2007 - 2021

“Through the Looking Glass” – Sex Education, Scrutiny, and the Pro-Alba blogosphere

The smaller parties in Scotland, and the world that surrounds them, fascinates me. During the recent election campaign, I took a far more active role in watching as they developed. I have followed the fortunes, and misfortunes. I broke the news on Twitter that George Galloway’s Alliance/All for Unity had its application rejected by the Electoral Commission twice. They did of course overcome this setback by registering as All for Unity.

I’ve followed the work of the group “A Force for Good” and their political party offshoot, “Independent Green Voice”, and of course the main focus of my attentions had been the launch of Alex Salmond’s Alba Party. As someone who strongly supports Scottish independence, the arrival of a new pro-independence party was of massive interest. Add Salmond to the mix and it took on all kinds of new levels of noteworthiness. I attended most of their digital press conferences, albeit I did not seek to ask any questions. What I was interested in was observing the journey the party, and its ecosystem was on.

I have written elsewhere that a split was inevitable. “The simple fact is that large-scale movements are a broad church. As independence support grew it became a broader church and people will not like how other people behave”. To my mind, as independence support creeped up further and further, the SNP was inevitably not going to be able to hold all those supporters. You will have people with multifarious views on all kinds of policy for the here and now and not just post-independence. For some, issues like gender reforms, the alleged conspiracy against Alex Salmond, and disagreements about how fast to progress independence were a bridge too far for some to cross to stay with the SNP. As support for independence tipped over 50% that means you have got a lot of people who will have a lot of different views on all sorts of policies to try to hold under the banner of one political party. The split was inevitable.

One of the key campaign methods of Alex Salmond’s Alba Party was to utilise the reach of the pro-independence, pro-Salmond blogosphere. Blogs like Wings Over Scotland, Barrhead Boy etc. provided Alba with a fertile network to reach those who would most likely be pro-Alba. It was a smart move. Launching six weeks before polling day, the party needed to hit the ground running and reach people immediately. It worked, and for the first week the momentum seemed to be with Alba and I admit that I felt they should have had a place in the election debates, I also predicted they would win some seats. With this strategy, that drew me to watching the blogosphere around Alba. They tended to be very anti-SNP and Nicola Sturgeon and very pro-Alex Salmond and Alba. A perfectly legitimate political position to take. They also seemed to be embroiled in the ongoing “Trans debate” on the side which is against the self-ID reforms that the SNP plan to bring forward. This is such a sensitive debate, and one careless word can have you castigated by one side or the other, I support reforms, but feel more could be done to address the concerns raised by woman. I’ve been accused of being a transphobe for adopting this middle position. I’ve also been accused of being a GRA zealot. Neither are true. I believe in equality for all, how you achieve that is an important debate.

Now that the context is out of the way, let us look at what developed recently. As mentioned, I follow the content and discussions amongst the pro-Alba blogospheres. One of the most useful resources for doing so it to watch Barrhead Boy’s “Through a Scottish Prism” broadcasts. They regularly feature fellow bloggers, Iain Lawson, Denise Findlay and Jason Michael McCann. So, it came to my attention yesterday that there was to be a live broadcast. I settled in and watched as always. As I watched, there was a promise of “fireworks”.

The “fireworks” turned out to be the sharing of an edited clip from 2019 featuring Scottish Family Party leader Richard Lucas at a public meeting. He was questioning then Education Minister John Swinney about the content of sex education in schools. More about the SFP and Mr Lucas in a moment, but I invite you at this point to view the clip yourself. Please be aware that it contains language of a sexual nature. Please also watch the reactions of those on the “Prism” broadcast to the end of the video.

My instant reaction was that of concerns about the content of sex education in Scotland is a valid and important debate, particularly in an ever-changing digital world. However, some of the points raised in the public meeting clip raised my suspicions. I also recognised that the questioner was the leader of the Scottish Family Party. My first reaction was one of surprise that pro-Alba bloggers were aligning somewhat with the Scottish Family Party who are on the much more socially conservative (small c) wing of politics [Ed – I do not share your surprise for a moment]. They oppose same-sex marriage and their other policies, as reported in The National, include encouraging “’people experiencing unwanted same-sex attraction’ to ‘seek counseling,’ scrapping public funding for the Scottish Human Rights Commission, and allowing golf clubs to have men-only membership.” The list goes on and becomes more unsavoury. [Ed – What if the men only golf clubs experienced unwanted same-sex attraction? They haven’t thought this through]

The Ferret also revealed that “The leader of the Scottish Family Party breached electoral law by failing to submit a record of his personal campaign spending after running in the 2019 general election”. Lucas, a former Physics teacher at the private Merchiston Castle School, faced being struck off after criticising Ruth Davidson for having a “fatherless child” in a YouTube video. He was recently cleared to continue teaching.

When you add all these things up it appears obvious to me that a bit more investigation needs to go into corroborating Lucas’s points, and also where the clip used on “Prism” came from. The clip used came from a Scottish Family Party YouTube video. This is clear because of the points at which the “Prism” clip is edited match where Lucas edited his. It surprised me that the “Prism” broadcasters would take Lucas’s content apparently unchecked and entirely as presented. John Swinney’s response is edited to leave out the bulk of what he said by the SFP. That removes crucial context for the audience to critically assess themselves. You can view Swinney’s full response below and make up your own minds.

See the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YGzefRKbxX0&t=6479s

On Lucas’s claims, it is true that primary age children are taught about sex and gender. His more adult assertions are, from the resources I have seen, targeted at those of the age of consent, or approaching it. I’ve have been unable to find evidence of the “banana and Nutella” claim. The subsequent analysis appeared to homogenise “school children” into one 3-year-old to 18-year-old group. The problem with that is that you loose key context as to what age groups are being taught and when. Lucas saying that this is being taught in secondary schools once again homogenises that age group. S1, S2, S3 are not being taught the more adult and explicit sexual content Lucas raised. Furthermore, I was surprised that a sex education question from 2019 was being lumped in with the GRA and Hate Crime bills by the “Prism” broadcasters. It seemed a bit of a clumsy segue that was not always relevant to the issue of the video.

I am not actually here to argue the whys and wherefores of sex education in Scotland. Rather my interest here lay in influential pro-Alba bloggers shifting, and seeking to shift, Alba policy to those which align with, and use, Scottish Family Party content and arguments. I find it difficult to see Alex Salmond supporting removing the current sex education curriculum from schools [Ed – Alex is is no position to do anything]. For my personal experience, the content only seems to be updated to take account of the new digital world which wasn’t so prevalent when I was at school to the mid-2000s.

There was a suggestion during the broadcast that returning a lot of Alba Party councilors in 2022 would help ensure that the curriculum would not necessarily be taught in certain local authorities. Therefore, what this episode shows is that while Alba is new and their conference is four months away, their policy void will be filled by supporters. Those who see Alba as a vehicle for their social policies will project onto the party things that may not come to pass conference. This could prove a bit of an issue for Alba as they seek to steer to conference. The choice to delay that conference until the anniversary of the first independence referendum might prove to be a strategic mistake if the void is to be filled to a point that even Alba might endure some internal splits.

I tweeted this analysis about the pro-Alba blogosphere adopting Scottish Family Party policy and content as it happened. My Twitter notifications quickly filled up. With that inevitably came attacks. This is not a new thing with the smaller parties. An All for Unity candidate threatened me with police action because I reported their liking and retweeting of controversial graphics which made a pun of the Highland Clearances and were incendiary regarding the Battle of Culloden. I was grateful to my union, the NUJ, for their support as I endured these threats.

Barrhead Boy corresponded with me and at one point suggested I was behaving like “a little prick” because I was standing up to the scrutiny of what I had reported. He invited me on to the show, a request I accepted numerous times. The most interesting point was the demands to see my credentials as a journalist. Something that I admit I found funny considering that they style themselves as the “Scottish Free Media”. It is a standard jibe I get because I am an independent freelance journalist. I shared my Press Card and invited him to contact the relevant authorities to verify. A verification process they apparently did not follow with the clip they shared.

Ultimately, I still find these groups fascinating and I will continue to follow their work. I understand that being scrutinised can be a bit uncomfortable for those, like the “Prism” broadcasters, who scrutinise others. But when you enter the public eye, you must expect your content to be checked and evaluated. I do feel that they do themselves no favours by attacking if you scrutinise them, and by immediately suggesting you must be pro-SNP, pro-Sturgeon, pro-GRA, pro-Hate Crime bill and so on. Things have gotten so black or white that the idea of nuance seems to be dying in Scottish discourse. Never mind that I’ve fact checked The Sunday Times and Andrew Neil on this site. I scrutinise pro-independence, pro-Alba bloggers so I must be in favour of everything they oppose. I could not possibly share common ground on anything at all could I?

For what it is worth, I enjoy watching “Through a Scottish Prism”. I hold no ill-will to any of those involved. I wish them well, and I will continue to watch. I do not necessarily agree with everything they say, but I do not always agree with The Spectator or The Times, but I still read their stuff when something interests me. As to whether I will step through the “Prism”, that remains to be seen. I certainly will not stop looking through the prism of critical thinking though.

 

The Scottish Family Party leader Richard Lucas contests the reporting of The National. He states that they have no policy on same-sex marriage.

Comments (14)

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  1. Mr Richard Lucas says:

    “They (SFP) oppose same-sex marriage and their other policies, as reported in The National, include encouraging “’people experiencing unwanted same-sex attraction’ to ‘seek counseling,’”

    These are both untrue. Unfortunate that an article exhorting careful fact-checking makes two such basic errors.

    For SFP assessment of sex ed.: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Mba6uA9kQiXePwzaIxZvS_qqdMNArcSo/view?usp=sharing

    You will see that it does NOT attempt to blur age distinctions.

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      The public education policies of both the SNP and the SFP seem awfully moralistic and prescriptive. As such, both should be approached with scepticism. If I were a parent, I’d be teaching my children how to uncover and interrogate the moral assumptions that inform what all the political players would have them believe about sex and sexuality.

  2. Colin Robinson says:

    More power to your elbow, Grant. Every claim should be treated with scepticism. Critical thinking is the new truth.

  3. Duncan McLeod says:

    “I support reforms, but feel more could be done to address the concerns raised by woman. I’ve been accused of being a transphobe for adopting this middle position. I’ve also been accused of being a GRA zealot. Neither are true. I believe in equality for all, how you achieve that is an important debate.”

    This paragraph could cover a lot of people, if not the majority! It boils down to live and let live, if someone desires something that has no impact on me and as far as I can see the vast majority of people, why would I or others seek to prevent it?

    The social outlook of some was used cynically to peel them off from the independence mainstream followers and attack the vehicle that will secure that independence. A lesson for all is that societies move forward, seldom do they stall or move backwards, and if parties try to, it ends badly! Remember John Major’s back to basics, Trumps antics or even brexit.

    Salmond was not a social conservative, when it came to issue on sex, gender and race, on the contrary he was very much a progressive, that was until….

    In politics when your main opponents, as they did, start to praise Alba, you know something is up!

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      Quite right, Duncan! When I was a lad, the battle-cry used to be the classical liberal one of “Let the laddie alane! He’s no daein ony hairm.”

      The problem is, however, that different folk have different notions of what constitutes ‘hairm’ and there doesn’t seem to be any reasonable way of objectively deciding between such rival criteria. Which has always been a bit of a b*gg*r for classical liberalism.

      1. Niemand says:

        The problem is, and it is a very big one, that ‘I support reforms, but feel more could be done to address the concerns raised by woman’ are mutually exclusive by default, if ‘support reforms’ means supporting self-ID. This is the line trotted out by the SNP when they are pushed into a corner and it does not wash. One cannot live and let live if what one group does, does not allow the other to ‘live’. Someone with power and real bravery needs to face this and address it without the usual woolly thinking that basically says I can’t see a solution but I am sure there is one. Yes it would be nice to able to allow self-ID and not trample on women’s current sex-based rights enshrined in law, but the only way I have heard this being addressed is by slight of hand i.e. by saying a man who self-ID’s as a woman, becomes a woman as defined by the law, problem solved. It’s nonsense: you either support self-ID and accept that women’s sex-based rights will be repealed or you don’t support it in order to preserve those rights.

        In my view self-ID should not be enshrined in law. There may be other reforms that help trans-people, I don’t know but the principle is that to become officially recognised by the law as the opposite sex, trans people need to go through a process that shows their need is genuine and is ultimately decided by others (i.e. what we have now), in order to be as sure as is reasonable that women’s single-sex spaces etc are safe, and I cannot see or have ever heard what half-way house there might be. There are of course several other major philosophical arguments about sex and gender that underpin this, the most important being what we think a woman or man actually is.

        Worth noting that self-ID has just been rejected by both German and Spanish parliaments.

        1. Colin Robinson says:

          ‘…you either support self-ID and accept that women’s sex-based rights will be repealed or you don’t support it in order to preserve those rights.’

          I’m not sure this is the case. If I were to self-identify as a woman, then surely I would just acquire the sex-based rights that those who already identify as women have. Those rights would not change.

          Which sex-based rights would be repealed by my self-identifying as a woman?

          1. Niemand says:

            You are simply applying the slight of hand I cited above: a self-identified woman is not the same thing as a woman born as such, who btw do not identify as anything, they simpler are that thing biologically. It is the trans-woman who has to identify as a woman as physically and sexually they are men. In other words the sex-based rights will no longer exist since even a trans-woman accepts they are not sexually a woman but choose to be in ‘gender’ terms (though what gender is exactly, is very much open to debate). The rights would become gender based I suppose, but not sex-based as that would be an impossibility, so you are confusing sex and gender which is not uncommon.

            In a way your statement sums up the weird convoluted thinking that baffles many as it attempts to ignore the most obvious thing: you cannot change sex and never have been able to. In theory you can change gender but for many gender is a construct not something you are born with, so the concept is very fluid and arguably ephemeral.

          2. Niemand says:

            To be clear what you are advocating is accepting self-ID and removing laws based on someone’s sex. It is a legitimate position but not compromise of any sort as it does nothing to protect women-only spaces based as they currently are on the right they have to them by virtue of their sex alone (and very much not gender).

            The point about the current process, which I think requires actual physical treatment, is that it allows someone born a man to become recognised as a woman in sex terms (though that of itself has a hazy focus to it). With self ID, a man, with a penis and no changes at all to their appearance or any other change could simply walk into a female toilet, changing room, hospital ward, women’s sporting activity etc and have the lawful right to do so and be treated no differently to an biological woman.

          3. Colin Robinson says:

            But sex too is a construct; a ‘deeper’ construct than gender, perhaps, but a construct nonetheless.

            The traditional biological distinction, no less than the traditional role distinction of gender, depends on a socially evolving body of theory (the conceptual apparatus by means of which we interpret a world from the events we experience) and is in no way absolute or objectively ‘present’ or ‘hard-wired’ into some timeless and immutable nature-of-things. God is dead.

            Nothing but le savoir-pouvoir that constitutes our traditional ways of perceiving and thinking prevents us from identifying in any way we choose. Transsexuality is a radical precedent that challenges and loosens the chains of those traditions. It’s literally world-changing, epochal, which is why it scares the sh*t out of so many people, taking them way, way beyond their moral comfort zones and ‘through the looking glass’ into regions where their existing moral compasses no longer function.

            Which is a good thing. Prometheus unbound and all that.

            Exciting times lie ahead for the human condition.

          4. Colin Robinson says:

            And no laws need to be removed. Women-only spaces (spaces secluded from the sight, presence, or intrusion of others) will remain possible for anyone who owns that identity.

          5. Niemand says:

            So all biology is a construct just like gender, something based solely on what one feels, and that is your answer to this issue? All human understanding is a construct – we label and name things. But the things still exist as material reality whatever we call them. I’d like to know what is a construct about a penis and vagina and all the other biological certainties that differentiate males from females and that enable human life to continue on.

            And women who do not want male bodies in their spaces currently protected from them can forget it, just accept that is over? I am sure they will be perfectly happy to accept your notion that their sex is a construct and the fact some of them are same-sex attracted is a myth such that a human heterosexual male can be a lesbian, just like the stupid old sexist joke, if he decides to identify as a female.

            I expected a better argument if I’m honest – of course there is no need to change the law if you move the goalposts, especially the very goalposts that are crucial to the entire argument: gender trumps sex for good! People are not as stupid as you seem to think to fall for that: Better to come clean and simply say women’s sex-based rights are no longer tenable because anyone can identify as what they like without any other confirmation, and law must adjust to accept that. I would disagree but at least it would be honest.

            But either way, it won’t work and it won’t make the problem go away because there are far to many women who won’t ‘wheesht’.

          6. Colin Robinson says:

            No, biology isn’t based solely on what one feels; it’s a social construction of experience, what Žižek calls an ‘ideology’, an expression of the productive interpersonal relations that define the process by which we come to make sense of that experience, that process being science.

            Whether or not that knowledge corresponds to some ‘material reality’ (another construction we put on experience), which we presume exists apart from and independent of the process by which we come to know it, is undecidable because we cannot step outside the matrix of ideology to make the mind-matter comparison; we can’t know what the world is like outside our knowledge of it. Everything of which we are conscious is ideology; everything of which we are not conscious is beyond our ken.

            We do indeed live in a world of penises and vaginas, with each class confined to its own safe spaces or reservations. But we have science, not ‘God’ or ‘Nature’, to thank for that. It’s a world we’ve constructed for ourselves and which transsexuality deconstructs.

            Should traditional unreconstructed men and women just accept this? No! Conservatism is a perfectly respectable position to assume in a revolution like the one we’ve entered. Both are perfectly entitled to defend le savoir-pouvoir that sustains the current status quo.

            I’m on the side of history, however. ‘Not Traditions – Precedents!’.

          7. Colin Robinson says:

            A wee addendum:

            I’m not saying that penises and vaginas aren’t real. I’m saying that reality is an ideological construct, which as such is not timeless and immutable but is historical and protean.

            Reality isn’t something that’s given. It’s a form of life that evolves. What drives that evolution is our productivity; what shapes our reality are the relations we enter into with one another as we work to produce our means of subsistence – at the most basic level, our food, shelter, and clothing – and, thereby, to reproduce our lives. It’s these relations that furnish the paradigms by which we form our experience into a reality. As our relations of production change, so too do our paradigms, so too does our reality.

            As I’ve said several times over the several months I’ve been here, this is basically Hegel in its Marxian form. Contra Hegel, I don’t consider life as evolving to any end other than the perpetuation of life itself; there’s no justification, as far as I can see, for assuming, as Hegelians do, that evolution is ‘naturally’ a progressive process, let alone one that culminates in the realisation of some absolute. Everything – including the reality comprised of penises and vaginas – is endlessly contingent, as the phenomenon of transsexuality perhaps unwelcomely reminds us.

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