The Falsehoods Charter
Preface: Readers should be aware that I will not be providing hyperlinks to certain websites. The disinformation, targeting of individuals, and harmful comments I mention from these platforms are something people have the choice to seek out if they choose to, however, as noted within this article, ‘I would not encourage anyone to expose themselves to the content, or suggest folk should bother to engage with the crowd’ that such sites attract. This is not an advocacy of an echo chamber nor a refusal to engage in sincere dialogue and debate, rather, it is a demonstration of an understanding that there can be no debate with those who intentionally and willfully espouse falsehoods.
It’s now circa four weeks since former First Minister Alex Salmond announced the launch of a new political party, Alba – a name many of its own members struggled to pronounce – in what Shona Craven (Community Editor at The National) described as ‘a car crash’ introduction to Scottish politics. In that time, several ‘big names’ and supposed ‘big hitters’ have defected to Alba – primarily from the S.N.P. – whilst plenty of us cringed at the ethno-nationalistic Robert the Bruce video as it spoke of ‘breaking the spine of English superiority’. The party’s most recent policy conference managed to continue a horrendous public record achieved within their first month alone, more on that in a moment, but the latest of these centred on comments from Margaret Lynch (an Alba Party list candidate for Central Scotland) around queer theory and Scotland’s LGBT+ organisations. Relayed by tens of participants from the conference, Lynch is quoted as having told attendees that queer charities in Scotland are working to reduce the age of consent in Scotland to just ten years old. The two Tweets from Denise Findlay (made almost an hour apart, the second with quotation marks to distance the poster) rapidly become the most commonly shared evidence.
So, briefly, to fully understand what these comments mean (Lynch’s own and those of others around her) as well as the conflicting responses from the Alba Party, let’s briefly examine who this young political party are… Speaking to Sky News, Salmond advised that the Alba Party has ‘already overtaken the [Scottish] Liberal Democrats in membership’; whilst its worth adding that he also utilised this interview to remain unapologetic towards who accused him of sexual harassment and misconduct, stating that ‘most fair-minded people would say ‘“that’s that, it’s time to move on”’. With little evidence to the point, the party leader has proclaimed that ‘Alba [is] that glorious Yes diverse movement reborn in the form of a political party – optimistic, forward looking, and open minded’ – yet, if the last few weeks are anything to go by, the indication is that it’s anything but, with individuals boasting an abundance of intolerances seemingly gravitating towards the party. The vetting processes for the Alba Party would make for fascinating reading, whilst Salmond has already publicly excused Jim Walker – whom he described as ‘one of the most significant economists in the world’ – for his behavior in calling Nicola Sturgeon ‘a cow’, suggesting it was merely ‘a Twitter spat [from] before Jim was [an Alba Party] candidate’. Alex Arthur – whose Romaphobia and Gyspyphobia is abound – was also excused as ‘a world champion and an O.B.E. […] the type of person we want standing for the Alba Party’…
Indeed, Tejas Mukerji of the Republican Socialists has stated that ‘the prejudices animating [the Alba Party] candidates are to varying degrees widely prevalent in our society; be it bigotry against GRT communities, anti-semitism, regressive views on women’s bodily autonomy or an overwhelming, barely concealed transphobia. Until now, these tendencies had always found greater political articulation on the side of the Unionist camp than it had in the pro-independence camp. In this respect, Alba’s greatest contribution is to make space for a similar articulation within the indy camp’. One of those comments came from the aforementioned list candidate for Central Scotland, Margaret Lynch and, as noted above, proclaims that, in Scotland, LGBT organisations, funded by the Scottish Government, are lobbying to lower the age of consent to ten years old. The impact of her comments and – regardless of their accuracy (a topic deeply contested from multiple perspectives, detailed below) – have resulted in a ideological doubling down, outright denial, and waves of homophobic attacks against individuals and organisations.
‘What she said was not only untrue, but it was also a wilful, bad faith interpretation made for the sole purpose of trying to smear LGBT+ organisations.’ – Stonewall Scotland
Lynch, as stated by Findlay and many others, suggested that LGBT Youth Scotland and Stonewall Scotland were spearheading this drive due to their association with the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (commonly referred to as the ILGA) whom she claims signed up to a charter making the above demand. Formed of upwards of 1,600 organisations, ILGA members in the U.K. encompass groups of a secular, political, religious, or social nature; trade unions, and charities – a handful of those affiliated include Equality Network, LGBT Labour, and Switchboard – LGBT+ Helpline to Gay Christian Europe, Imaan, and the Jewish LGBT+ Group, as well as an abundance of UNISON groups (e.g. Scotland LGBT Group, East Midlands LGBT Group, Greater London LGBT Group) and Unite the Union. The declaration referred to was produced by the organisation’s own Women’s Rights Caucus – ‘a global coalition of over 200 organisations working to advance women’s human rights’. The attempts to spread this disinformation are numerous, generally uncritical, and appear primarily to be engaged in fear mongering, disinformation, and, in many instances, explicit homophobia in their singling out of queer charities.
The response, as anyone should reasonably expect, was borderline unanimous. ILGA World released a statement, advising that the organisation ‘categorically, and in no uncertain terms, does not advocate to eliminate or lower the general age of consent, nor supports paedophilia in any way, shape or form – and never has’. Stonewall Scotland Tweet that ‘[t]oday a Scottish parliamentary candidate stated that we are campaigning to lower the age of consent. This is categorically untrue. Such claims are dangerous and irresponsible and we would urge those making or sharing these claims to stop’. Further still, one Twitter user shared the response they received from their trade union stating that ‘peadophilia is illegal[.] UNISON would not be part of any organisation that promoted this. UNISON is a member of ILGA and we work with ILGA Europe to promote LGBT+ equality in Europe and Central Asia’.
In essence, what we can read is that events took place in this order:
- Findlay tweets from the conference that ‘the next move is to reduce the age of consent to 10 years of age. LGBT youth [sic] and Stonewall Scotland have received over 1 million pounds of Scottish government funding’
- Statements denying the accusations are issued by a multitude of queer organisations including: L.G.B.T. Youth Scotland: ‘At no points have @LGBTYS called for a reduction in the age of consent’; Stonewall Scotland: Nancy Kelley, and Colin McFarlane state that Lynch is ‘repeating deeply harmful myths about LGBT+ people as paedophiles and sexual predators’, calling upon her to ‘retract her false accusation and apologise’.; ILGA World add that they ‘[do] not advocate to eliminate or lower the general age of consent’; and the Scottish Government add that they ‘never funding any organisation to campaign for, or promote, any policy that would reduce the age of consent for sex to 10’.
- From there, the Alba Party stress that what Lynch said was ‘based on fact’, only for Salmond to then deny that any such comment was made.
- The following day, Lynch goes on record for The Scotsman to make many of the same points Salmond denied.
Findlay’s Tweet has since been deleted. Yet, as Colin Macfarlane (Director of Stonewall Scotland) asked, ‘[i]f Margaret Lynch didn’t make those comments as Mr Salmond claims, why then did multiple attendees at the Alba Women Conference [T]weet that they heard her state the untrue, irresponsible & dangerous claim that we and other LGBT orgs wants to lower the age of consent to 10?’ Scott Cutherbertson (Development Manager at EqualityNetwork) follows up by contesting that the take being offered on of the Feminist Manifesto by Alba Party and others, constitutes ‘a wilful misreading to fit homophobic tropes’, a conclusion that The Ferret’s Fact Service also describe as an ‘incorrect reading of […] the Feminist Declaration’, one that ignores that the purpose of these paragraphs which the service reminds readers ‘backs support for sexual and reproductive health services’ – nothing to do with lowering the age of consent. Staff at The Ferret even contacted LGBT Youth Scotland who ‘confirmed […] that they have not lobbied, or received funding, to lower the age of consent to 10’, statements echoed by The Scottish Government (both cited the above link to The Ferret).
Fundamentally, The Ferret Fact Service offers the most conscience summary:
‘FFS! (For Facts’ Sake): The claim is baseless, ridiculous and/or logically impossible! The claims made by Wings Over Scotland are false. There is no evidence within the blog to support the claim that these organisations support lowering the age of consent to age 10, and the SNP is not funding any organisations which are. The characterisation of the Feminist Declaration as a ‘paedophile charter’ is not accurate.
Despite this, in her article, Lynch still maintains that her comments can be ‘verified by anyone who visits the website of the ILGA’. She contests that ‘[a]ll of the reports my three-minute speech to the Alba Conference – whether on Twitter or in the media – were based on a third party account’ – so far, so accurate – yet, bizarrely, despite the proclamation that the conference was a safe space, the entire event was recorded and may yet find its way into the public domain. And despite, as Cutherbertson notes, ‘a wilful misreading’ of the Feminist Delcaration, Lynch continues to descibe the document as ‘morally repugnant’ – even quoting ‘one of [her] doughty defenders’ as she further proclaims that the document advocates ‘to lower the age of consent to ten years’. Salmond is correct, at least in premise, of what a safe space agreement is meant to entail – a place in which participants are ‘encouraged to express their concerns over a range of subjects’ without fear that those involved will share information or revelations that occur within that space. The fact that any Tweets were shared from that space should be condemned by the party as a breach of that very agreement.
The deep reductive advocacy of a ‘supermajority’, at least initially, as if the sole concern should only be about Scottish secession from the U.K., for Eamonn O’Neill, draws parallels to ‘an almost theological faith’ in a party launched by, and generally centring, a single prominent individual. There’s arguments to be had that all parties and independent candidates should have their manifestos published in advance of postal votes being issued, yet as problematic as it is, at least a majority of the parties had already outlined many of their policies in advance. The same cannot be said of the Alba Party. What will it mean, therefore, if a second independence referendum does happen and we lose it? Any parties or individuals who borderline push exclusively for Scottish independence (almost regardless of whatever that will actually mean) at the expense of ‘the day job’ will have sacrificed perhaps a decade or more of opportunities to implement genuinely impactful change. Plenty positive and negative changes have occurred since September 2014, yet a ‘Max the Yes’ or a ‘supermajority’ over all else – with every area progress could be made whether radical or gradual under devolution in the meantime – risks further failing those harmed by austerity.
There is, however, another positive, suggested by Republican Socialists, ‘what is left of the SNP is now likely to be more hospitable to intersectionality and tolerance for minorities than it may have been earlier’, yet ‘[i]f the Alba party makes a significant breakthrough into Scottish politics and doesn’t immediately face confrontation and opposition from the radical left and social progressives, it will successfully drag all of Scottish politics to the right’. The Scottish Greens have similarly condemned both Lynch’s comments and the conduct of one of their members who made threats of violence towards her:
‘The Scottish Greens have a zero-tolerance approach to violence. This tweet was unacceptable, and we instructed the member to remove it, which has now been done. This matter will now be dealt with through our internal complaints and conduct process. The party also has a zero-tolerance approach to homophobia, including dangerous and sinister conspiracy theories which associate LGBT+ people with paedophilia. This is the worst kind of hate speech, so [it] is shocking to see the Alba Party defend it.’
A vitally important component of this, it seems, Salmond has actually since acknowledged stating that the Tweet ‘inaccurately [shared a] view that Margaret had expressed’, and that this was done ‘quite wrongly as it was a safe space conference’. Simultaneously, his commentary has shifted from the ‘based in fact’ statement to advising that the organisations addressing the comments and categorically denying the claims were, in essence, wasting their time responding to ‘misreporting’. Some have responded individually, with Austin Sheridan (former S.N.P. councillor for Baillieston, Glasgow, elected whilst still a teenager) has already left the party based on Lynch’s comments, stating that ‘there is no way I can be part of a party that tolerates such views and does nothing to address them directly’.
As others have observed, Wings seized on the Tweets by those in attendance or who followed-up on it afterwards. The aforementioned article, ‘The Paedophile Charter’ alone demonstrates that eagerness with which many latched onto the claim ‘[i]t appears that it’s entirely true – the SNP are indeed paying lobby groups with your money to try to reduce the age of consent in Scotland to 10’. Naturally Alba Party and Wings are not a single entity but the relationship between the two is clear and, despite proclamations to the contrary – many of the party’s candidates and members shared the commentary from Wings (Neale Hanvey amongst them). Indeed I can personally attest to having witnessed social workers and health care professionals in positions of influence over Scottish politics alongside other folk with links to groups such as For Women Scotland (described as transphobic by several organisations), LBG Alliance (an anti-trans organising, many believe they are a hate group), and others with any combination of ‘Adult human female’, ‘Gender Critical’ / ‘GC’, ‘I [heart] JK’, ‘[cherry emoji]’, or ‘#IStandWithJKRowling’ in their Twitter biographies, all of whom seemingly shared the content unquestioningly. Some of the direct Tweets are included below, whilst other individuals have been careful not to comment but merely to Retweet. Others, still, have continued to produce their own reports in the time since, with The Christian Institute claiming on 17th April 2021 that ‘[a] global LGBT group has thrown its support behind a statement calling for ages of consent to be lowered around the world to allow adolescents to engage in sexual activity freely and without “stigma”’.
The problematic blogger from Bath states that ‘Wings is not aware of any statistical predilection of homosexual people towards paedophilia compared to heterosexual people’, yet the blog has no qualms about producing articles entitled The Paedophile Charter, What You Find Under Rocks, or The Last Line of Defence. Nor, indeed, does the website’s lead author have an issue with portraying those hurt by his accusation, left fearful for their personal safety, or who are unwilling to give such falsehood the time of day due to the suggestions inflammatory and dishonest nature as disingenuous or ill-equipped for their roles. He proclaims that ‘anyone who reacts with outrage and evasion and deflection to a basic minimum of scrutiny and vigilance [as] someone over whom there should be rather MORE scrutiny and vigilance, not less’… Yet he is not alone in doing so, eagerly sharing his platform with those spout similarly gaslighting languages – For Women Scotland include openly transphobic content in the recent article they published via Wings, including misgendering and dated language. The comments sections under such articles are rife with homophobia, transphobia, and queerphobia more generally, hateful terminology abound, and the pathetic attempts to link queer people with numerous attempts to allow harm to others – shithousery many of us have been expose to in our day-to-day lives, both in-person and in virtual spaces. I would not encourage anyone to expose themselves to the content, or suggest folk should to engage with the crowd Wings attract.
So, where does this leave us? Colin Macfarlene stated that ‘[i]t’s extraordinary to see Margaret Lynch continue her campaign of misinformation against Stonewall Scotland and LGBT Youth in the Scotsman today’, adding that ‘[h]er words about our orgs […] basically say what Alex Salmond has denied she said’. Mukerji is absolutely correct in identifying a home for exclusionary politics within the pro-independence movement in Scotland. Many of us have witnessed it or confronted such perceptions regularly, indeed, often such ideologies found a home within the SNP’s ‘broad church’. It no longer seems that this will continue to be the case, at least not to the same extent. A question, therefore, arises over whether the Alba Party can gain traction in Scotland, and, if so, one of where they will land. In the event that they do, will we see them sat amongst the Conservatives fighting for that right-wing ideological space, or does the dynamic become one of competing drives towards another independence referendum, casting aside any complications of intersectional struggles? An abundance of organisations, journalists, community groups, and individuals have demonstrated repeatedly the willful and incorrect misreading of the Feminist Declaration, yet the misinformation continues and many are placed in harm’s way. If we don’t fight it now, knock such a shift down in the ballot box, online, and in the streets, there’s no knowing quite how far those involved with the Alba Party – enabled by others either willfully or complicitly – will go. Inversion and action must take place now.
AFTERWORD: I want to stress that although, as I noted above, many people in prominent positions have relayed the comments around what Lynch may or may not have said during the Alba Party conference or shared her ‘I didn’t say this, but here’s me saying it now’ article; provided links to the horrendous contributions made by the Bath-based blogger; or rehashed any number of harmful stereotypes and homophobic prejudices, there are others who’ve challenged these comments, who are fighting to defend and safeguard us from such attacks. Make no mistake, threats of violence towards others should not be taken lightly, but know that if you’ve been affected by the contributions of the Alba Party, Wings, Lynch, or any of the others you may once have trusted, you are not alone.
Support is available from many incredible people and organisations, among them LGBT Youth Scotland, LGBT Health and Wellbeing, Equality Network, Stonewall Scotland, Mutual Aid Trans Edinburgh, Scottish Trans Alliance, LGBT Domestic Abuse Scotland, Engender, DiversiTay, the Highland LGBT Forum, and Scottish Borders LGBT Equality Forum. These are merely the organisations I’m familiar with, so, please, if there are others you would recommend, please do post them in the comments so that other people may benefit from them.
Take care of yourselves and those around you. x