I had been toying with the idea of writing this blog article about how it’s unproductive for supporters of independence to join in the social media campaign calling for a boycott of the Guardian newspaper. About how when we embark on campaigns directed against individual newspapers we only allow that paper to paint itself as a victim of the social media abuse of journalists. About how we need to occupy the moral high ground and save our energies for countering the really nasty and vicious bile published by the right wing press, like the Daily Mail. About how a newspaper like the Guardian is not the BBC, it’s not a public service that all TV viewers are legally compelled to pay for and has no obligation to neutrality. About how the boycott is a campaign organised by the frothier end of the Corbynista movement who are no more supporters of or sympathetic to the cause of Scottish independence than the self-righteous metrocommentariat of the Guardian are, and who are equally blind to British nationalism.
And then I read the Guardian’s hagiography of Ruth Davidson. After reading that love-in that failed to ask Ruth anything approaching a difficult question, that allowed her to pose as a personality bereft of any political principle other than her own self promotion, I’ve decided not to bother. You want to boycott the Guardian? On yese go. Knock yourselves out. I’m past caring.
So we are told that it is a credit to Ruth Davidson that she has made the fact that she’s a pregnant lesbian so unremarkable in a country where homosexuality wasn’t decriminalised until 1981. There’s still some way to go in ensuring full equality and acceptance for LGBT people in Scotland, but it is a testament to the good sense and humanity of the people of Scotland that in terms of legal protections and rights this country is now one of the best places in the world in which to be gay.
But is this thanks to Ruth Davidson? Eh no. Now I will admit that I have a personal interest in this particular topic. I am one of those Scottish gay people who came of age when homosexuality was still illegal in this country. It galls me no end to read heterosexual journalists claiming that Ruth is so groundbreaking and giving her the credit for social changes which others have achieved. If you believe that Ruth Davidson is responsible then clearly you’ve not been paying attention.
Speaking as a gay Scot who is a fair bit older than Ruth, I can assure you that the fact that it’s unremarkable that Scotland has a gay Conservative leader who’s starting a family of her own is nothing for Ruth to take credit for. She is merely the product of the changes in Scottish society that a previous generation of lesbian and gay Scots fought for, fought for tooth and nail in the face of the bitter opposition of the party that she now represents. And, while we’re on the topic, in the teeth of bitter opposition from very large and influential sections of the Labour party in Scotland too.
Ruth is benefiting from the changes that were brought about by an older generation of LGBTQ people in this country, a generation which stood up and made change happen at a time when it still created a serious risk to your livelihood, your career, your family relationships, and even your physical safety. That was a time when the Aids epidemic was destroying our communities, and we were wracked with grief at the loss of so many. We stood up and spoke out because it really was silence or death. And if you were going to die anyway you might as well go shouting. My own first partner died of Aids. Back in the 80s was when it was brave to stand up and be counted, to stand up and make your voice heard. Ruth stands on the shoulders of those who won that victory of social acceptance, all too often at immense personal cost. She’s not the cause of it, she’s the beneficiary.
Some of us gay people were creating our own families over two decades ago at a time when those same newspapers which now print hagiographies of Ruth Davidson were demonising us. I have daughters with a lesbian couple, my eldest is now in her 20s. Gay folk having kids is not a new thing. But when we created a family there were no gushing articles in newspapers telling us how groundbreaking and brave we were. There were only hate articles insisting that people like us shouldn’t be allowed to have children.
So don’t tell me how leading-edge Ruth Davidson is. She’s a latecomer to the baby shower, she doesn’t get the credit for organising it. She didn’t normalise gay families. An older generation of gay people did that. She didn’t normalise being gay in public life. Aulder gay folk did that. She’s able to enjoy the privilege she does as the leader of the Scottish Conservatives because other people have done the hard work of attaining public and social acceptance, and suffered as a result. That was work which the Scottish Conservatives actively sought to undo and which they tried to prevent happening.
And yeah, I have a particular bugbear about this, because I was one of the ones who got gaybashed – more than once – in order to secure Ruth’s privileges. So don’t tell me how bloody groundbreaking she is. It scunners me no end to see her get the credit for the changes that others suffered and sacrificed for in order to bring about.
Now I’ve got that out of my system, what was even worse was that a national newspaper printed an article praising Ruth Davidson for talking about her mental health issues without seeing fit to mention the destruction of mental health service provision in England under the auspices of her own Conservative party, and the Conservative threat to the Scottish budget meaning that the Scottish Government has to cut services in other areas to protect NHS Scotland.
But hey, it’s OK that an axe is being taken to mental health services, that benefits for disabled people are being slashed, that there’s an epidemic of food poverty, that mental health issues and drug and alcohol dependency are strongly influenced by the poverty and deprivation that Conservative policies are making worse. It’s OK that Ruth Davidson presides over a party through which sectarianism, racism, and misogyny run to its rotten core, because doesn’t Ruth Davidson have a lovely smile, and she’s so willing to talk about her personal life.
Talking about her party’s policies? Not so much. Because that might mean she’s questioned on them, and when she’s questioned the smile disappears. It becomes as invisible as her political principles. Ruth is the Cheshire Cat of politics, smiling into non-existence.
When a newspaper treats a politician like a celebrity off the telly, it does no one any favours. It doesn’t hold the powerful to account when a politician is treated as some sort of cheerful outsider with a compelling personal narrative, and not as a member of the governing party in the UK. It helps no one when Ruth Davidson is not challenged on the gulf between her words and her party’s actions. All it does is to reduce British politics to a species of reality show, politics as spectacle not as principle. When the political means of holding the powerful to account are as weak as they are in the UK, it’s all the more important that the press does it. They’re failing us.
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