Monday, 7 May 2012

Remember Jason Donovan; or, How the SNP embraces homophobia

You may not have heard of Kenneth Gunn - indeed, you most likely have not heard of Kenneth Gunn. I had forgotten I had heard of him until yesterday, driving home through the Yarrow valley, in the aftermath of last week's local elections, we saw a fluorescent SNP placard in a farmhouse front garden; along with the SNP symbol (I have never known what it is meant to represent - a ribbon?) it bore the injunction, "Gunn". I asked my Borders-based friend if this was the same Kenneth Gunn I had come across a few years ago (he and his wife have done some very impressive charity work). It was indeed.

My Borders friend then made a passing comment to some past Selkirk scandal involving Kenneth Gunn and homophobic comments he had made. This immediately made me curious, and led me to this Southern Reporter piece from August 2009. It transpires that during a BBC Radio Scotland phone-in (about an interactive Glasgow exhibition which invited participants to write in and on the Bible, in an effort to 'write in' to it those who have traditionally been 'written out'), Kenneth Gunn got a little homophobia-happy and was slightly too open about his opinion of "so-called gays" (love that phrase) and atheists:

"Just look where this country has gone over the last 40 or 50 years. When we all went to church on a Sunday morning and we all prayed to the Lord Jesus Christ every Sunday morning, this was a much better country. Look where it is going now. We have got so-called gays who are really very sad people and we have non-believers and heathens, you know, running the country and running down Christianity."

The full transcript can be found in the Southern Reporter - if you read it, you will see that it is not the most vitriolic of homophobic religious rants that we have been subjected to over the last few years. Indeed, it is not the language or subject-matter of Gunn's tirade that I find interesting; what I find interesting is the reaction, or lack of it from the SNP.

There was absolutely no action from the SNP, other than to state that the "comments are a personal matter" and to ask Gunn to apologise that his comments had caused "offence". Other than that, Gunn has continued to represent the SNP, and to stand as their candidate at a number of elections. This sends a very clear message that the SNP not only tolerate homophobia, but are happy to be associated with it (rather like the issue of their refusal to condemn or even seriously engage with the sectarian violence associated with Scottish football, they are afraid to alienate what they see as their key electorate. What happened to politicians with ideals who wanted to make the world a better place: Wilberforce, etc. I know I sound naive, but seriously, this is low - exploiting homophobia, sectarianism, etc. in order to maintain support).

I couldn't help but be reminded of another homophobic incident involving another SNP-er - this time an MSP: Alasdair Allan. Allan is the MSP for the Western Isles (and - incidentallty - originates from Kenneth Gunn's own stomping ground) and, in 2008, was accused (by a political enemy) of "walking hand-in-hand" with "his boyfriend [...] enjoying the beautiful weather" (It was also suggested that this show of decadent perversion took place on a Sunday - not being an inhabitant of the Western Isles, I'm not sure whether breaking the Sabbath is more or less sinful than sodomy).

Now, this allegation was, of course, provoked by homophobia - and, presumably, relies upon an assumption of an ingrained homophobia amongst its audience (and Allan's consituency), for its power and potential impact. Were it not an issue for the MSP for the Western Isles to be gay, then this suggestion would never have been made in the first place, and Allan would never have felt the need to deny it - but deny it he did:

"Let me just say this. I am not gay. [..] The man I was with is going out with a woman."

This is pathetic. I know that the real crime was the individual playing on homophobia to make these allegations in the first place, but in terms of resisting homophobia, of stamping it out, and of not allowing it the oxygen of credibility, this is equally bad. He could have responded in so many other ways than that bare statement: "I am not gay." He could even have said that politics is no place for discussion of one's sex life and that he wasn't going to get involved in such dicusssions. He could have said that it wouldn't matter if he was gay. He could have said that, statistcially, twenty percent of his constituency are likely to be gay and opened up a discussion about the difficultuies faced by young people grappling with their sexuality in rural Scotland (a doctor friend of mine tells of how the psychiatric wards of Glasgow are filled with seriously-damaged individuals from the Western Isles - generally victims of sexual abuse, incest, or struggles with their sexuality and religion). He could have done all of these things as a politician, representing both his constituents and the government, and not bringing anything to do with his personal life into it.

We should all have learnt a lesson from the case of Jason Donovan: in the early 90s The Face printed an article claiming he was gay; he took them to court for libel; his career imploded. As Peter Tatchell says: "I am not Jewish, but if someone said I were, I would not dream of suing. Going to court over an allegation of homosexuality implies there is something shameful about being gay".

Alasdair Allan seems like an intelligent man, and he also seems like a good man, but brave he is not. If was brave he would have seen beyond the petty allegations of a person motivated by jealousy and internal political wranglings, to the real fight to be fought against the pervasive homophobia of large swathes of Scotland, the tabloid media (which knows its audience well and plays to the lowest common denominator - after all they have papers to sell), and the SNP (which also knows its audience well and also thus plays to the lowest common denominator - after all, they have elections to win. They also know who is paying the piper and calling the tune: Brian Souter).

Meet Brian Souter: 

As well as apparently believing that posing with scantily clad young girls is an appropriate and ethical way to promote a bus company, he is also vocally homophobic and spear-headed the (thankfully unsuccessful) campaign against the repeal of Clause 28 in Scotland, apparently believing that £1 million spent on ensuring that homosexuality could not be talked about in schools in anything but a negative light was £1 million well spent. Crazy. Think of all the good he could have done with it instead - if he is so concerned about school-age children being preyed upon, he could even have done something to address the issues around the sexualisation of young people in the media, and the subsequent society-wide problems that images like the one above lead to.

Brian Souter is also a major donor to the SNP - this couldn't have anything to do with the staunch refusal to condemn homophobia within their own party, could it...?

This is a spider's web, people, a spider's web of under-represented financial allegiances, homophobia, misogyny, populist politics and populist responses to these politics - and we are just the poor gormless moths who think we are flying towards some beautiful star, when in fact it's just a rather grimy lightbulb which will soon burn out, only to leave us flailing in the sticky parochial web woven by people like Brian Souter, Kenneth Gunn, Donald Trump, Rupert Murdoch, and anyone else that Alex Salmond sees fit to buy and/or run our country.

Oh, and here are some more cases of unchecked SNP homophobia. They have form for this kind of thing:
 - Fiona Hyslop (Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, and former Scottish Education Secretary) helped a Catholic adotion agency to get around the discrimination laws so they could turn away same-sex couples.
 - Fergus Ewing (Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism, and former Minister for Community Safety) supported the firemen who refused to hand out leaflets at a Gay Pride march in Glasgow.
 - Roseanna Cunningham (Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs) pushed to outlaw gay adoption in Scotland.

Seen like this, it begins to look like a trend. All of the above people are still in positions of power, and still at the heart of the SNP, and power in Scotland. Even the Tories don't go this far (James Douglas-Hamilton supported the right of gay couples to adopt: "In my view to have discrimination against a whole group is not in accordance with the spirit of the 21st century." - And with Cameron at Westminster supporting gay marriage, the SNP look less and less like the open, inclusive party that they try to portay themselves as). I don't even see it as a "gay" issue - it's an issue of decency and humanity, and some kind of sense of politics being a place which acts as a model for good behaviour - God, it's even just about professionalism. I know (because I was told in training in my first week at work) that discriminatory language or behaviour (racist, sexist, homophobic, etc.) would not be tolerated in any way in my workplace. Why on earth isn't Scottish politics the same?

PS - The Bible in Lego (the Brick Testament), as seen above with scenes from Sodom and Gomorrah, is amaaaaazing; sweet and clever and f-ing hilarious all at once. I love Lego:

1 comment:

  1. I've been saying exactly the same thing about the SNP since 2007 when they first took Souter's money. Up until then I'd been an SNP voter since I was 18 but that alone was enough for me to stop. Since then I've written to dozens of people in the SNP about it and I always get a stock answer, "I've been a member of the SNP for (blank) years and I've never encountered homophobia so I don't agree it's a problem within the SNP." I've received this reply from MSPs, party members and officials. When I wrote to them all, I included the same examples listed in this blog but none of the replies I received referred to any of the examples specifically.