“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.
Breaking News: The @ElectoralCommUK has again rejected the registration application by @GeorgeGalloway‘s @Alliance4Unity. They applied a 2nd time under name “All for Unity” after rejected the 1st time. But Electoral Commision have rejected their new application as “incomplete”. pic.twitter.com/MKEj9jBtGM
— Grant McKenzie (@MrGrantMcKenzie) January 15, 2021
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.
A NUJ member has been threatened with legal action by a candidate for the Holyrood elections for simply doing his job.
We regard this as an attempt to intimidate a journalist, and we will robustly defend any members threatened in this way.
— NUJ Scotland (@NUJScotland) May 4, 2021
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.