Once upon a time, Scottish Labour used to take threats of violence against women seriously.
Every time Sean Connery dared to show his support for the SNP and the cause of independence, female Labour MSPs in particular would seize the opportunity to remind folk of allegations made by his now deceased first wife that he was a bully who physically and verbally abused her. Allegations, incidentally, that Connery denied vigorously. But argued Labour, there should be zero tolerance of such violence and the SNP should rescind its links with him as a result.
I often felt a little queasy about it all. The SNP tended to play the man (or in this case, the party) and ignore the issue, that of the prevalence of domestic violence (although it has done more in government than Labour ever did to fund and promote activity to prevent such violence.) The spats at the time were highly politicised: Labour was trying to diminish Connery’s status and reputation, while the SNP wax anxious not to allow his support for them to be tarnished, and simply refused to acknowledge or investigate the claims.
Fast forward several years to accusations today from Dr Eilidh Whiteford, Banff and Buchan MP, that Ian Davidson, Chairman of the Westminster committee on Scottish Affairs, threatened to give her “a doing.” Worse, it would appear when attempting to explain his remarks, he insisted he didn’t mean anything sexual. That’s okay then.
For those unfamiliar with the Glasgow parlance, a doing means “a beating or fight. Might be heard from someone who angry with someone else and to whom they are “Going to give a doing”.”
Dr Whiteford has withdrawn temporarily from sitting on the committee until Ian Davidson is removed from his position. Labour’s response? “We are looking carefully at these allegations and will make a full statement tomorrow.” In the meantime, Ian Davidson, MP for Glasgow South West, continues in his prestigious role. At the very least, he should be suspended pending an investigation.
It’s not just Labour who should investigate, but also the House of Commons. Davidson is alleged to have made the threat while occupying the Chair of one of its committees and the Westminster authorities – the Speaker? – also have responsibility to react.
But I’m not holding my breath. The UK Parliament does not have a particularly strong track record at defending or indeed, promoting women’s rights. And one of those is to be allowed to go about their business without fear. Our democratic institutions must be exemplars for society and show zero tolerance for actual, threatened and indeed, allegations of physical and verbal abuse by men towards women. It will be interesting to see how, or even if, Westminster takes any action.
The same applies to political parties. Labour MSPs and MPs, mainly women, were quick to call for there to be no place in the Scottish political firmament for Sir Sean Connery until allegations of violence and violent attitudes to women remained unresolved. Tonight, they have been silent in relation to the accusations about their parliamentary colleague.
Equally, at the time of the Sir Sean stushie, the SNP accused Labour of “pursuing a political vendetta against Sean Connery for some time. We don’t know the motivations of people responsible for this, but it is something I would say is unfair.” If the SNP considered it unfair then, it must resist the temptation to make political capital from the current situation.
Because protecting women from violence, and its threat, should be a universal aim, shared by all parties. Any accusation must be treated seriously and investigated thoroughly. If proven to have substance, charges must surely follow.
Zero tolerance must mean exactly that and apply to all.