wrong, poverty and wealth, justice and injustice, then dare we suggest that politics is a career path best avoided.
In writing all this, McAlpine was choosing who went first in his eyes. He chose himself, his own desire to cling on to his cushy role over the concerns of many Common Weal supporters, Tommy victims, feminists and those who believe in a safer left. That was the wrong choice. If this was an attempt to draw a line under the issue, it didn’t work, given that Common Space, the erm, news arm of Common Weal ran this today, pointing out that Tommy Sheridan is obviously bad news.
“But I don’t make my decisions based on who shouts loudest at me on social media,” would be a comical summation were it not so ironic. This decision is exactly about McAlpine backing the loudest shouter, the biggest force. This is about taking what he perceives to be the path of least resistance but that’s another wrong choice. We’re gonnae resist this dangerous pish because unlike some of our great leaders, we don’t have a choice about what side we find ourselves on.
So while this may not be a form of words which will make everyone happy – Robin McAlpine, you are a think and wank tanker and this week you’ve gone septic.
In the interests of full disclosure, here is the full text of McAlpine’s reply to our reader re: Fritzl comment that we were sent:
“I think you called the office to express unhappiness about my use of the Fritzl reference in my Bella piece today. I was well aware that the comment was provocative before I wrote it. I even ran it by a couple of people before I used it, telling them I knew it was provocative but was it relevant provocative or gratuitous provocative. Both were female (and in Women for Indy as individuals), both said ‘you will of course get a reaction but this is not gratuitous or unacceptable’. I am very interested in discourse theory and have always argued that language is always political, that lazy or crass use of language creates meaning and causes harm, that things aren’t ‘just a joke’ and that choosing words and phrases that may cause that effect should either be done with full awareness of the harm done (and be justified in some other sense) or should not be used. I selected this example and I do not believe that it in any way makes light of abuse, normalises it or could lead anyone to think that I or anyone else is even nearly condoning or belittling abuse. In the other direction, I did not equate any individual’s actions or beliefs as being ‘like abuse’ nor did I associate any individual with that behaviour. Finally, had I had any reasonable expectation that anyone involved in the case would have any chance of seeing the comment, again I would not have used it. However, I did want to make a pointed case about hypocrisy. ‘Be part of our family’ was not my metaphor but the British State’s metaphor. The same commentators now claim that our opinion is not welcomed in that ‘family’, that we must be shunned, contained and showered with abuse. I wanted to pick a pointed and provocative metaphor to highlight that behaviour. And frankly any version of ‘dysfunctional family’ might be taken to be offensive.
I rarely provoke for its own sake and choose my words carefully. I am always sad if people think I’ve misjudged and I never seek to offend or to provoke for its own sake. So I’m genuinely sorry if I’ve caused offence but I stand by what I wrote and don’t personally believe that it was in any way dismissive of domestic abuse.
Of course, let me know what you think.”
Hurray. Can I just add, it’s not just that “you necessarily condone excluding the people they abuse, and all the countless others who have felt the same pain and disillusion at the hands of the many other abusers who have carved their personal centres of power across the left.” Anyone who refuses to no platform and shun known abusers and bigots is exposing another generation of women (and trans people and whomever else said bigotry is against) to risk of actual harm in the future. If they’ve done it before without accepting accountability and changing, or just shown their true colours unrepentantly, then they are not a safe individual to have in any group or movement. And that is why we (feminists and other assorted proud social justice warriors (a phrase I love, thanks GamerGate)) advocate non-engagement, no platforming, and perpetual dissemination of information so folk can be fore-warned and fore-armed.
Think this might be the best thing I ever read on atf
Excellent article. It seems there is more that one person on the left making poor political decisions. The question is though, when will people of a particular standing within the left movement stop making poor political decisions? Don’t think I’ll bother with the ‘They were poor, but they were Happy’, Tee (:>