Will Alex Neil go down in history as the man who cost the SNP a yes vote?

This might come as a surprise to some, but the job of newspapers is to make news which people want to read and buy.  So, when the Health Secretary for England, Jeremy Hunt gave his personal view in an interview on Friday that the time limit for terminations should be reduced radically from the current 24 weeks to 12, political antennae in Scotland should have been twitching.

Just as the journalistic ones at Scotland on Sunday clearly were.  What, they decided to ask, was the Scottish health secretary’s view?  A pertinent question, even without the added spice of the constitutional debate which might ultimately result in Scotland being in charge of the power and indeed, duty to determine such sensitive issues for itself.

I’m sure the paper thought that if it was really lucky, it might just get something worth printing; I doubt, though, that it expected to have a gold-plated splash fall into its lap. Forget the provocative headline:  that’s a side issue to the substance of the matter.  Which is that the Scottish health secretary, Alex Neil, took it upon himself to declare his personal view that the time limit on termination would be something he would approve of being reviewed and indeed, cut in an independent Scotland.

His response begets several questions of its own, primary among them being, what on earth Alex Neil thought he was doing replying personally to such a contentious issue without routing the request through Scottish Government channels for a spokesperson to give a more anodyne reply.

It has been clear for some months now that the SNP led government has become politically risk averse, taking great care to avoid controversy in the day job and working out behind the scenes, which potentially contentious issues need to be smoothed away in time for the referendum in 2014.  Royalty, currency and now NATO have all been subjected to a kind of pre-buttal policy treatment, whereby the party strategists have identified issues which if allowed to linger on in their current party policy garb would come to dominate the debate.  The decision appears to have been taken early doors to remove such obstacles, and clear the decks for the policy debates it does want the Scottish people to engage in as we approach 2014.

Abortion and other contentious “morality” issues, like genetics and embryology, must feature somewhere on this internal list.   Control over policy in these areas would, of course, become Scotland’s if/when we become an independent country.  Mistakenly, I had presumed that there was a party line on such matters – position statements, as they are known in the trade – for all Ministers and spokespeople to have to hand when the media come calling.  Perhaps Alex Neil, the newly ensconced Health Secretary, has lost his or has not yet been furnished with the one on health matters, or maybe the dog ate it.

Because far though I might be from the SNP power base these days, even I can surmise as to what “the line” on abortion might be.  “Issues to do with women’s reproductive rights would, of course, pass to Scotland to determine on independence.  Given that there is near unanimity among medical experts on the safe and appropriate time limit for termination being 24 weeks, we see no immediate need to change policy on this matter, though if new medical evidence came to light, we might want to review the policy at some point in the future.  The premise of any such review would be to ensure that women in Scotland enjoy the same health rights as their counterparts elsewhere on these islands and indeed, elsewhere in the Western world.  We would not want to do anything which disadvantages women in Scotland.

Perhaps I am crediting the SNP with too much nous.  Even though I caw from the sidelines and lob occasional sceptical blogposts their way, most days I feel secure in the knowledge that the party has a plan, a ginormous gant chart with every input, output, objective and timing plotted for the next two years.  Which most importantly of all, has identified which of the 30% or so of don’t knows are indeed persuadable and which has prioritised them in order of persuadable-ness.  I would have thought that women and in particular, young women of child-bearing age and above average education and earnings, would be one of those priority groups.  After all, it took the nascent Women for Independence movement all of half an hour to identify these women as being potentially pivotal to the outcome of the vote.

Which brings me back to my question: when the party is at pains to strain the tent fabric at every opportunity, to keep all potential yes voters on side, what on earth possessed the Health Secretary to risk jettisoning one such group?  Alex Neil is a canny and astute politician and I cannot believe that he did not weigh up the options at his disposal, which were to ignore Scotland on Sunday’s enquiry, to pass it on to a nameless official to deal with, to proffer a safe response or to go for the nuclear option of positing the prospect of reducing the time limit on termination in an independent Scotland.  And given he opted for the latter course, the question remains: why?

Not for the first time do I draw attention to the bloc of white, middle-aged, middle class and socially conservative men sitting in the SNP parliamentary group these days.  Was Alex Neil playing to a gallery, currying favour with a potentially useful group of influencers should the occasion ever arise for a tilt at a leadership position?  Some might scoff, but few of the SNP’s ranks have harboured such ambitions and for so long, nor been so successful at maintaining an inexplicably large internal supporter base on the left of the party.  Even though Mr Neil dispatched his left-leaning credentials a long while ago.

Should we take his comments at face value, as evidence of a misguided attempt to kickstart a debate on an important area of post-independence policy?  If so, why did he think the appropriate place to make his move was from the front page of one of Scotland’s Sunday newspapers, beneath a screaming headline and enabling a leader column which tries its best not to gloat at having managed to flush out yet another fault-line in the SNP’s platform for a yes vote.  Especially when conference convenes later this month, with, as far as I am aware, only one “excellent debate” scheduled on the agenda.

Perhaps Mr Neil is acting as the outrider, prepared to not only think but also say the unthinkable, allowing a topical resolution to come to the rescue of women’s reproductive rights in independent Scotland.  Sorry, but not even I can get my head around that one.  In any event, such posturing would be unbecoming of a man paid a handsome six figure salary to command a multi-billion pound part of the public sector.

But then, bad as these possible rationale are, they are infinitely preferable to a third possibility which is that Alex Neil was playing to another gallery entirely.  An external, socially conservative one which enjoys an unhelpful and undeserved position of influence on social policy matters in Scotland.  Might the Health Secretary’s remarks have been a misguided and ill-judged attempt to bring the bishops back on board after a fretful summer of froideur twixt government and church over equal marriage?

If so, I hope the Bishops’ Conference can deliver a shed load of votes more than their ten own.  Because I fear, whatever the reasons behind it, Alex Neil’s intervention on this matter might well have done for the referendum.  Looking back at recent elections, we can all identify a moment at which a campaign was lost:  Iain Gray’s Subway fiasco;  Gordon Brown’s bigoted woman jibe; Jack McConnell being chewed up and spat out by Bernard Ponsonby over Labour’s council tax policy.

Often such moments are trivial – trailing the possibility of much reduced reproductive rights for women in independent Scotland is clearly not.  But I fear its effect might be the same, with thousands of women all over Scotland already setting their previously-unmade minds up to vote no in 2014.  In a few short ill-judged remarks, Alex Neil might well be the man who has scuppered the persuadable-ness of a key voter group, in a moment of madness of Romney-esque proportions.

And should this come to pass, then like Tam’s Kate, this one will be nursing her wrath to keep it warm for a very long time to come.

83 thoughts on “Will Alex Neil go down in history as the man who cost the SNP a yes vote?

  1. To Dave Why do you feel the urge to speak out against abortion when it has absolutely nothing to do with you what any women decides and why. It is yourself that rants but apart from Jo no-one is listening to you. Ask yourself why.

  2. Bravo, Jo
    Exactly. I agree with every word.
    And why would a woman who was raped wait six months for a termination?
    “Right to choose”
    Will the next right to choose be the right to choose to bump off old, demented and inconvenient relatives. In moral terms I don’t see any significant difference but that is probably the direction we are travelling.

    • Thanks Dave.

      There is a lot of fear attached to speaking about abortion. I think that is what Burdie is reacting to when she attacks Alex in this way but I think to accuse him of possibly costing the SNP victory in a referendum is way over the top. I think of her as quite a feisty wummin so I’m disappointed she bottled it here.

      The rights of women are important to me: I’m a woman myself however I part company with those who wage campaigns based on an Abortion Act which does not, anywhere, give women “the right to choose”. Consent is required always and it is not an automatic right. If it is seen as such it is because certain companies/clinics have on their payroll doctors who are willing to sign the required consents for the right fee. Thus these places have effectively delivered abortion on demand in the UK. The Abortion Act was never designed to be exploited in that way.

      The concept of disposable nappies is one thing, the concept of disposable babies is quite another. If the reality of abortion was made public I think a significant number of people would feel utter shock once they see the being at the centre of the process and what the process actually involves. It is worth repeating that medical staff now frequently have to deal with babies who have survived the termination process. When I say deal with I mean they have to move them elsewhere to leave them to die. I cannot imagine what it must be like for those medical staff in such a situation to leave what, for me, is an infant, gasping for breath until it finally draws its last one when it can safely be chucked out with the rest of the trash.

      I’m sure we all have family and friends who have joyously whipped out the picture of the first scan, at 12 weeks, to show us their baby. Who is anyone to tell anyone else that it is NOT a baby? Do women in the early stages of pregnancy refer to a baby or to a “collection of cells”?

      However people view the subject we have the right to expect a balanced debate and we have the right to expect the details of this process to be accessible and made public so that we actually know what we are all talking about. Currently the detail is not reaching us because many groups have gone to extraordinary lengths to prevent footage of a live termination being broadcast. Again I would ask, what are they so afraid of if they are so sure of their ground? The answer is simple: they don’t want any of us to see that, yes, there is a baby in there or what happens to it once the process begins. The powers these groups have to order men out of the debate is also quite extraordinary. The power they have to terrorise many others into not even venturing a view is extraordinary also. Making public what abortion involves will challenge them more than any words or any individual can for then it will be clear exactly what they are defending and what they are insisting is their “right”.

      I admire many of Burdy’s posts but this one saddened me deeply not just because of her own fears or for the way in which she attacked Alex Neil but because she is willing to overlook so many things about abortion which simply must be addressed and dealt with.

      Mostly we need to get to young people on this issue, including young men. We need to educate young women, very young women, that they should not be thinking, “I can always have an abortion.” We need to make them see what that means. Too many of us, and them, are familiar with the word and totally unaware of the reality behind it. Young men need to be told that it is up to them to take the lead when it comes to contraception and they need to be educated all over again about their responsibilities when it comes to looking for a one night stand which could end in a pregnancy. Young women need to be told that any young man who goes into a one night stand unprepared doesn’t give a toss about them and so they should send him on his way! That is why I would want all young high school pupils to be shown the reality of abortion.

      The rest of us need to tune in too.

      • To Jo and Dave I guess you are desperately seeking new recruits to your ant-abortion crusade. Though since neither of you will ever be forced into making a legal choice on whether you personally ought to conside having an abortion or not, then we can only suppose that you feel your own moral superiority entitles you to decide for all women. Thankfully this is not the legal situation in this country. Perhaps you may find the supporters to your cause elsewhere.

      • Must be talking abiut somebody else. I don’t remember at any point starting an anti abortion campaign. Your response is typical of the completely intolerant rant I have come to expect from some people on this issue. I have every right to express my views on this issue. I don’t accept there is any such thing as an unconditional “right to choose” and the law doesn’t mean that.
        I am opposed to convenience abortions as a general rule but certainly believe that termination at six months is barbaric and should only be sanctioned in the most extreme circumstance.Thankfully most abortions are at an early stage but in an ideal world and with wide access to contraception and medicines which prevent conception there would be little need for abortion.
        I have friend who was a nurse. She had to walk away from still living aborted children which she put into a metal receptacle to allow them to die. This haunts her still. I hope this doesn’t happen any more.

    • Dave………….on the elderly thing: I confidently expect legislation within the next 20 years which requires those of us who have reached the age of 70 to voluntarily surrender ourselves to the big jag so that we are no longer a drain on the state.

  3. “Alex Neil is a canny and astute politician… ”

    And yet reasonable folks can agree that there was no ‘evidence’ of the sort cited by Jeremy Hunt or Alex Neil (regardess of the personal opinions reported). But more to my point here; why did Alex Neil move from/was moved from his previous Cabinet Secretary post? Perphaps I’ve been missing something, but I find this has been a curiously little discussed event.

  4. “Issues to do with women’s reproductive rights would, of course, pass to Scotland to determine on independence. Given that there is near unanimity among medical experts on the safe and appropriate time limit for termination being 24 weeks, we see no immediate need to change policy on this matter, though if new medical evidence came to light, we might want to review the policy at some point in the future. The premise of any such review would be to ensure that women in Scotland enjoy the same health rights as their counterparts elsewhere on these islands and indeed, elsewhere in the Western world. We would not want to do anything which disadvantages women in Scotland.“

    First off, Burdie, you are essentially saying of this issue, “Don’t touch it, its a hot potato.” I find that view appalling. You are saying some issues are not to be touched. Why? And why sum it up as one which concerns only “women’s” rights when that is just not true?

    Let’s just sort out this “right” to choose business and, the “women’s rights” issue as well. Abortion is not something we automatically have access to in the UK. Consent is required, currently, the consent of two doctors. So it isn’t something that should be presented as automatically available because it isn’t. .

    Advances over the years have us at the stage where many terminations are resulting in live babies at the end of the procedure. Those creatures cannot be given support if they survive. Medical staff are not allowed to treat them. They must be left to die. That is a fact. Would you wish to ignore this too because it is too “controversial”?

    There are statistics available which show that some women are accessing terminations not one, but twice, three times and even four times. The Abortion Act was NEVER meant to work that way. It is NOT a form of contraception.

    And here’s the real issue: less than five per cent of terminations are carried out in pregnancies where the mother’s life is in danger, where she was raped or abused or where the child is so badly deformed/handicapped that to proceed with the pregnancy is not “viable”. More than ninety-five per cent of all terminations are performed on perfectly healthy babies. That should shock us all. When anyone even whispers about reforms to time limits some groups will come out screaming about the women who have been raped and made pregnant, or whose lives might end if they proceed with a pregnancy or whose child will barely have an existence if it is born, They somehow don’t wish to discuss the other ninety-five per cent plus who are not in any of those categories and where the “Social Reasons” clause has been ticked to allow the pregnancy to be ended.

    We really need to address these things as a society and I don’t mean just the females among us. And to suggest muzzling people on the issue is not the way to go. I would start, personally, by bringing the whole issue of abortion into the open and I would have people know what happens from start to finish in a termination. We NEED to know that before reaching an informed conclusion not least because some groups would have us believe there isn’t even a baby involved. Viewing footage from inside of the womb during a termination will establish, even from early in a pregnancy, whether or not there is indeed a baby in there. And yet, any time anyone has tried to get footage out there into the public domain they have been prevented from doing so because, again, certain groups do NOT want us to know what really happens or to see the creature who will feature in the process before its existence is terminated and decide for ourselves. . What are they afraid of if they are so sure of their own position? I would show that footage in secondary schools to perhaps shock young people into showing a bit of responsibility when it comes to contraception because they are clearly not hearing the message. Perhaps if confronted with the reality of termination they would think before taking risks. And the males among them need to get the message too.

    Ironically when Dr Robert Winston gave us footage of the human journey, from conception to death, we were all in awe of the whole process as we watched what was going on in the womb from day one. We marveled at the pictures produced which allowed us to see it all. I heard no denials from anyone then that this was not a baby yet when it comes to abortion we are often howled down for even suggesting there is a baby involved. That position makes no sense. Or have we reached the stage where we can only say its a baby if we intend to proceed with a pregnancy and if we don’t what is in there is an irrelevant blob? I don’t think that is any sort of position whatsoever.

    These points are based on facts Burdie, not emotive issues but facts. We need to confront them rather than just tell people not to even mention them. And incidentally Salmond himself once said he favoured a reduction in the time limit. It was a while back but he said it.

    I think it is terribly sad that this topic is one no one wants to touch or one where they even want to have all information out there. There is a debate to be had, a reasonable one but if you support keeping the facts back, ignoring them, avoiding them then that is not a good position. We should always be open to debate but preventing so much information from being made available about the termination process, including what happens during it, is an attempt to stifle the debate or even kill it stone dead. As I said, what are some people so afraid of that they do not want to risk allowing us all to see what the process involves?

    Invariably those who air concerns about this issue are accused of being “God types” or religious zealots. I hope you will note here that I have not mentioned God once. My position is based on a belief, certainly, but that belief is that in an issue as serious as this we need to know everything.

    • Sorry, I forgot to include this sentence of yours in my earlier post Burdy

      “Perhaps Mr Neil is acting as the outrider, prepared to not only think but also say the unthinkable,”

      Say the unthinkable. Why is it unthinkable? Why are you so afraid of this issue? It is a shocking sentence given the issues I raised in my own post. You are effectively saying that even if those issues need to be addressed, to address them is “unthinkable” because of a myth promoted for years, represented by the prominent slogan, the (non-existent, under the Abortion Act) “right to choose”?

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  7. Not really, no. There are issues surrounding the “Yes” argument and the “Yes” camp, one middle aged man’s opinion about a contencious issue like Abortion isn’t going to cost the “Yes” camp victory more than the other issues.

    However, if “Better Nation” were to notice that Neil had talked up this issue as something that would be changed post Independence while “Yes” are quiet about other issues (workers rights, corporation tax, etc etc), this could be the nail in the coffin.

  8. Just like to point out that Romney now has a lead over Obama..

  9. It really is pathetic misandry of the most bigotted kind being displayed by the feminazis. How dare a MAN give his views on the rights of CHILDREN not to be KILLED by their mothers for no good reason.
    Woman have absolute control over their bodies. That’s why slavery, rape, assault, wrongful imprisonment etc etc are all illegal. However a pregnant woman is a woman with another HUMAN growing inside her.
    NOT A PART OF HER BODY BUT A SEPARATE PERSON.

    Furthermore that future human has 2 parents who are EQUALLY responsible for creating them. The idea that a man should just keep quiet while the kind of demented harpies screeching across the media can decide to deprive him of his children belongs in the dark ages.

    I hope that every single one of the women currently arguing for the right to kill full term babies on this blog is arrested and removed from society to prevent them committing murder in the future. A women’s right to choose is code for “Let me kill my children” Always has been and just adds to my total hatred for feminists and their evil creed.

    • Wow! you want pro-choice women put in jail. That’s . . . . extraordinary.

      • …not really.

        There are parts of the world (and in this country, within living memory) a woman who’d had a miscarriage, in circumstances that made the medical staff think it probable she’s had an abortion, was treated as a criminal suspect and interrogated by the police.

      • Kathleen
        I have no idea if Osgood Henry wants pro-choice women put in jail but his and many other posts on this contentious subject of conscience illustrate very clearly that there is not the slightest semblance of a universal view on it and those who think there is are deceiving themselves. Every person but one with whom I have discussed this matter over the last day or so agree with Alex Neil and I suspect opening up this issue would end with a very different position than that supported by the “pro-choice” faction.
        If you want to change the reaction on this issue just say 6 months instead of 24 weeks

      • Dave:

        “If you want to change the reaction on this issue just say 6 months instead of 24 weeks.”

        Very well said. Most of us view a woman who is six months pregnant as “nearly there”. When we do the “weeks” business it disguises just how progressed a pregnancy is and how far the being in the womb has progressed too. Those who view this subject as solely an issue of the rights of women seek to overlook a great deal. I don’t think that position can be sustained much longer.

    • Jings you almost had me going there – but just a bit tooo mad to be believable.

  10. Great post, Kate and I agree with with you entirely. As a sceptical pro-indy woman, who has supported the rights of women all my adult life I find it scary when our Health Minister declares his personal view on reproductive health, let alone chooses to share it with the press. There’s nothing progressive about questioning women’s rights that were hard fought for (and still are). I hoped this fight had been won in Scotland at least but now at the age of 67years and still the threat rears its ugly head, I’m shocked!

    • Can we just distinguish here between what Alex Neil actually said, and what The Sunday Lies said he said. There is, shall we say, a wee bit difference!

      • The thing is, he should actually should have said nothing on the subject at all. He’s a public servant and we do not need to, or even wish to, know of any of his own personal beliefs on anything. He can leave them at home where they belong.

      • Nonsense. We elect people because of their “views”

      • To Dave. And once elected, don’t they take an oath or something? In order to fully and fairly represent the Scottish Government and the Scottish electorate, personal views must remain just that (personal). It goes with the office of any public servant. I should have thought that much was obvious.

      • No, they don’t take any such oath and they are entirely free to express personal views.

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  12. baffiebox. You have absolutely nailed it much better than the Burd has done. It really is quite pathetic to watch the blatant lies and propaganda now pouring forth from the chateratti on the subject of the SNP and it’s representatives. Because Lamont has blown her hapless party in Scotland right out of the water the unionist owned MSM are now grubbing around like demented urban foxes tipping the bins and raking the middens trying so hard to get the SNP and find the defining issue that will scupper them. Like you said it is quite sad and pathetic to witness.

    As J Robertson, Elizabeth and Stewart has so rightly pointed out any reasonable person viewing Alex Neils words will arrive at the reasonable conclusion that he was expressing a personal opinion and that he has confirmed that this will be a free debate if and when it comes up. To put any other tone on it is just muck raking of the highest order worth of the tongue of Lord Foulkes.

    “He should have got a “spokesperson” to call back with the agreed line, it’s what is done in these situations. Normally.”

    Utter mince. How on earth are we ever to have a TV debate if the answer to every question is “We will get back to you on that.” Neil has done nothing wrong and you know it.

    • Thanks for the comment but I think the hostility shown to the Burd is uncalled for. Regardless of the whole abortion debate, I think she’s right on the money when it comes to how the minister should have handled it. Regardless of how it’s all being mangled by the media/press/opposition, she is right to say it.

      Regardless of our own personal opinions, being able to bypass the mainstream media is largely thanks to people, like the Burd, who are willing to step and comment on this stuff. We wont always agree to what is being written in the blogosphere, but we are better for having a whole rage of open and engaging opinions.

      • For Gods sake hostility? Get a grip. If the Burd stands up and makes what are basically spurious allegations against Alex Neil she should expect robust exchanges. Two years to go and she has written of independence because of a personal comment by a minister who specifically stated it was for parliament to decide in a free vote if the subject ever came up. Totally spurious.

  13. Norman

    I think you have illustrated what I believe to be a very widely held view.
    I don’t believe Alex Neil’s remarks have done Alex Neil or the SNP any damage at all. – quite the reverse.in all likelihood.

  14. No Peter.you are not alone in your thinking.
    This is an artificail dispute following a perfectly reasonable remark by Alex Neil.
    It is very annoying to see our enemies being given all the assistance they require by some of our support who force their own partisan and divisive view on this issue on us and insist that the rest of us shut up.

  15. To answer your premise I don’t know, I asked my partner/mum about their thoughts on this and both want a tightening of the rules on abortion, I also aksed the question about would this make or break your vote in 2014 both said no.

  16. Yet again Kate, excellent political analysis (I am always impressed by your analysis and writing ability), however, I think probably Neil’s remarks will become tomorrow’s newspaper wrapping.

  17. Good article Kate, although I disagree that it will have a huge impact on referendum.

    For my own part, Ive tried to stay well clear of the abortion on the grounds Im not sufficiently educated to contribute either way. Despite this, it is clear Alex Neil walked into something he shouldnt have and that rightly deserves criticism, more so because he is the minister for Health – it is absolutely right that questions be raised about his suitability and his attitudes toward women if he cannot fathom his role and responsibilities in this portfolio.

    Where I do have a problem is, and where I tried to comment on Twitter, was how this was being spun. As I said above, as a minister for Health in 2012, he has questions to answer in the here and now about the comments he made, but it has absolutely minimal relevance to the independence debate. Minimal. As we keep being reminded, independence is not some land of milk and honey, where all personal opinion conform to the liberal and left. There will be Tories in an independent Scotland – does that mean we should dismantle the tent, cancel the campaign and wonder where it all went wrong? Of course we shouldn’t. All views should be tolerated and debated, even conservative ones inside and out of the SNP. We debate the issues and move forward.

    The main problem I have is the mock outrage and blatant attempts to fling mud at the independence campaign. The SoS spin in typically depressing of their editorial standpoint so it is to be expected, but no less demoralising for people like myself who want to read about the issue in a sterile political environment and decide for ourselves. Instead, rather than shout about abortion and women’s rights, it screamed indyref and no, no, no. Not only that, but we had the predictable outrage on Twitter from the usual suspects who couldnt contain themselves at the thought of getting one over on the SNP and Yes Scotland. And new depths were reached by the contributions of Kezia Dugdale, who I previously considered an outstanding talent, and Jenny Marra. Surely both would raise questions about Alex Neil in the health portfolio and go full barrel on his stance on women’s rights in 2012 – nope; the pressing concern for both was indyref and an independent Scotland. Have I to read from this that both members are more concerned with women’s right at some hypothetical point in the future than the here and now?

    IMO, it was the lowest and cheapest form of political point scoring from people I expected better from, and between them and the SoS, it was another reminder of why normal people do not engage with politicians or the political process. I spent most of yesterday seriously questioning why I bother myself when all I could sense in most contributions was party politics. It’s embarrassing and utterly, utterly depressing.

    • I agree if this type of debate makes us political anoraks get pissed off imagine what it does to folk who want to hear voices in politics? i.e. the general public.

    • “For my own part, Ive tried to stay well clear of the abortion on the grounds Im not sufficiently educated to contribute either way.”

      Perhaps then, you should start reading up on the issue and express a view. I’m intrigued though that despite saying you’re not “educated” in the subject you still say Alex should have kept his mouth shut. Did you not stop to think that may he is more “educated” than you are on this issue?

  18. I think that your making too much of this. I fully support woman’s rights in is matter, but it is only responsible to periodically return to the issue and consider any new evidence in light of medical advances. If we are terminating viable fetuses then that is a mater that should be debated and Alex Neil is quite right to support that debate.

    • Are there not one or two or a hundred more urgent things to debate at this time?

  19. I’ve commented quite a lot about this on twitter and don’t want to cover old ground, I thought we were ready in Scotia to have a calm debate about abortion etc it appears possible not.

    Some of the language used is terrible, I can only imagine what would have been said if an anti abortion person had used the same language.

    Am I alone in my thinking? I dinae ken.

  20. I don’t think this will ultimately decide the referendum – but Neil has created a storm that he could have quite easily avoided,

    He was asked a question and could have given a number of answers. He chose to give an opinion rather than a safe non-committal comment.

    Now either he simply said what he believes without thinking through the consequences of agreeing with Jeremy Hunt et al (bad politics), or he had a purpose. Whether that was simply to promote his own agenda for a future debate or to influence others within or outwith government is anyone’s guess. An attempt to get back in with the bishops seems a little Machiavellian to me.

  21. I’m too annoyed about the premise of these remarks to respond right now. I’ll probably respond in the morning. There appears to be a perception held by a section of our society that nobody has any right to object to the present position on abortion and that most people agree with them. This is not the case .

    • That is not the point of this article! It’s about an eejit Health Secretary giving a personal view to an issue he should have steered well away from and going against the grain of all that the SNP Government has tried to set in train these last few months.

      The fact that it is an emotive and contentious issue just adds to the folly. And what I do not understand is why Alex Neil thought the most appropriate thing he could do was stir up a hornets’ nest, give a Sunday newspaper an unexpected splash and give lots of people – young women in particular – reasons not to be persuaded to vote yes.

      And if as many in the SNP seem to be saying just now, that who cares about their votes, we’ve just as good a chance of getting the pro-lifers now, then sorry, but that concerns me as to what kind of Scotland we might be aiming to create post-independence. And I don’t recognise this social conservatism which now appears to be the majority view in the SNP. How everyone has grown old it seems.

  22. I am 99% confident that this will not be the moment that we pro-indy folk (it’s bad enough unionists calling it the SNP’s “yes” vote without us doing it ourselves!) lose the referendum, for two reasons:

    1. We’re still two years away from the vote, and mistakes like this will be forgotten about once we’re into the debate proper. This is actually the time to get these things out of the way, which I have always assumed was the reasoning for trying to change direction on NATO now, rather than potentially being forced to confront the issue in 2014.

    2. As much fun as it is to say Iain Gray lost the election because of the Subway moment and such like, the reality is always that these events happen as part of a downward trend towards the bad result. It’s always the ones that happen to the losing side that get remembered – if the SNP had lost in May 2011, I suspect we’d be going on about “the LIT moment” or something. Moments don’t lose elections – at most the herald the impending result. This is a blip, nothing more.

    If this seriously DOES end up being the issue that loses the referendum, then YES campaigners deserve to lose for not making a good enough case for independence, and NO voters deserve all the pain coming our way for choosing to stay in the union. Surely people wouldn’t trust the Tories to be more trustworthy on this issue than Holyrood, especially given Hunt’s remarks (which Neil specifically poo-pooed)?

  23. wise word from alex: no.
    game changer: no

    ask most people, do they think 6 months into a pregnancy is a tad late for having an abortion; most would probably reply: yes.

  24. Of course , what is not mentioned here is that despite Alex Neil giving his personal opinion, he did say that any change to current legislation would have to be decided through Holyrood and require much debate and of course, there is currently no plan to change such legislation.

    On such an emotive subject he was wrong to give his personal opinion and for those, like the author of this article, any chance to have a ‘bash’ by omitting pertinent statements within the interview , it’s been a god-send to pick an anti-woman argument. It’s obvious to see that after last weeks unbridled support of Lamont on this blog, that any form of reasoned argument has been replaced with nothing more than spurious speculation more akin to a witch hunt. Thats labour for you.

    As for the ‘ignoring the headline – it’s not important stance’. Headline manipulation is one of the key press complaints and receiving more and more complaints within the BBC – it is important, however, that is obviously lost on you judging by your choice of headline.

  25. You see Kate, now you the saddest anti independence troll of them all on your side. Mr Longshanker. Great achievement

  26. Conspiracy theory a go go Kate.

    Neil could be playing to the bishops, he could be playing to the Sillars sympathiser wing, he could be playing to his own leadership ambitions which have been buried for a long time now.

    Who knows?

    I wouldn’t blame any woman who decided that his comments were more than they could stomach.

    Indy might be right that it was just a cock-up that could be ridden out by silence.

    But you’re spot on when you say that the SOS journalist who conducted the interview was handed a “gold plated splash”.

    As for the narcissistic wings of frothing cybernats trying to downplay the significance of the quotes attributed to the Health minister – never has there been a clearer case of “the personal is political”.

    Great post. Whether it affects the indy debate in the manner you’re worrying about, only time will tell.

  27. Well, what a lot of utter tosh that was.
    1. He voiced his own opinion , and stated it as such
    2. He said any such change would be a matter for the Scottish Parliament. This debate has nothing whatsoever to do with the independence vote

  28. With all due respect Burd, your reaction to my post shows you feel very strongly on this issue and that is entirely understandable, everyone is entitled to their opinion, even Alex Neil! May I make 3 points 1) For every person who supports abortion there is at least one who is against it. 2) Abortion thankfully, does not affect the majority of households and is not as contentious an issue as some pro and anti campaigners would make out.. 3) As I said in my earlier post, I am not convinced that some nationalists are aware just what we are up against in our struggle for independence. We are up against a British establishment who are past masters in fighting independence movements. Our struggle requires discipline and focus, it certainly does not need distractions on issues which will always be the subject of debate , whether we gain independence or not. In summary, abortion is an issue that can wait.

  29. I don’t think Alex should be sacked, but it was a pretty big mistake, and after this I am less than convinced that Health is the right portfolio for him, and I wasn’t that convinced to start with. Right now, it’s not the debate about NATO that’s harming the Indy campaign. It’s the unseemly behaviour of those in, or close to, the leadership, toadying up to the likes of Trump and Murdoch, that’s really causing damage. Time to get it together.

    (get better soon Kathleen!)

  30. To repeat myself: This is not about embryos or when God gives life or which man or government decides on abortion. THIS IS ABOUT WOMEN’S RIGHT TO CHOOSE. Plain and simple. Who are you to judge how any woman should decide when she should give birth or not? Or to judge her for why she makes that decision? FFS.

  31. Alex Neil’s comments didn’t bother me in the slightest because I never saw them as signalling anything! I don’t know anybody else that was upset by it either. I just saw the Scotsman as trying to put a kilt on the Hunt story and there’s nothing new about them doing that!

  32. Who knows why he said what he did. But when dealing with the press on these issues there is very little that can be said without a story being made of it – and saying nothing can be even worse. Indeed, your own suggestion could have been headlined as ‘SNP Set to Snub Pro-Lifers in an Independent Scotland’ and that would have been less of a manipulation and, arguably, even more damaging.

    What I will say is that I think that 24 weeks is too late – not by much but still too late. This is not because I am any great expert (far from it) but based on the experience of our neighbours not long after our own son was born.

    I bring this up because, reading your piece, I felt personally vilified by its tone. Now, you could present all the medical evidence you like (and i don’t think it is quite as cut and dried as you make out because the important issue is the moral balance one applies to the hard evidence) but none of that will change my experience of the issue. God only knows how this affects the life and belief systems of people who have been DIRECTLY affected by these experiences.

    You nearly lost me there but that wouldn’t have mattered. What would matter is if you have lost readers your other writings could have converted into Independence supporters.

    • What I am objecting to is a Cabinet Secretary giving off the cuff remarks, off the leash, which he clearly did not run past anyone and creating an issue out of abortion when it did not have to be. I have said nothing in the piece about my own views on whether the limit should stay the same or go down, because that is irrelevant in terms of the analysis I wanted to provide. Alex Neil should know better – you know Alex Neil should know better – we all know he should know better. So what’s his game huh? Why did he do this and risk lots of young women who are a key target group to shift towards a yes vote staying put. And frankly if the votes of pro-lifers are more valuable to the SNP and the indy campaign than others then we’ve reached a sad and sorry pass in the party.

      • Let’s be honest we want the votes of people on both sides of the argument. Which is why it is so perplexing that he would have said what he did really.

      • Exactly that! With these remarks he has potentially alienated a rather large group of don’t knows, who could be persuaded I have no doubt, and just made the job harder. This won’t be forgotten in two years time – lots who believe in pro-choice will return to it.

  33. What utter rubbish from beginning to end.

  34. I’m another undecided woman (but leaning towards independence), and Alex Neil’s comments have given me real pause for thought. I have been extremely impressed by the SNP Government’s careful but clear navigation of marriage equality, and was hoping that the same equality-minded care would extend to reproductive health and rights. Blithe chat about women’s physical autonomy is viscerally felt by many women, including me.

  35. forgot to say that a Yes vote is not something of the SNP’s possession to be lost or cost. Yes Scotland goes well beyond the SNP and a good thing that is too

  36. I have mixed feelings about this. I don’t have mixed feelings about the stupidity of what he said but it raises a few issues for me. I found myself remembering the time Christina Mckelvie went on Newsnight and made a complete cod’s ear of it, it was quite notorious at the time and was you-tubed and she was just ridiculed the length and breadth of the land.

    Understandably so because she clearly did not know what she was talking about. At the time I remember cringing and thinking why on earth did they put her on to talk about the Scottish Futures Trust?? Why didn’t they put Alex Neil on (he was still a backbencher at the time) this would be meat and drink to him. But of course you could put Christina Mckelvie on to talk about abortion and she wouldn’t put a foot wrong, whereas Alex Neil – well, to me that interview was just as cringey and awful as Christina’s Newsnight debacle.

    Of course his cock-up is more serious in the sense that he is a minister and really ought to know better. But it also makes me think about how gendered a lot of this stuff is. My first reaction to Alex Neil being made Health Secretary was why on earth him? Why not Shona Robison? It does make you think about how you see particular roles – women do the caring and healing stuff, men to the economics and industry stuff. And the bugger of it is that I am quite sure that no woman would have made the mistake that he did! Nevertheless it is something that has to change.

    This is a bit of a risky time to change it of course! But I am not really persuaded that it will have long term harmful effects and I’d guess he is under orders not to say another word about the A word for the rest of his puff probably. Still not convinced he is the right person for that particular job though.

    I don’t think he should go or be sacked however. A statement was issued in his name pretty quickly on Sunday I understand which made it clear that the SG has no plans to change the 24 wk limit now or after independence. If he was demoted it could actually just perpetuate the story so I think they are probably right to try and close it down and move on. Thus far I doubt it has really percolated beyond the Sunday Herald reading/tweeting class and can’t see Labour making an issue of it given how many Labour MPs voted to reduce the limit.

    That may be optimistic of me, we’ll need to wait and see.

  37. Short answer: No.
    Doubt the more arcane ‘playing to a constituency’ angle. Mr Neil was just very careless when talking to the Scotsman, who as Wings over Scotland has pointed out, have then flat out lied over what he said. Given that women are more likely than men to support a reduction in timescales he might have (accidentally) increased the Yes vote. Nicola would not have made the same error. http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/blog/archives/6253

  38. Overblown, hysterical nonsense from start to finish.

    • Really? This response to Alex Neil’s statement… “But I do think there is now a case, given the state of medical science and the fact that babies do survive from an much earlier stage in the pregnancy.” … which is manifestly inaccurate, deserves that response? Or are you referring to the age old definition of ‘hysterical’ and inferring that the women commenting in this post are menstruating?

      • It is not totally inaccurate. The 2008 study found that a quarter of babies born at 23 weeks survived. Of course there are often horrendous problems because they aren’t fully developed but you know there will be as many women as men who think em, hold on a minute. If babies can survive at that age should the cut-off point be lower?

        I am not persuaded of that, i would go with the medical experts who say the 24 week limit is correct. But it is not completely black and white is it? And I think if you imagine all women think one way and all men another way on this issue you would be quite wrong.

        The problem for me with what Alex Neil said in the interview is that it just sounded like someone who had read a newspaper article that morning and was talking about it at work. He did not sound like someone who really has any depth of knowledge about it. That being the case he would have been better off saying nothing really.

        But I do object to this being portayed as something that is very clear cut and simple, you are either pro choice or anti women, because it’s not that easy. It’s a very difficult matter.

      • If we want to get into the issues – and I didn’t, not with this post – the Netherlands has a presumption against viable life at about 23 weeks I think ie they do not save babies born at that time because having looked at the quality of life and survival rates, they presume against a quality of life. Even more controversial than termination to 24 weeks. All these issues are worthy of debate and indeed, merit it. But not via the front page of the SoS on the back of some hastily pulled together remarks from a Health Secretary a few weeks in post.

    • Seems to me that it’s the men who get hysterical over the issue of abortion and anything else connected to womens’ rights!

  39. Jesus wept! Similar to the suggestion that if we keep NATO “a’m no votin’ for independence” ( at least in part) one minister foolishly or honestly gives his opinion on a contentious issue and all of a sudden it’s a reason why we shouldn’t vote for independence. When we vote yes (assuming this line of nonsense doesn’t take hold) we will subsequently have at least 5 paries to vote for under a PR system so the chances of having a right wing pro life agenda forced on us is impossible! I wish I could say the same thing about a right wing first past the post middle England loving Westminster????
    Shout at Alex Neil by all means but please stop giving the enemy ammunition !

  40. I have to say this is a manipulated story highlighted in a unionist rag designed to produce exactly the hysterical reaction in this article. Alex Neil’s personal opinion on this subject will have absolutely no effect on the Referendum result. There are at least as many people who will welcome Mr. Neil’s views as will oppose them. This is just one of hundreds of stories that are being manufactured by the the unionists to sow discord in the nationalist camp. It is unfortunate that the ‘burd’ has fallen into this unionist trap. It really is time for some nationalists to wisen up and realise that we are up against a ruthless, professional and very dirty propoganda machine. Divide and conquer only works if you let it.

    • Divide and conquer only works if you allow Health Secretaries to give personal views on contentious topics and keep quiet. The machine doesn’t need to be ruthless when we have folk at the top running their own agendas and shooting their mouths off on issues like this. He can say what he likes on issues I care about but I should say nothing? He said the words and gave the machine its story. And I have just as much right to my personal view as he does his.

      • And if he had said nothing to a contrived question to stir a response for a papers political agenda they would of turned into something worse. Why no rage over the alleged cover up over Jimmy Saville for media ratings of the BBC the same if not worse than NI. Will political commentators boycott or refuse to promote themselves on there airwaves? No! what a sick society we live in.

      • Eh, I’ll think you’ll find that through my day job I’ve been doing quite a lot of raging on the Jimmy Savile issue.

        Alex Neil should not have given a personal view. He should have got a “spokesperson” to call back with the agreed line, it’s what is done in these situations. Normally.

      • Alex Neil should not have given a personal view. He should have got a “spokesperson” to call back with the agreed line, it’s what is done in these situations. Normally.

        So if a minister who cannot alter or interfere in when the termination cut off should be to keep stum on his own personal, not governmental, opinion sounds that a big brother society is your preferred option which I doubt very much. If he said no comment then the headline “SNP hiding that they are considering to alter abortion timings after Independence”. What would be more damaging? Alex has responded in the only way he could with all of the MSM trying smear the SNP and the Independence campaign. Re JS I don’t doubt you have made your voice heard it was just in my poor way of pointing out that the Alex story had no value whatsoever unless one is into scaremongering.

  41. Neil said: “I actually think the limit is something we need to look at, but I don’t think you can pick a number of weeks out of the air. That is something you would want to take evidence on and find out what the consensus is. I don’t think it is for politicians to pick an arbitrary number of weeks out of the air. There has to be evidence on the right way to go.”

    • There is evidence on the right way to go, it is as it is. And evidence and consensus are two very different things.

    • There’s a hell of a lot more “health” issues he could be looking at that merit urgent attention, if that was his intention when speaking to the press.

  42. I intend to vote yes in 2014, my wife on the other hand remains unsure. Alex Neil has not helped. The big man centric politics in Scotland does not do my wife’s demographic any favours.😦

  43. Well said Kate. I was absolutely flabbergasted when I read his comments. Naively, I had simply never realised that becoming independent would re-open this debate and present an opportunity for those who want to restrict women’s rights to get their way. I’m shocked by both his remarks and the lack of follow-up from the SNP – why haven’t they done more to distance themselves from these comments?

  44. Good post. One of the best weapons the no campaign have is fear, and now thanks to Alex Neil, some women will be afraid of what might happen if Scotland became independent.

    I personally happen to think that the opposite is true, that it’s only a matter of time before the Tories attack this aspect of women’s rights, and that women in an independent Scotland would probably be better off. Perhaps the fact that we are relatively ahead of the game in Scotland on domestic abuse for example might offer some hope that we can put a feminist analysis into our policies and practices in an independent Scotland too.

    But that’s a much harder argument to win now, and as a supporter of the yes campaign, I am very disappointed with Mr Neil. Someone needs to have a word.

  45. (speechless)

  46. I hope your wrong in your conclusion but you are right about him taking his eye of the ball.

  47. As an as yet undecided on Indy woman, I do have to say Alex Neil’s comments alarmed me. Not because I think everything the SNP say will come to pass, not because I worry that the abortion limits will change, but because it is one more indicator that the prolife lobby and their embryo rights agenda is winning. And that women’s rights are being eroded. Even this debate, despite it being likely to have to policy impact, will be having a massive human impact on vulnerable women in Scotland and elsewhere. And that is unforgivable. This so called debate needs to be shut down. Abortion is about the rights of women, not the rights of an embryonic foetus. And politicians would do well to remember that and stop interfering.

  48. Ultimately I think you’re wrong that it will cost the referendum. But your reasoned arguments as to why what Alex Neil said should not be dismissed as some ‘personal view only’ or media trick are absolutely spot-on. You have dissected this situation with precision and elegance. I agree with every word except the ultimate conclusion.

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