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“We’ve always wondered,” said the moderator of Yes East Kilbride, “why they ignore our requests for assistance and then snipe about events afterwards.” The organisers of Yes East Kilbride have found themselves at the centre of a deepening controversy since Thursday night after hosting a panel discussion featuring Chris Cairns, David Hooks, Paul Kavanagh, Greg Moodie, and Gordon Ross – a “Manel” as it has been branded by socialist and feminist activist Jenni Gunn and a number of her supporters. What this event was about – independence – has been completely overshadowed by the Twitter storm that has developed, leading many at Yes East Kilbride – one of the independence movement’s most active associations – to reflect on their future as a platform for pro-independence discussion.
What has been overlooked too is the fact that the organisers had approached no fewer than 17 women in the movement, all of whom declined the invitation. The previous week Yes East Kilbride had hosted an all-woman panel for a Women for Independence event, but apparently having the audacity to host an event without a woman on the panel has become the unforgivable sin of the left.
Ms Gunn’s solution, supported by her allies Cat Boyd, Miriam Brett, Stephen Paton, and Mike Small of Bella Caledonia, is that talks and events should be postponed or even cancelled when no women are found to be part of the discussion. Independence – for me at any rate – is about the right of Scottish people (women and men) to determine their own future free from the control of London, and to create for ourselves a freer, more equitable society. No one needs to tell me that women are as integral to this project as men, and, yes, we must recognise that women are under-represented and more needs to be done by all of us to address this question. Shutting down conversations due to the absence of women, however, is not the way to go about this.
Thursday’s event in East Kilbride was about Scottish independence. It wasn’t about gender politics, and no matter how much these two issues often overlap in the real life politics of Scotland, they are simply not the same thing. Over-riding one to serve the needs – or the agenda – of the other is counterproductive and, as we have seen, destructive.
Jenni Gunn and Cat Boyd, without first bothering to check their facts, took it upon themselves to begin lecturing Yes East Kilbride and those who sat on the panel – sorry, the “Manel” – on the etiquette of their understanding of feminist leftist politics; a worldview to which, as Scottish independentistas, we must all surely subscribe. But therein lies the problem – we are not all feminists and we do not all identify as belonging to the so-called hard left. Scotland’s independence movement is a broad social and political church, encompassing and embracing Scottish women and men as sisters and brothers from all political and social backgrounds. Our single shared objective, rather than being the creation of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Scotland, is Scottish independence.
It is their leftism that has led Ms Boyd to the belief that voting for Jeremy Corbyn – a British unionist – is a valid route to self-determination and Ms Gunn to express her unwavering solidarity with Fidel Castro – an absolutist Communist dictator responsible for the imprisonment and death of thousands of his political opponents. We can safely say that this is not the utopian vision of everyone who has a stake in the future of Scotland or indeed of the independence movement.
Earlier this afternoon, owing to the position we have taken on this debate, it was implied by the moderator of the Bella Caledonia Twitter account that we were on the right. Apparently “the right always pleads unity when it is called out,” we were informed as we were being “called out.” Of course we were calling for unity – we will always call for unity in the independence movement. Those who do not and who are unwilling to seek unity for the cause of independence really ought to be questioned regarding their commitment to independence. As it turns out I am a leftist, I’m just not a radical leftist – and by that I mean I’m not a latte sipping Champaign socialist.
Bella Caledonia (@bellacaledonia) November 24, 2017
I have a long association with the Communist Party. I’m not a card carrying member on account of my theism, but I am no less a fellow traveller with my “comrades” on the left. Yet what I notice in the demand being made for there to be no activity in the absence of women is a complete lack of proper analysis. Marxist theory never gets a mention. Lenin’s revolutionary imperative is unspoken. Rosa Luxemburg’s idea of revolution as the school of the proletariat doesn’t get a look-in. Not even Gramsci – the most acceptable of all the Marxist theorists – gets an airing. This is radical socialism without radical socialists. What we have here is sheer flavour-of-the-month individualistic and identitarian screaming. Our Revolution qua the campaign for independence must continue with or without those who are, for whatever reason, unable to take part on any given night. The show – as the revolutionaries say – must go on.
The divisiveness of this issue – which is being pressed by a remarkably small number of people – is also of interest. No one happens to be arguing against the equality of women in the movement or against the principle of equal or fair representation. What is being pressed is an extreme opinion with just enough of the trigger words to make those who take a stand against it look and sound like misogynists. This was from the start a strategy designed to provoke the maximum amount of in-fighting, and it appears to have worked.
That I am describing this as a strategy suggests that there were people behind it, and indeed there were – there are. On the surface there were a few of the leaders of the 2014 referendum campaign, perhaps with their noses a little out of joint that they were not invited or, more generally, that they are no longer as central to the movement as they had hoped to remain. We can be pretty sure this motivated some. Class also seems to have played a part. We have seen for a while – especially in the recent raucous involving certain people involved in Common Space – that there is a faction of the movement that sees independence as a means to its own ends; a middle class that sees in independence a transfer of power from one ruling class to another.
But infinitely more worrying in this is the connection that became apparent between RISE and the Corbynist unionist group Momentum. When we, in the midst of a spat with Jenni Gunn, referred to her as a “dud” – a noun: a thing that fails to work properly or is otherwise unsatisfactory – this was immediately interpreted as “fud” – a Scottish slang term meaning vagina, in spite of us having said it twice, and weaponised against us by Jo Phillips the Bradford born, Glasgow based, Labour and Momentum activist.
Butterfly Rebellion (@Butterfly_Reb) November 26, 2017
Once this connection was made it wasn’t long before independentistas all over Twitter were scouring through her and Ms Gunn’s tweets, and lo and behold there were long conversations – linking RISE and Momentum – on the chaos they had created in the movement. Our friends at Yes East Kilbride were quite right to be concerned about their requests being ignored and then being rounded upon when they broke the rules being invented and imposed on them by the leaders of the duds on the über left. This bears all the hallmarks of a conspiracy between RISE and Momentum (or better, a plan hatched by Momentum and its Scottish extension RISE) to manufacture a grievance and by pressing for justice wreak havoc in the independence movement.
All of this leaves me very suspicious of RISE and the people behind this nonsensical furore. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour is irrationally convinced it needs Scottish seats to take it to government. This is of course irrational because Scotland has never decided the outcome of a British general election. Momentum is the vanguardist movement of Corbynism and RISE’s members clearly see themselves as vanguardists of the “new left” – whatever the heck that means – and they have never had a problem voting Labour as a means to independence à la Cat Boyd. What is far from irrational in this is to see RISE and Momentum as a single subversive force working within the independence movement. This was never about equal numbers of woman and men on panels. This was a dirty trick.
The Butterfly Rebellion