The expulsion of Gareth Wardell, known online as Grouse Beater, from the SNP following a blog post attacking prominent socialist activist and trade union organiser, Rhea Wolfson, has brought out the worst in Scotland’s increasingly insular politics.
I’ve been on a much needed break from roasting the atrocious behaviour of many claiming to stand for a better Scotland while acting to make it measurably worse. That’s been a core purpose of ATF since Day 1. But the fallout from this debacle has resulted in a barrage of abuse, legal threats and intimidation against those challenging blinkered bigotry so there’s only so long I can hide under the covers and just hope they all go away. The truth is, this element within Scottish politics will only become more emboldened unless we step up and condemn their atrocious behaviour and the impact is has on marginalised voices.
The initial article penned by Wardell, entitled “GMB – a Cockney Clique” (you can find a re-edited version on The Google, should you so desire) contains a sleugh of dodgy dogwhistles and outright racism but it’s worth mentioning what the alleged point of the article was: undermining a strike for equal pay by casting it as… you guessed it, a unionist plot.
This paranoid attack on a successful strike which brought the bosses back to the table should be enough to ring alarm bells in anyone who’s… not a complete scab. Scabbery abounds in Wardell’s piece as he resorts to the usual tactics used to malign striking workers. We’re encouraged to focus on the “school children and vulnerable adults affected” rather than the women who’ve dedicated their lives to caring for exactly exactly those people, for shite pay, while a range of keyboard warriors – and SNP politicians – insinuated the women were too daft to understand what was going on. Anger is expressed at the “expensive placards” on display and particular ire is reserved for people who dare to show solidarity while not being Scottish: people from “darn sarf” who’re compared to nazi collaborators (“fifth column English unionists”).
Much of the piece is focused on personally attacking Wolfson, a Jewish socialist, feminist and trade union activist who’s well known for a range of campaigns and has been one of the most prominent voices in the battle against antisemitism within the Labour Party. We’re told of Wolfson’s role in the strike “The hallmarks are classic, first cast yourself as the victim of abuse, either racist or political.” Coz as we all know, there’s nothing people like more than pretending to be the victims of racism…. The insinuation that it’s “classic” for people to just make up racism suggests the author is a serial doubter of those who discuss their experiences of being racially abused.
After attacking a trade union over and over again, the piece continues:
In Part 1 of Mein Kampf Hitler attacks unions over an over again. Unions are fascism’s Public Enemy Number 1. He went further. He accused ‘The Jew’ of gradually assuming leadership of the trade union movement. Hitler wanted a blindly obedient fighting force loyal only to the national leader of government.
Whether or not Wolfson is intellectually aware of Hitler’s outlook is unknown but she certainly knows how to make the most of it
I’d suggest one of Scotland’s most prominent Jewish activists probably has a more rounded understanding of fascism and anti-semitism than yer average buddy. In a thoughtful article discussing the row, the SNP’s Women’s and Equalities Spokesperson, Fiona Robertson notes,
if you are writing about a union leader who is Jewish, bringing up Hitler’s view on unions – that they were dangerous because Jewish people controlled them – and then specifically talking about the Jewish union leader implies a link. Otherwise there is no reason whatsoever to start quoting Hitler.
It’s not surprising that comparing Wolfson’s role on the frontline of a strike with the man who orchestrated the Holocaust led to the expulsion of Wardell from the SNP, given he refused to respond in any kind of appropriate way.
Sadly, his article doesn’t even stop there, with Mr Beater proceeding to declare:
We do not ostracise unions in Scotland, we encourage their participation, but note I am talking about indigenous unions not English orientated unions carrying the flag of British nationalism and its agenda.
The distinction being made is between those who are supportable, the indigenous (emphasis Beater’s) vs those who aren’t (the outsider, the foreigner, the English Fifth columnist, those from “darn sarf“). That’s explicit, clear and unapologetic racism. And it needs to be named and challenged as such.
After the fallout from the article, a hasty edit removed the contention that Wolfson likes to make the most of Hitler’s outlook and a further article appeared comparing Labour to the nazis because both groups promote…us vs them. That’s some mental gymnastics from someone whose only us vs them appears to be the battle between the “indigenous” and those who’re not from round here. Self reflection this was not.
Wolfson responded on her Twitter account, noting she was more than used to sexism and attacks on trade unions but that this was “a different fascist beast entirely“, concluding,
This article brings home (literally) the challenge we face globally right now and the obligation the left has to root out all anti-semitism in order not to facilitate far right fascism. No movement is immune and no person is without obligation to educate and fight back
The SNP should be commended for taking swift and decisive action by expelling the offending author, given his abject failure to recognise what he’d actually done and make amends, so that really should have been that – a clear message that unapologetic racism, in any form, is intolerable in Scotland in 2018. But this is Scotland in 2018, where any implication any of the 1.6 million people who happened to vote Yes might have fucked up is met with howls of treachery and circle jerking from the usual suspects.
Queue the “bloggers and influencers” lining up to defend Grouse Beater. An open letter appeared signed by a who’s who of perjurers, misogynists, conspiracy theorists and yer das. It truly was a diverse bunch, ranging from Craig “feminism is a CIA plot” Murray to ATF’s perennial riddy Tommy Sheridan and every (Peter A) Bellend in between.
The marked regression from an outward looking pro independence movement towards an insular nationalist clique of middle aged men who all agree with each other all the time has been extensively commented on – and at times this analysis can overemphasise the importance of a few roasters, when the vast majority of pro independence activists are “getting on with the day job” of trying to build a better Scotland in the here and now, in our communities, in our unions and indeed, in positions of Government. Given the SNP’s stance on the issue, it’s clear the leadership aren’t keen on holding the melty candle while it burns the rest of our fingers and their own. Still, it’s concerning how much ground these people have gained at the expense of everyone with even an ounce of politics that doesn’t revolve around flags, flags and more flags.
We’ve reached a point where, to some, a union jack on a punnet of mince is evidence of systemic oppression/racism yet the targeting of a prominent Jewish activist with comparisons to Hitler and demands to rid Scotland of groups who aren’t “indigenous” are OK -and anyone challenging this deserves to be hauled before the courts and punished for their treachery.
Rather than just say sorry, recognise the impact his article could have on needlessly isolating Jewish voices (or any “non indigenous” voices) in the independence movement and in Scotland, Grouse Beater has doubled down and is threatening anyone who names his behaviour with legal action. I’ve been very clear to identify the words used as what they are: racism. That’s an entirely different contention from “X is A Racist.” I don’t make this distinction because I fear legal action but because it’s crucial to make, if we’re actually going to start untangling our own prejudices.
I’ve said and done racist and sexist things and been challenged on them, lots. As a campaigner for Palestinian statehood, I’ve had to face down my own anti-semitism and examine the way I talk about Israel and more crucially, Jewish people, I’ve encouraged others to do the same. I’m queer as fuck (in case you missed that) and my entire life I’ve battled against internalised homophobia and my own unfair judgement of other queer people, yet I’m not about to sue myself for being A Homophobe, fun as that may be. I didn’t deserve the energy other people expended teaching me all this – but I’m eternally grateful they have. Yet attempts to engage Grouse Beater and a subsection of the nationalist movement on racism and antisemitism haven’t been met with gratitude, to put it mildly.
We must continue to name and challenge bigotry and prejudice in all its forms and stand together against the bullying and intimidation of those who discuss the impact these behaviours have on our movement, on our politics and on our society. That’s the Scotland we’ve been fighting for since before Yes and No and it’s the Scotland I’ll be fighting for once Yes and No has reached it’s logical conclusion: the recognition of our increasingly independent politics with its own state.
The trend of threatening to use libel laws, designed to protect the rich and powerful and undermine journalism and vigorous challenge, is worrying, and it’s exemplified by the Wings/Dugdale defamation case. If Rhea Wolfson can’t name the attacks on her as anti-semitism, if LGBTI+ people can’t name Stuart Campbell’s behaviour as homophobia and transphobia when he repeatedly targets our communities, we risk giving free reign to anyone who happened to vote Yes to attack groups, who then live in fear of losing everything they have, if they call prejudice by its name.
Courts aren’t places famed for delivering justice: the best judge of whether an action is antisemitic isn’t the offender or his pals nor is it some other angry old man sitting in a dock with a wig on, it’s the person being targeted and the communities impacted. Rhea Wolfson’s already delivered the verdict, as have the SNP, in consultation with their Jewish members – let’s hope that’s case closed and the Grouse bleaters find something more worthwhile to do with their time, like absolutely fucking anything.
Why are Glasgow City Council still resisting equal pay for women?
If you’ve never heard anti-semitism on the left, you’ve not been listening
If you’re still defending Wings Over Scotland, you’re barking up the wrong tree
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Self-awareness is a richt bonnie thing to read :-). I concur with yer point aboot the over-importance some attach to the ‘gammon’ contingent in the movement (though they do need challenging in a vocal and public manner). Also, most are getting on with the job, glad you made that point too.
“There is no reason whatsoever to start quoting Hitler,” is a pretty good principle in most situations.