13 February 2011

Souter's lolly ...

In a debate, there are few things more discombobulating that seeing someone advocating something you agree with, relying on arguments which you find disagreeable. Really, this phenomenon shouldn’t surprise us. Many roads lead to Rome, after all. In recent public policy terms, perhaps my favourite example of this awkward meeting materialised in the deliberative context of the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009. Historically, Scots criminal law defined rape in gender specific terms. In law, a man could not be ‘raped’. Until the Act of 2009 this Common Law position obtained, unreformed. Mooting the uncontroversial proposal to recognise such an offence in the Justice Committee, LGBT groups referred to such ideas as equality and the significance of naming for the recognition of the suffering of victims, in calling for reform. The Catholic Parliamentary Office supported this broadened definition of the offence, but cited the belief that anal sex was ‘intrinsically disordered’. The practical outcome was agreed upon, but the reasoning process of the respective parties, justifying this change, was entirely incompatible. This phenomenon is doubtlessly more pervasive than we realise, with  different individuals and groups vying to furnish the authoritative account of why a particular policy is being pursued and why it is a Good Thing.

It occurs to me that there is a second species of awkwardness: where someone you disagree with informs you that he is on your side. Or, as the erstwhile Republican candidate in Delaware for the United States Senate Christine O'Donnell unsettlingly put it, "I'm you". Gulp. I wonder how often red and blue canvassers have heard permutations of racist opinion, to justify supporting a Labour or Tory candidate whose hobbies include explicit or veiled assaults on the numbers or imputed behaviour of "visible minorities". Are you thinking what we're thinking? While my first example focusses on specific debates on particular issues, this second category of angst is a little different, and rather more problematic. Anyone with a modicum of reflection, or who attends even a little to the activities of their party representatives, will find areas of disagreement, terminological objections, alternative priorities and different emphases. This is true within parties as well, as different elements consciously and unconsciously elbow and nudge each other on specific issues of policy and questions of broad emphasis. As a result, if you look to a party's avowed catalogue of beliefs before joining or supporting them, seeking an exact simulacrum of your own commitments, your search will prove fruitless and your ballot paper would be left unscratched. Unless, that is, slavish adherence is your only orthodoxy. Every political serf of that character can find a master to suit his needs.
Compromise is inherent in any involvement and identification with a political movement or party, particularly larger and broader political groupings. Whether you are a Labour member, a Liberal Democrat supporter - the flexibility of these identities are largely subjective. Take this commonplace example. Many folk are bemused at the loyalty of Scottish Labour voters - many of them bright, critical folk - who are Gordian-knotted to the party. A familiar explanation for this is tradition, and a reflexive use of the franchise to repeat the old, old rituals of voting Labour. On this explanation, Labour support is depicted as largely detatched from their actual policies and proposals. Doubtlessly, this is an important dimension to the tale, but is not an exhaustive explanation. I heard Bob Holman being interviewed by Richard Holloway on Radio Scotland last Sunday. He spoke of his long term and continuing political commitment to the Labour Party.  I dare say he is very conscious that Labour's approach to public services are not consonant with his own views, yet he persists in supporting them. Another interesting example on that front is the blogger A Very Public Sociologist, who has engagingly discussed the conundrums of being a "socialist in the Labour Party", after leaving the Socialist Party and rejoining Labour. Over at Bright Green Scotland, Adam Ramsay has recently explained why he is not a member of the Labour Party, which touches on similar issues of (a) the muddled priorities of individual and party (b) the problems of political praxis and critically I think (c) the issue of the unrealised potential of pre-existing political movements.

My sense is that I'm socially far more liberal than many of my fellow Nationalists. I am also likely to take a more liberal view when it comes to criminal legislation. It is often suggested that nationalism is the sole SNP party unifier, however, as I've touched on before,  many of the party's supporters (and some of its membership) are undecided on their answers to the ultimate constitutional question.  Even where there is agreement on the raw bones of the party's ultimate goals, there are differences on what strategies should be employed to realise those aims. That leaves a complex image of a party of poised, compromised associations and tendencies. Like most parties. 

That meandering disquisition was largely prompted by an electronic epistle that arrived in my inbox last night from a certain Brian Souter. I had been unaware that we were on intimate, corresponding terms, but the text informed me that he was once again to make a significant donation to the SNP, up to £500,000. Like a number of fellow nationalists, I have certain qualms about accepting such a large donation from Souter, but similarly struggle to see the benefit, to quote the man himself, of telling him that "We're no huvin' it". On the Souter question, a certain opinionated Corbie offers this view and rightly emphasises that many similar issues appear whenever any individual or corporation makes a vast donation to any political party. Jeff Breslin emphasises the impact which a chest full of spendable doubloons has on the electoral fortunes of political parties. In Souter's case, my unease is I think largely attributable to the second model of awkwardness I outlined at the beginning - the implicit, Christine O'Donnellesque implication that Souter looks at the SNP and says I'm You. I totally reject Souter's position on Section 2A (or Section 28, as it was more commonly known), as was. I support eliminating the gender qualifications attaching to both civil partnerships and marriage in Scotland. If I thought Souter was backing Nationalists because he entertained a reasonably held belief that the party represented a vehicle for the persecution of minority sexualities, I'd chop up my SNP membership card whippity quick and hie me to different climes.  However, just as individuals cannot look to parties for an exhaustible mirror image of their own beliefs, we shouldn't make the mistake of thinking that the speculum can be reversed any more readily and that supporters, voters or even members should accept every policy held by the party.  I dare say that some folk will not and have not voted for the SNP on the basis of Souter's significant donations, assuming that for his quid the SNP must give Souter some sort of heteronormative pro quo. That is their prerogative. For my part, I don't believe the motto by their friends shall ye know them is quite as straightforward as it appears and would suggest that it should be understood the wider context outlined above. I'd be fibbing, however, if I said Souter's lolly didn't prompt a pang or two.


  1. Got the same email, I will send funds as I'd hate for a measly £10 to rob us of Big Eck to be replaced by f*ckwit Shrek Grey!

    Souter - I'm not au fait with him enough to comment strongly, but having been in meetings with the EU last week to train them later this year, my finger is hovering over the "eject" button.

    Politics - we could argue over the colour of sh*t for years, you can't polisha turd but u can roll it in glitter - look @ Brussels! Eek!


  2. As a even a very socially liberal minded person like yourself I think we would find that the vast majority of the membership of the SNP are out of kilter to the religous thoughts or beliefs of Mr Soutar.

    The issue of party political funding has still be addressed. If Sainsbury and the Unions can give millions to Labour and the City Institutions the same to the Tories, LD getting vast sums from the Rowntree Trust than I say to Mr Soutar, 'ta very much'. We will only get the £500,000 is we raise the same via the membership or supporters. A lot of pensioners I would suspect give the party more of the proportion of the their income/wealth than Mr Soutar.

  3. Some of Brian Souter's beliefs may be more in line with the Scottish Christian Party than the SNP, but the fact is the independence movement cannot afford to be overly picky about where it gets its funding from. As long as that money is not helping to shape SNP strategy, then I'm relatively comfortable with the SNP accepting it. Obviously, it can be argued that his donation last time round led to the SNP dropping their commitment on bus re-regulation, but as I've said on Jeff's blog post, I distinctly remember reading an article that said this was still an informal policy idea that was being floated around, rather than a concrete manifesto commitment. Still, I'd rather the situation hadn't played out how it did regardless. This year however, there does not appear to be any policies that Souter would be trying to get waived from the agenda thanks to his money. It seems he just genuinely wants to balance the funding situation, which makes it less certain that his 2007 donation wasn't just a perfectly innocent donation from a man who strongly believes in independence.

    The day Souter comes out and says "I'll give the SNP £500,000 if they introduce anti-homosexual policies" is the day his donations should be refused. Until then, he's just like many other Christians in Scotland (like the older generations of my family) who were brought up to think the bible was a work of non-fiction. Perhaps one day the whole of society will understand that gods were just invented to explain natural phenomena like rain, thunder and drought.

  4. Just reading the article in Scotland on Sunday:

    “Labour is also hoping to raise £1m before May, and officials said yesterday that donations were “coming in thick and fast”.

    Thick and Fast. It could almost be an epithet for Scottish Labour.

    Fast of course being the fast featured in “the true-hearted soldier…of Tippecanoe” or the fast undertaken at lent.

  5. CD,

    I certainly intend to contribute a penny or two from my sustaining stipend towards the effort. Foregoing a glass or two of red, truly the full measure of devotion!

  6. Marcia,

    I hope so. On matching funds terms, if SNP supporters only stump up 5 shillings and sixpence, Mr Souter gets off lightly. I don't know if he has a minimum donation in mind.

  7. Doug Daniel,

    Unsurprisingly, I generally concur.


    I understand our chum the Snark intends to rip-off a film in the cinemas at present for their electioneering. The LOLITSP will be depicted as a masculine, grizzled, hardy-"handsome" figure (copyright Kevin McKenna). Unfortunately, he has put Richard Baker in charge of putting it together, and he has mistakenly added the supplementary legend True Git...

  8. I am a practising Papist, and cheerfully admit to taking the view that anal sex is intrinsically disordered. (Which is not at all the same as thinking its practitioners are disordered.)If it is any comfort to you more liberal (libertine?) types I do not have any comforting notion that SNP policy is written to suit Mr Soutar! What is curious, of course, is that mention of Mr Soutar tends to bring forth reference to the Catholic faith, despite the fact that Mr Soutar, like Mr Salmond, Mr Russell and doubtless Mr Gray, is in a state of sordid rebellion against it!

  9. If I were a purist, I'd say Souter's money was tainted coming as it does from someone whose beliefs are not mine and, looking at its source, was made by screwing the travelling public. However doubtless some of the sources of funding for the other parties are equally unpleasant so I can't work up too much froth. Now if it came from his sister, who seems to be hell bent on becoming a proper laird with excluding peasants who walk from her land and is probably planning to clear out any tenants as well, that's anither sang.

  10. Am Firinn,

    I had assumed Souter's objections were owned to Leviticus or Duteronomy in some respect, but wasn't aware what precise flavour of Christian he was. I assume he was referring to one of the less well known passages of the Pentateuch (Leviticus 34:431):

    "Thou shalt not promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship..."

  11. Richard T,

    I seem to recall a relevant episode of the West Wing, which was concerned the phenomenon of "soft money", where the sturdy conscientious staffers faced a similar situation.

  12. Am Firinn has raised the subject of anal sex, so I feel it only fair to comment.

    I assume as a papist, Am Firinn regards anal sex as disordered when practised by gay AND (shock horror!) Straight people, as it often is.

    It's the old 'not all black birds are crows, but all crows are black birds'. For the record, not all gay people indulge in anal sex, just as not all straight people do either.

    Why a religion (any religion) cares about anal (or any) sex is genuinely beyond me.

    As regards Souter, the SNP need the money. Just a pity it is coming from him.