Holyrood, kangaroo courts and the politics of pretence

There’s certainly no shortage of MSPs with a self-evident self-awareness deficit. Which Mr Popular aka John Swinney has ably underlined since becoming first minister. In dismissing the Standard Committee’s decision on Michael Mathieson’s iPad expenses claim, Swinney’s opinion was that it was procedurally flawed, because prior to the actual decision committee member Annie Wells had made prejudicial statements against the first minister’s ‘friend and colleague’.

Eh? He’s claiming the process had been prejudiced against his friend and colleague? That sounds a bit like a defence solicitor claiming in court the sheriff had been prejudiced against his “old school pal and current drinking buddy” who had been charged with assault after a pub brawl – it doesn’t really help the lawyer sound like his defence case is particularly objective and unbiased.

But in turn Swinney’s comments about the ‘integrity’ of Holyrood (no sniggering, please) raises the bigger question about how the parliament’s procedures conform to principles of due process in the first place – if Swinney’s case has any merit, and assuming Annie Wells hadn’t made her statement publicly, the first minister would presumably have accepted the committee’s decision, but it would still be flawed, but we just wouldn’t have evidence that Annie Wells was prejudiced.

Not that we should expect Annie Wells to be unprejudiced anyway because, as even ten minutes of FMQs make clear, how should we possibly expect disciplinary procedures involving MSPs judging their own to be unprejudiced, whatever they say or don’t say in public? Mathieson himself has opined that the procedure had become ‘highly politicised’ – partisan politicians politicising – whatever next?

Which, of course, is all pretty obvious, and something even the dogs in the street could tell you, assuming they could speak. A bit like permanently bickering and fighting schoolkids marking each other’s homework, or adjudicating on their friends and enemies when things get out of hand.

Thus just like in politics more generally, it’s to a large extent about pretence. They all go along with it when it suits, but when it doesn’t they’ll try to pick holes in a process that’s fundamentally flawed from the outset. And then it’s back to the whole charade. Until the next time.

So much for the elites, but a more concrete example is perhaps provided by local authority planning and licensing committees which can make or break the little people (and, for what it’s worth, is one of my pet subjects).

These committees comprise local councillors usually elected primarily because they are members of one or other of our five most prominent political parties. But on these ‘quasi-judicial’ committees we’re expected to accept the pretence that these councillors can park their politics and prejudices at the door and act as some kind of hybrid judge and jury. Thus a bit like Holyrood’s process regarding Mr Mathieson.

One example involved an applicant for a ‘taxi’ driver’s licence in Glasgow, where a ‘Polish man’ had been involved in a ‘cannabis cultivation’ he and others had accidentally found in Poland when he lived there, and which convener Alex Wilson described as ‘insignificant’ in terms of quantities. There are myriad reasons I wouldn’t trust councillors to impartially decide a case like this because of the political dimension, in this case essentially because all Scotland’s political parties are pro-immigration (some to the extent of effectively promoting an open borders approach) and because of the generally pro-drugs orthodoxy in Scottish politics, despite their supposed illegality (and that applies to hard drugs like heroin and cocaine, never mind the likes of the cannabis considered by the licensing committee).

However, there was also other stuff reported that in my opinion demonstrated evidence of some kind of irrational prejudice. One councillor questioned the applicant’s knowledge of Glasgow’s streets. But a council either requires aspiring drivers to pass a ‘topographical’ test or it doesn’t, so what was the relevance of asking the applicant about it?

Another couple of councillors asked the applicant about the vehicle he would drive if granted a licence, because Glasgow City Council operates a limit on the number of taxis and private hire cars. However, since the council has maintained a limit on taxi licences from around the time one of said councillors was literally in her nappies, the relevance of that questioning with regard to whether the applicant was ‘fit and proper’ (ie more of a character assessment) is anyone’s guess.

So although for wider political reasons it might be expected that some of the councillors would hardly be able to approach the case objectively, on the other hand some of the reported evidence suggests committee members were fishing for irrelevant reasons to reject the application. (And, for what it’s worth, the licence wasn’t granted.)

Coming back to Holyrood, there are echoes of the Alex Salmond saga in the Michael Mathieson imbroglio – recall that the civil service process against Salmond was “unlawful”, “procedurally unfair” and “tainted by apparent bias”.

Former SNP justice secretaries Kenny MacAskill and Mr Mathieson obviously ended up on different sides of the fence regarding the Salmond affair – MacAskill ended up in the Salmond camp, with Mathieson in Nicola Sturgeon’s tent, and the latter now defended by fellow camper, and ‘friend and colleague’, John Swinney.

But while in charge of Scotland’s ‘justice’ system both MacAskill and Mathieson oversaw reviews of the kind of Glasgow City Council procedure described above, but it seems neither process even questioned these kangaroo courts, never mind proposing any kind of reform.

Thus the (now) Alba and SNP elites can rely on the likes of expensive lawyers and FMQs to attempt to dig their ‘friends and colleagues’ out of a hole (rightly or wrongly) and at taxpayers’ expense (in direct financial terms as regards the £631k cost of the botched Salmond case, and the less direct cost in terms of the whole brouhaha surrounding Mathieson’s mendacity and the subsequent time and resources devoted to dealing with it).

The little people, meanwhile, are left at the mercy of often jumped-up and ill-informed councillors, and that’s even before considering any political bias and prejudice they bring to the proceedings. John Swinney said, with regard to apparent unfairness against Mathieson, he would “come down like a ton of bricks” on something that “wouldn’t be tolerated in any other walk of life”. By which he presumably means the ‘walk of life’ inhabited by people he can identify with like his ‘friends and colleagues’ (again!) rather than the plebs.

(Those aggrieved by local authority planning and licensing decisions can seek redress through the courts, or perhaps complain to the Standards Commission for councillors. However, again the former is obviously a more financially daunting and procedurally intimidating process for the likes of the ‘gig economy’ applicant described above, as opposed to highly paid politicians with their ‘friends and colleagues’ and other resources, and the latter process is cumbersome, often ineffectual, and hardly timeous).

(1) Strictly speaking, the application was for a private hire driver’s licence rather than the taxi equivalent, which may have implications in relation to the knowledge test stuff and numerical vehicle limits. However, from the ‘fit and proper’ dimension that should make no difference. Moreover, at least two of the councillors are quoted in the press article as misusing the word ‘taxi’, which may indeed help explain some of the evidence of irrationality, and to that extent further undermined the whole process.

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Police Scotland commits hate crime by misgendering the Hate Monster

Police Scotland continue to tie themselves in knots in relation to the Hate Crime Act, but seem to be hoping no-one will notice. However, a new clanger relates to an FOI request submitted by Wings Over Scotland, who asked about the Hate Monster’s pronouns and whether the Hate Monster ‘has a sex and/or gender’.

(Obviously I’ve been careful to avoid any pronouns there, because as well as my knowledge of the subject being a bit, er, sketchy, in addition to the obvious he/her/they there are apparently myriad others, thus a potential misgendering minefield and best avoided. And Wings’ question seems to presuppose that the Hater Monster’s gender is unknown, so maybe best not to use pronouns at all.)

Police Scotland responded thus:

In terms of Section 17 of the Act, I can confirm that the information you have requested is not held by Police Scotland.

By way of explanation, the gender of the Hate Monster was not produced. The hate monster is an animation, as such no pronouns are required.

Eh? That ‘hing’ called the Hate Monster has a distinctly male voice – see YouTube video at bottom of this post. Of course, that wouldn’t preclude him identifying as a her. Presumably. However, the narrative refers to the Hate Monster using the terms ‘he’ ‘he’s’ and ‘he’ll’ about half a dozen times, as do the accompanying subtitles:

The description below the video reads (emphasis added):

He loves it when you get angry. He’ll make you want to have a go at somebody to show you’re better than them. It could be a neighbour, somebody on the street or in the chippy, your taxi driver even. Before you know it, you’ve committed a hate crime.

Moreover, Police Scotland hate crime materials have explicit linked the Hate Monster and hate crime to ‘young men’, also linking this to ‘white-male entitlement’:

The Hate Monster represents that feeling some people get when they are frustrated and angry and take it out on others, because they feel like they need to show they are better than them. In other words, they commit a hate crime.

We know that young men aged 18-30 are most likely to commit hate crime, particularly those from socially excluded communities who are heavily influenced by their peers.

They may have deep-rooted feelings of being socially and economically disadvantaged, combined with ideas about white-male entitlement.

It’s thus surely reasonable to assume the Hate Monster’s sex and/or gender is male, and that his pronouns are he/him? Or that, to put it slightly indelicately, the Hate Monster is a bloke?

On the other hand, I’m so totally confused by all of this at times that perhaps I’m spectacularly missing something. Or maybe it’s Police Scotland and Establishment Scotland more generally who are tying themselves in knots.

But if the Hate Monster is now gender-fluid or non-binary, then Police Scotland must have initially misgendered them. Alternatively, they’re maybe now simply ignoring the Hate Monter’s preferred pronouns. Either way, a potential hate crime, surely?

But since JK Rowling’s high-profile ‘misgendering’ was found not to have reached the criminal threshold, maybe it’s not worth filing a complaint.

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Kenny Farq and his anti-Christian ‘non-crime hate incident’

Imagine writing this…

I want a secular Scotland. I want this century to be the very first in Scotland’s story where religious belief and ecclesiastical power did not routinely dictate the way people were governed or lived their day-to-day lives.

…having earlier said…

Humza Yousaf was the first Muslim to lead a national government in the western world. This in itself is an extraordinary badge of honour for Scotland.

…and:

In a rare example of an SNP leader praising the United Kingdom, he celebrated the multicultural message sent to the world by having a Hindu in Downing Street, a black first minister in Cardiff, a Muslim mayor in London and a Scots Asian in Bute House.

But such was the double standard/hypocrisy/asymmetry/cognitive dissonance (call it what you like) demonstrated by Times columnist Kenny Farquharson in a recent column, kicking off by declaring:

Kate Forbes is unfit to be first minister of a 21st-century Scotland. A 1920s Scotland, maybe. A 1950s Scotland, perhaps. But not Scotland in 2024.

But this is merely Round 2 of the double standard displayed towards Forbes and her Presbyterianism, as she demonstrates the temerity to once again put herself in the frame for leadership of the SNP (although not, at the time of writing, formally declaring her candidacy).

And, of course, the double standard relates to the totally different approach afforded by bien pensant Scotland to Christians and Christianity as compared to Muslims and Islam. No point going into the nitty gritty of that in this post, but can you imagine Kenny writing anything even remotely similar to what’s in his piece, but about Humza Yousaf?

No, me neither. But, of course, the stock answer to reconciling the double standard is mentioned in passing in Kenny’s piece:

The problem is not faith, per se. The problem is the way her particular faith intersects with our public polity.

The problem is not her beliefs. The problem is her opinions.

Which is consistent with how Humza reconciled his faith with Scotland’s uber-progressive SNP, and orthodox thinking more generally. But life and politics aren’t as straightforward as that (even ignoring allegations that Mr Yousaf conveniently missed a Holyrood vote on equal marriage so as not to offend fellow mosque-goers).

Witness, for example, Humza’s and his wife Nadia el-Nakla’s approach to Israel/Palestine/Gaza – isn’t that grounded in religion and faith, and indeed another example of the asymmetry afforded to Islam as compared to other religions?

Or, apropos what Farquharon calls “the way [Forbes’] particular faith intersects with our public polity”, how about Yousaf tweeting a photograph of Muslim family prayers at the first minister’s official residence soon after taking office – imagine Forbes posting anything even remotely similar:

And, in fact, Forbes’ Presbyterianism is probably more in line with those who Humza breaks bread with(!) in the mosque, or of indeed with other, er, longer-established denominations of Christianity in Scotland, but you just can’t imagine Kenny F pointing that out. Also, Forbes’ (small-p) presbyterianism is maybe more widely appreciated by the wider public than the likes of the Scottish Greens would care to admit, as demonstrated by opinion poll figures, not to mention how close she came to securing the SNP leadership last time round.

Who would fully trust Humza on stuff like this anyway? For example, in 2018 he said:

Proud to be part of a Scottish Govt that makes the positive case for migration & diversity. One that says Scotland will be a welcoming country.

But a couple of years later, while a senior member of Nicola Sturgeon’s cabinet, and a rung or two from the very top of the political ladder, according to Humza the Scottish Parliament, the civil service and public life in Scotland more generally are riven by ‘structural racism’, the beneficiaries of which were those awful ‘WHITE’ people.

Another couple of years, and it’s:

Being the first Muslim to lead a Western nation means a lot to me. I hope it also inspires others, particularly when multiculturalism is portrayed by some as a weakness.

In Scotland, I am proud we are a welcoming nation & our diversity is seen as one of our greatest strengths.

Eh? What happened to the structural and institutional racism? Conveniently forgotten about when Humza reached the top of the greasy pole? Pretence and opportunism, much? (I’d call Humza the Vicar of Bray, but that would surely be an Islamophobic hate crime…)

Anyway, much more about that sort of stuff in later posts on here. And ignoring Kenny F’s ‘right side of history’-style rhetoric, one example of where I suspect most Scots would disagree with him on a substantive policy point:

What comfort could be drawn from a Forbes first ministership by gay couples, given that this fundamentalist Christian politician has said she would not have voted for equal marriage? How secure would gay people feel about their hard-won civil rights?

On the other hand, how ‘secure’ do women feel about biological males being allowed to waltz into spaces traditionally reserved for biological females? Not very, I’d guess. Or how secure do ‘gay people’ feel about being told that they have to stop being sexually attracted only to people with the same biology because such ‘genital preference’ is ‘transphobic’? Or, indeed, what about us awful straight/cis/hetro folks being told that we have to be same-sex attracted (effectively) because otherwise we’re ‘genital fascists’, or some other, er, bollocks? Hetrophobia, surely?

But, of course, that’s the thinking of people like our (current) first minister, and de facto first minister Patrick Harvie, et al. And if that makes the majority of the population feel insecure, and without comfort to be drawn, then tough. But that’s, by implication, what Kenny F thinks is consistent with ‘a Scotland marked by generosity of spirit, not punitive social conservatism’.

Footnote: Since my perception of Kenny Farquharson’s article is that it is “motivated by malice or ill will towards a social group”, that ‘social group’ being being defined by the ‘protected characteristic’ of ‘religion or belief’, then I feel it’s my public duty to report him to Police Scotland under the hate crime regime.

Not that I would expect a criminal prosecution, but because my perception would mean that it would at least be recorded as a ‘non-crime hate incident’ (NCHI).

Except that I wouldn’t be that petty. And also because Police Scotland have moved the goalposts since the new hate crime regime was implemented precisely one month ago, so Kenny’s article would be unlikely to be recorded as an NCHI anyway.

Or, at least, while we know Police Scotland has moved the goalposts, to where and to what extent we can only guess at this time. But much more about that to come on this blog.

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