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By Jason Michael
REGULAR READERS WILL KNOW I am what you might call a “divisive” person. Some have referred to me as “Marmite,” but I pay little heed to such nonsense. This effort to label people as difficult strikes me as a lazy ad hominem, an attempt to write off the arguments they make on the idiotic basis that the personality of the character making the argument is not to our liking. Not everyone will be to our personal liking, but the acknowledgement of this inter-personal reality says nothing about the arguments people make. We must always be prepared to deal with arguments with counter-arguments based on facts and empirical data. Anything short of this is, by definition, unreasonable and has no place in grown-up conversation – never mind in a debate of national importance.
So, when I say I have a few issues with Fiona Robertson, the Scottish National Party’s National Women’s and Equalities Convener, I do not mean that I have personal issues with her. She and I have never met. She is neither a friend nor an enemy of mine – although, after reading this, she may have a differing opinion. What I mean is that I have taken issue with a number of her statements – or pontifications might be a better way to describe them.
Steve Ellwood (@steveellwood) November 01, 2018
When my colleague “Grouse Beater” was raked over the coals a while back and given the bum’s rush by the SNP for having discussed Adolf Hitler’s attitude to trade unions when addressing the duplicity of the GMB union and one of its organisers – who we later discovered to be Jewish, Fiona Robertson took him to task. Apparently mentioning Hitler and a Jewish trade union activist and organiser in the same sentence is antisemitism. It did not matter that his comments were not in reference to the organiser in question or that his piece was written in defence of trade unionism, Robertson concocted an idiosyncratic definition of anti-Jewish racism and levelled it against him.
When she was criticised for this, rather than entering into a constructive dialogue, she doubled down and produced a blog article relying on the opinion of her unnamed Jewish friends and the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism – already rejected by the United Nations and the European Union – to defend her accusation. Thus, from her pedestal as an expert in equality, she set about the character assassination of a well-respected pro-independence writer on the grounds that he had employed a historical parallel with the Nazis in order to criticise a Jewish person – a tool that has been used by Israeli propagandists to delegitimise any and all criticism of the State of Israel (the very reason the UN and EU rejected the IHRA definition). As a Holocaust educator, I attempted to open up a discussion with Robertson on the subject, but this was to no avail. She, as an expert on equality, ignored every invitation to talk.
Naturally, this left a bad taste in people’s mouths. But this was not the end of her antics. One might understand that if she had perhaps realised that she had made an honest mistake, she might have felt too proud to admit this in public. The matter slid. Things moved on.
SNP women's and equalities convener Fiona Robertson is yet to respond to my analysis of her take on Grouse Beater's… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Jason Michael (@Jeggit) November 28, 2018
Then came Stu Campbell’s court case against Kezia Dugdale, who had – as leader of the British Labour Party in Scotland – denounced the author of Wings Over Scotland as a homophobe in the Daily Record newspaper. Of course, we can all appreciate that homophobia – a vile and obnoxious prejudice – would be an issue close to Robertson’s heart, but the position she adopted in the end baffled an awful lot of people in the SNP and across the wider independence movement. Sheriff Nigel Ross said in the Edinburgh case that “Despite incorrectly implying that Mr Campbell is homophobic, her article is protected under the principle of fair comment.” In a word, then, the decision of the court was that Stu Campbell had not in fact said anything homophobic, that he was not a homophobe. Yet, on the day of the ruling, Fiona Robertson tweeted Kezia Dugdale:
Many thanks to you for fighting this case, Kezia – I’m sorry you had to go through it at all, but your testimony was powerful and vital. I hope you can get some peace now.
Remember reader, this was on the same day the British unionist press – including the BBC, The Scotsman, The Telegraph, and The Herald – was reporting the whopping mendacity; “Kezia Dugdale wins Wings Over Scotland defamation case.” She hadn’t won. Stu Campbell had won. All she won was the right to tell lies under some bonkers rule – open, apparently, only to unionists – of “fair comment.” Sheriff Ross stated in plain English that Dugdale “incorrectly” implied Campbell made a homophobic remark about David Mundell, the Secretary of State for Scotland. He had done no such thing, but he would not win damages because of the license supporters of the union seem to be afforded by the Scottish courts (see also the Alistair Carmichael case). Yet, notwithstanding the facts, Fiona Robertson was leaping over social media to praise and thank the person she wanted to be both the victim and the victor. An indication, surely, of a personal vendetta on her part against Campbell – a journalist and blogger who has done more than most for the independence campaign.
At this point something of a pattern was emerging. Not to put too fine a point on it, Fiona Robertson – supported by a number of people in the SNP hierarchy – was waging a series of wars, based on her own ill-informed prejudices, against certain pro-independence writers and activists identified by deeply compromised, BBC-acceptable independentistas like Angela Haggerty as “yer das” – male activists who do not subscribe to the sketchy, inconsistent gender and identity politics of the new vanguardist radical lunatic left. The politics of independence was being subverted by a tyrannical ideology which demands everything – even national constitutional discussion and politics – be subjected to the scrutiny of the watchers and guardians of gender politics. According to this schema, one must conclude, the old rationalists – the “yer das” – have to be purged.
Jason Michael (@Jeggit) April 23, 2019
This was only a working theory of mine, and one I was content to keep to myself, until Robertson began redefining women. Look it, I find it impossible – as a man – to define what it means to be a man. Beside the physical characteristics of sex, I understand gender, à la Judith Butler (1988), to be performative; the world is a stage on which we all act out our socially expected gender roles and act out our rebellions against the same. Being a man is therefore more complex than being male. It is fraught with social expectations, contradictions, and anxieties. Unable, then, to define manhood for myself – save for the lived experience of being myself, I’m not going to offer a definition of womanhood. I’m not a woman!
But this is precisely what Fiona Robertson attempted to do in the midst of a chaotic debate about gender in which a growing number of women are becoming frustrated and angry with what they perceive as an attempt by trans-women (males who identify as women) to “colonise their bodies, their gendered experiences, and their sex-exclusive spaces.” Whatever our thoughts on this debate, these are genuine concerns, and so must be treated with the sensitivity and respect they deserve. Again, it is not for me to define womanhood with regard to trans-women. I’m not a trans-woman! But we are, at the moment, stuck with at least the language of “man” and “woman” and the epistemics of sexual difference. Undermining the fundamental meaning of “woman” in order to suit an ideology or a political agenda at once prioritises “man” over “woman” because “man” is not the category of meaning being challenged and takes from those people born female who identify as women the right to define their own sex and gender in their own terms. Yet this is exactly what Robertson proposed:
Not a huge fan of the term [women], prefer ‘people who menstruate,’ but the move to be more inclusive is fairly new and we’re still trying out new terms and descriptions…
Women – not men – according to this idea, have to give way, at the level of their bodies and identities, in order to be more “inclusive.” They are to be denied even the word “woman” by a truly bizarre ideological notion that seeks to reduce them to the very basics of biological functionality from which the Woman’s Movement has been trying to rescue women and womanhood for decades – that is from their value as vessels, as reproducers, and as chattels.
Not being the most versed in this debate, my position is simple: Given our social and biological freedoms and necessities, everyone should be afforded the right to define themselves insofar as this does not limit the natural rights of others. Trans people must be afforded the freedom to identify as they wish, but this identification cannot ignore biological necessity; people born male will always be in some way – at least for medical purposes – male. Trans people can and should be – at least in my opinion – socially accepted as the women they feel themselves to be, but their womanhood, will always have limitations by virtue of them having been born male. There will always be categorical, physiological, and psychological differences between trans-women and women born female. The same is true of trans-men and men born male.
Grumpy Scottish Wifie 🏴🏁 (@caf_abz) April 18, 2019
Getting back to Fiona Robertson and in conclusion, there is a relationship between her ideological attempt to redefine “women” and her treatment of independentistas who do not subscribe to this attempt to make soup of sexual difference. It strikes me as interesting that her chosen weapon is language. Like most deconstructionists, she is attempting to tear down the power structures around her – the “patriarchy” of the male-dominated blogosphere and the “matriarchy” of the trans-exclusionary radical feminists – by changing the definitions of words and altering the rules of language, the common grammatical frameworks by which we understand the world. She, as the self-appointed arbiter of language, then, gets to become the only person who understands what’s going on – the only person who knows. Thus, everyone who disagrees is wrong.
Gareth Wardell can be an anti-Semite so long as the definition of antisemitism is suitably adapted to fit the accusation against him. Stu Campbell can be a homophobe so long as the definition of homophobia is tailored to fit a description of his attitudes and opinions. Anyone can be a woman so long as people who menstruate are reduced to a physical function of their bodies. Her behaviour betrays her. Nothing of this is about antisemitism, homophobia, or transphobia. Her linguistic gymnastics have utterly devalued real antisemitism, homophobia, and transphobia, which were real and clearly defined prejudices long before she took a red pen to the dictionary. Robertson’s “sensitivity reading” – a neo-barbaric assault on language and rational thought – is a power play. The ideology she espouses is the ideology of the weak – deconstruction, chipping away at the foundations of the power gained by firm logic and reason. There comes a time when we must stand up to this corrosive nonsense, and that time is now.
Germaine Greer: Transgender women are ‘not women’