Why #feminists and #independence supporters need to be wary of ALBA

It’s a pretty rough time to be a feminist who supports Scottish independence right now. At the tail end of Alex Salmond’s ongoing war against the women he admits to harrassing, and the women who refused to cover up for him, his sense of outraged entitlement resulted in the foundation of the ALBA party specifically designed to challenge the SNP in list seats.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m a founder member and the ex-Scottish policy spokesperson of a party founded by Sandi Toksvig and Catherine Mayer as a response to the failure of other political parties to take women’s equality seriously. The Women’s Equality party has gradually built up membership, won seats, and is contesting the Scottish Parliament elections– not to win power, but to call the other parties to account on women’s equality. So I would be a hypocrite to call someone out for founding a single-focus political party.

(Obligatory electioneering: donate to the WEP crowdfunder here, because we aren’t backed by Russian millionaires)

ALBA announced its list of candidates for Holyrood, which include a predicable number of disgruntled ex-SNP candidates who failed to make the selection for the SNP, or have been very vocal in their opposition to some of the more progressive policy directions recently taken. There are probably some SNP branch secretaries secretly relieved that the more right wing troublemakers have left.

If the old adage ‘know a man by the company he keeps’ is true, Salmond’s ability to attract support from fellow misogynists, who have managed to land themselves in court or banned from social media for their attacks on women, should already be ringing alarm bells for any feminists thinking of supporting the new party, particularly when their response to being called out for abusing women is to abuse women:

To clarify: Salmond has admitted non-consensual ‘sleepy cuddles’; Wings Over Scotland (the alleged author of the above tweet) has been regularly suspended from social media for online abuse of women, uses his blog to abuse women, and lost a defamation case where he was accused of homophobia by a lesbian politician; Craig Murray committed contempt of court by releasing information that could identify women who didn’t want to be identified; and Tommy Sheridan harassed fellow party members and got his wife to lie in court about it. You do not need to be Helena Kennedy QC to know that abusing women does not always result in a court conviction. None of these men have apologised for their behaviour towards women.

Salmond has also persuaded the Independence for Scotland party – a party specifically founded because it disagreed with the proposed SNP reforms to the Gender Recognition Act – to stand down its candidates. Let’s get this clear. A group of people who are worried about men abusing GRA protections to invade single sex spaces and abuse women is supporting a party led and supported by a group of men who have demonstrably abused women and shown absolutely no remorse for it.

It does my head in.

So, even without the sinister undertones of being a vanity project by a man with a clear vendetta against a woman who replaced him and refused to cover up his bad behaviour, any feminist should be incredibly wary of the people attracted to ALBA. And that is before we get to the lack of policies.

#COVID19 has hit women disproportionately hard, and the next Scottish Parliament will be tasked with repairing Scotland’s economy, health and social care systems, education and poverty. Now is not the time for vanity politicians: now is the time for some serious hard work to address the huge inequalities made wider by the pandemic.

If Salmond’s agenda really was about Scottish independence, there are far more effective ways to support the achievement of that than by forming a new and unnecessary political party. There is no point having a referendum if you can’t win it, and here the growth of grassroots organisations will be the key to success. Evidence shows that a substantial minority of ‘soft nos’ in 2014 were actively turned off independence by Salmond’s divisive nature and their dislike of the SNP. Organisations like Women for Independence have had remarkable success in turning many of these ‘soft nos’ into ‘yes’ and the women’s vote will be particularly important.

If he really wanted to win independence, Salmond could have put some of his considerable material and social capital behind one of these organisations (or founded his own), to counteract the mainstream media advantage enjoyed by the Unionists. It’s fairly clear that he and ALBA might divide pro-independence voters, but they are not going to win any new voters over to independence itself. Indeed, the evidence from 2014 and since then suggests that ‘soft nos’ – particularly women – are likely to disengage from any political discourse dominated by him. Unionists, feminists, ‘soft nos’ and the general public actively dislike Salmond, and it is going to be hard work persuading them to vote for a project supported by him.

Which leads me to the conclusion that as an independence supporting feminist, I cannot see any rational grounds to support the endeavour. If you don’t like the SNP don’t vote for them, but for heaven’s sake don’t use your vote to show that misogynistic dinosaurs can buy their way into power. That’s not a Scotland I, or any activist I know, wants to see.