Tuesday, April 10, 2007


Sex, the SNP, and Time To Shut Up

There’s been much mirth in the last few days over an SNP MP being involved in a ridiculously minor so-called ‘sex scandal’ (not something you’d even have noticed if you walked by and didn’t happen to recognise those involved). This sort of Schadenfreude is very tempting when the subject is a particularly sanctimonious sort whose party is embroiled in a ‘cash for bigotry’ scandal, but – at the risk of sounding like a puritan of the Isles – there’s no moral accomplishment in resisting something unless you’re tempted by it, and this is a sexual temptation that Liberals should resist.

I wrote last year that, despite all the many, many things John Prescott deserves to be sacked for, his sexual activities should not appear on the list. ‘Sex scandals’ are always funny, at least for people not in the scandalee’s party, but they shouldn’t be sackable offences. Or, to Liberals, offences at all, so long as what’s gone on isn’t rape or underage, or otherwise a clear legal offence without consent. So though whenever I, too, see a ‘Bigot caught with trousers down’-style story and want to laugh like a drain – I’m not made of stone – I have to ask, what good is it going to do to criticise someone for something that’s none of my business, and no problem for me?

Making censorious remarks; saying they’re fair game because of hypocrisy (and, let’s face it, unless someone has a 100% libertarian record, that’s an easy charge to stick on almost anyone); po-facedly talking about ‘human frailty’; just having a good nasty laugh… They may all seem like quite different responses, but run them by a general audience, and you know what? I’m guessing the nuances will be lost, and all those comments come out with exactly the same meaning: ‘We’re prudes, and sex is bad’. And that has two effects, one bad for Liberals in principle and the other bad for Liberal Democrats in practice. It makes Britain just that little bit more conservative, drip by drip. And the next time one of us is ‘caught at it’, our own nuances will be lost, and the public will just think we’re all the same and call us hypocrites.

James Graham has been doing an excellent job in skewering the SNP. He upset a lot of them by stating the bleeding obvious, that nationalism is about excluding people, though not even a single SNP apologist has been able to defend them taking money from millionaire bigot Brian Souter then by a mysterious coincidence instantly dropping all support for not having gay people picked on and vulnerable kids turfed onto the streets. Fancy! I notice current-number-1-artists The Proclaimers have already dumped the SNP in disgust, and presumably none of James’ interlocutors could bring themselves to say how happy they were that their party has been bribed into a blind eye to bigotry. Now, I can imagine James was particularly chuffed to see a story break about the SNP MP who, rather than merely offering tacit support for bigotry, was a proudly declared and active bigot. Yes, he’s a bigot who votes to hurt other people because they don’t meet the religious standards he chooses to impose on their and their families’ lives, but – shock! – he’s ‘fallen short of the ideal’ himself. It’s a good job James wrote his piece rather than delivering it to camera, as he’d probably have had difficulty not rubbing his hands with glee as he said that “unfortunately” Mr MacNeil “does fail the hypocrisy test”, making his “private life fair game”.

Sorry, James, but I can’t agree. You don’t do Mr MacNeil any good by crowing about it – well, fair dos, none of us particularly want to (OK, perhaps a little good; it’s probably too much to hope that he might experience a moment of Damascene revelation on discovering that, actually, he doesn’t like people attacking him for his sexuality either, but as I consider it morally worthwhile to retain a sliver of optimism for his redemption, it’d be wrong to join in with the kicking). You don’t do his family or the young women involved any good – well, maybe you consider them collateral damage. But you don’t do the cause of Liberalism any good, either. For a little short-term tactical hit on the SNP, you’ve made a poor strategic and moral decision: if you’re saying he’s done wrong, you can ultimately only do so by siding with the petty, small-minded, vindictive loathers of freedom that he champions. While this may be a defeat for him, it’s a victory for the bigoted theocracy he espouses.

Once again, I suggest we all queue up to say, ‘So what? They were adults, they knew what they were doing, and it’s none of your business. Good luck to them – each to their own.’ So we might upset a few curtain-twitchers. Well, they’re unlikely to vote for us anyway. But we mark out where we stand and encourage people not to feel the shame that bigots and busybodies want to get their kicks from in inflicting on those who have fun that hurts no-one.

And from last year’s article about Mr Prescott, which still sums up my views:
What’s happening now is nothing to do with public interest. It’s more the ‘Mum’ test; it’s taken as read that it’s a scandal if a paper publishes something you wouldn’t want your Mum to read about / look at. Well, big deal. I’ve done plenty that falls into that category, and if you haven’t, reader, you should get out more. More to the point, so have the most faithful and well-behaved husband and wife who have children. It’s just rubbish to say that’s a ‘scandal’.

I’m not going to suggest we adopt as our formal slogan, ‘Liberal Democrats: the party that says sex is all right’. Still, we’ve had worse, and – if slightly tongue-in-cheek – I’ve yet to hear a better suggestion for one likely to make people sit up, take notice and think, ‘Oh, that’s what the Lib Dems are for, and I like it.’
Update: Since posting this, I’ve spotted that Liberal Review made several similar points this morning. James has responded to them, too – see what you think.

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But I don't consider the girls and his family as 'collatoral damage' that's why I state in my post that the story shouldn't have been published.

Also, far be it for me to get out my tape measure, but I've written a lot less about his personal life in my post that you just did in yours.

All I'm really saying at the end of the day is that I struggle to feel sorry for the man. Yet he who is without sin, etc... It's not illiberal to enjoy a frisson of schadenfreude.
Looking at my post again, I also am careful not to say that his private life is 'fair game' - merely that he considers the private lives of others to be such by voting against the SOR.
Technically, James, you may be right about your degree of detail, but as your tenth through to your sixteenth words in your original post are a great big link to details of what he’s said to have got up to (you know, the ones you say probably shouldn’t have been published, but GET THEM WHILE THEY’RE HOT!), I hardly think you can strike a pose of modesty, save as a rhetorical flourish ;-)

Similarly, while you don’t explicitly say that his private life is fair game, you ask the question, say “Normally, I would say the answer is no,” then – while not explicitly saying ‘yes’ – the arguments you follow that with make it clear to every single one of your readers that your answer in this case is in the affirmative. I must say, I never thought I’d find you hiding behind technicalities rather than coming right out with what you mean, apparently so as to avoid having to answer your critics. Come on, James; your bluntness is a joy to read. Don’t suddenly take to dissembling!

I explicitly admitted to enjoying a frisson of Schadenfreude, too, but before I lined up with the ‘sex is bad’ lobby I thought a bit further than ‘Tee hee!’ You have nothing to say about that, though, have you? You’ve not challenged my argument on why your “careful” innuendos were unwise, merely – and disappointingly – hidden behind your wafer of ‘plausible deniability’.
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