Scotland’s facing a cut of £178 million to its budget, the Labour party are still acting like pettit lipped weans and are refusing to support any SNP anti-austerity amendments, but what certain sections of the media want to talk about is that Alicsammin made a sexist remark. During a particularly tetchy exchange in the Commons over Scottish membership of the Commons Health Committee, Tory minister for small business Anna Soubry was acting like a complete and utter dickhead and giving a masterclass in over the top histrionics, refusing to acknowledge that Scotland has a case for representation on the committee. This resulted in an exasperated Alicsammin snapping at her – “Behave yourself, woman.”
The condemnatory headlines were predictable, and they weren’t condemning Anna Soubry for acting like a Tory dickhead, even though she was indeed acting like a Tory dickhead and has a long previous history of acting like a Tory dickhead. In fact, if you look up the word soubry in a dictionary of political slang you’ll find that it is defined as “over the top Tory dickheadery”. As in – that No Borders video during the independence referendum was a bit of a soubry. The infamous incident on Andrew Marr’s telly show during the election campaign, when Soubry was being interviewed alongside Alicsammin and slid uncomfortably along the sofa like he was going to infect her with ebola was yet another instance of Anna doing a soubry.
In her exchange with Alicsammin in the Commons, Anna was abusing her position of power as a government minister in order to interrupt and demean. She was doing a soubry. She was in fact abusing her power as a member of a UK government which has little support in Scotland and using it as a means of goading a Scottish MP and tauting him, reminding him of Scotland’s subservient position in the Union. Scotland is the powerless one in the soubry equation.
Anna does her soubries as a means of unsettling her opponents and causing them to make mistakes. Unfortunately Alicsammin fell for it, and in his perfectly justifiable irritation with Anna doing a soubry he was not as careful in his use of language as he should have been. Irrespective of the intent behind it or the circumstances which led to it, when a man snaps at a woman, “Behave yourself woman” – it sounds sexist.
But explaining and investigating the intent and circumstances which led to the remark is precisely what the UK media is not going to do. SNPbad, SNP always bad. And now instead of investigating why a UK government minister thinks it’s perfectly fine to abuse her position of power as a means of putting Scotland back in the shortbread tin, we are instead being invited to sympathise with her as a victim of everyday sexism. No one in the mainstream media has bothered to explain why it’s vital that Scotland has representation on the Health Committee – even though health is a devolved matter – because the setting of the health budget in England has a direct effect on the health budget for Scotland. Instead all we get is Alicsammin sexist and Scottish meddling in English matters.
The episode is a timely warning to the 56 SNP MPs that the UK media is never ever going to give them the benefit of any doubt. Some in the Scottish independence camp have tried to argue that Alicsammin’s remark and his intentions were not sexist, but they’re missing the point. The point is that the remark can easily be interpreted as sexist, and when something is capable of being interpreted in a way which is negative for the SNP, and especially Alicsammin, that’s exactly what the UK media and establishment is going to do. SNPbad, SNP always bad. In this case, Alicsammin gave them an easy target.
The media boys who cried wolf have tried to broaden their attack – wondering aloud why Alicsammin’s remark hasn’t been roundly condemned by pro-independence supporters. If the media had responded with equal vigour during the last Parliament to the far worse incidence of sexist bullying directed against a female SNP MP, when Ian Davidson threatened Elidh Whiteford, then perhaps they might now be justified in their attempt to occupy the moral high ground. But we don’t have a media which did that, we have a media which goes out of its way to invent entirely spurious attacks on the SNP. There was the entirely invented seatgate affair, there were the allegations that the SNP candidate for Edinburgh South called all No voters quislings when all he did was to post a link to a satirical BBC Scotlandshire article about Unionist politicians. But these lies are still being repeated as though they were true. SNP supporters have been subjected to a barrage of reports about SNPbad, and the media has long since used up its quota of SNP condemned.
In the cosmic scheme of everyday sexism, what Alicsammin said was hardly a ravenous patriarchal wolf who was going to ravage the village. It was more a wee yappy Yorkie biting the ankles of a privileged and powerful woman. Yet now the focus is on what Alicsammin said, and not on the soubry which provoked it. In the UK media everyday sexism trumps everyday Tory privilege and Scotophobia everyday, at least when it can be used to attack the SNP.
That’s a real and serious issue. By indulging itself in a long and increasingly ridiculous series of unfounded attacks upon the SNP, the mainstream media has now destroyed its own credibility. Should at some time there arise a genuine and serious reason for criticising the SNP and investigating their behaviour, thousands of otherwise perfectly reasonable and fair minded people are not going to listen and are not going to be interested in the media reports. The media has lied, exaggerated, and misled too often. We have a mainstream media that’s unfit for purpose.
Meanwhile what gets lost is something that’s far more offensive than Alicsammin and the soubry. Scotland’s budget being slashed by £178 million and our schools and hospitals being put at risk by a multimillionaire. What’s more offensive is that the Labour party is still bent on acting like a spoiled child who’s had its ball taken away from it instead of growing some balls and collaborating actively with the 56 SNP MPs to challenge Tory austerity plans. The real offence is lost in the media fluff, vulnerable people in marginalised communities suffer, and the mainstream media continues to get a free pass and doesn’t do its job. That offends me far more than anything Alicsammin said to Anna Soubry.
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