Sunday, 8 March 2015

Happy International Women's Day, from a misogynist

Today is International Women's Day, which is widely celebrated on social media through the time-honoured phrase "So when's International Men's Day, eh?" (It's November 19th, by the way.)

Last year I made an ill-fated attempt to drum up support for a pledge to be made by male political commentators in Scotland to refuse to participate in all-male TV panels. I chose the PledgeBank system as it is designed to base outcomes on wide participation, rather than just enable unilateral acts.

My first attempt was deemed too restrictive, so I tried a collaborative approach, but in the end the opposing argument won out. Thanks to the men who did join me though. It was worth a try.

The casual observer may wish to note the number of times I've been invited to participate in TV panels since.

So at the turn of the year, when the PledgeBank sign-up period had expired, I was delighted to have the opportunity to instead join a different communal effort, and I signed the Labour Women's Network PowerPledge. This includes a pledge not to participate in all-male panels, but it takes things even further, with backing for all-women shortlists, 50:50 cabinet appointments, policies against sexual harassment and more.

I'm proud to have made this pledge, and to be associated with the wonderful LWN which has been such a force for good in women's rights. I will do my best to live up to it.

Yesterday evening, my Twitter mentions were full of personal invective. This is nothing new. I had spent the day live-tweeting the Scottish Labour conference, and there are many people on Twitter who would very much prefer if I shut up. And not all of them are in the Labour Party!

Among them though, rather unusually, were accusations that I am a misogynist. And to add a touch of the surreal, some of those accusations were in tweets copied in to Somerset's most active blogger, Wings Over Scotland, who had apparently included me in yet another of his attack pieces. Here's a quick background on Stuart Campbell, who writes that blog. A real women's rights activist, that one.

It turns out that, during a barnstorming speech at Scottish Conference yesterday, the outgoing Midlothian MP Davie Hamiltom had made a reference to "a wee lassie in a tin helmet". I genuinely didn't hear it, but I'm assured he did say it. Various people are certain that he was referring to the First Minister with that phrase, and was therefore a misogynist and worthy of the dogs' abuse heaped upon him by the anti-Labour keyboard warriors who hang on Wings' every word.

During his speech, I tweeted that Davie is a "hero of Scottish Labour". The immediate response from our opponents was cries of "Who is he?". Later, my tweet was interpreted as an endorsement of that single phrase.

Let me answer the first question first. Davie Hamilton was born in Dalkeith, left school at 14 and became a coal miner. He joined his union, and worked for the Coal Board for 19 years. During the miners' strike in the 1980s, Davie fought for the livelihoods of his colleagues, was fitted up by police for assault, was abused by the justice system, and served two months on remand before being acquitted. He never stopped fighting for workers' rights. He was elected a councillor in the 1990s, and succeeded Eric Clarke as MP for Midlothian in 2001. He is a man of principle and honesty, a born fighter and a powerful ally for the poorest and most downtrodden in our society. That's why I called him a hero. He is one.

Davie is also human, and makes mistakes. If he was referring to the First Minister as a "wee lassie" in his speech, then that was a mistake, and it is right that he should be pulled up for it.

But let us not be fooled. The participation of Wings Over Scotland and his angry mob in the condemnation of this phrase does not stem from a belief in women's rights. It is based purely on this being yet another opportunity to pour hate-filled invective on the Scottish Labour Party. These keyboard warriors who heaped misogynistic abuse on Johann Lamont for years, who continue such attacks against Kezia Dugdale now - these are not champions of women's rights. These are people who will simply seize any and every opportunity to take a shot at Labour.

But let me return to the original allegation. I have been called a misogynist. I'm afraid it's true.

That I don't always hear a phrase like "wee lassie" used to demean another human being shows I'm a misogynist. That I don't always see an all-male panel or unbalanced representation shows that I'm a misogynist. I'm afraid I am the product of a patriarchal society and I'm not doing enough to fix it.

So let me today reiterate the pledge I made in January and commit to trying harder to stand by it.
The Labour Party has a proud record when it comes to women’s rights, but the battle for equality is not yet won. 
Women aren’t held back by a lack of skills or a lack of confidence, but because our society and our institutions systematically withhold power. 
All parts of our movement have to play a part in changing the balance, so I pledge to share our own power and campaign to ensure more of it ends up in women’s hands. 
I will: 
Defend the principle and active implementation of All Women Shortlists and other positive action measures to reach and maintain equal levels of representation in the PLP, local government and other bodies and assemblies in which Labour contests elections; 
Support 50:50 membership of Labour’s cabinet/shadow cabinet and Labour cabinets/shadow cabinets in local government; 
Refuse to organise or appear on an all-male panel (defined as a discussion with more than one speaker plus a chair) 
Support the institution of comprehensive policies against sexual harassment in the Labour Party and wider Labour movement, covering staff, elected representatives, activists and members; 
Recognise and act on the specific barriers facing LBT, BAME, disabled and working class women and work to create a Labour Party which does even more to draw strength from our diversity; 
Join or support Labour Women’s Network and women’s organisations across the movement; 
Encourage others to sign the #powerpledge.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Scottish tactical voting roundup

Support for tactical voting along indyref lines

Pro Yes
Pro No

Women for Independence
Scotland in Union
“Women for Indy urges its members to vote for non-Unionists.” – WFI, 1 March 2015

No Alliance
Yes Alliance
Yes Dunblane

All Under One Banner

Political parties
Pro Yes

Pro No



Monday, 15 December 2014


Jim Murphy and Kezia Dugdale make a phenomenal leadership team for Scottish Labour.

It's what most folk in Scottish Labour had been hoping for throughout the leadership campaign, and what most folk in Scottish Labour voted for in the end. A fresh start, with a clear focus on a future Labour government delivering social and economic justice for all Scots.

Today's announcement of a "Clause Four moment", as the leadership asks the membership to endorse a constitutional renewal, is the clearest demonstration yet that business as usual is over. Scottish Labour will be revitalised, re-energised, and relentlessly focused on fair pay, fair tax and fair work.

It is time we moved on from the arguments of the referendum. That issue has been settled, and the Smith Commission process is delivering powers that mean the Scottish Parliament can reshape spending and policy to suit Scotland's needs. The question now is how we use those powers, and as I re-read Jim's speech from Saturday I find it hard to see how anyone could disagree:
"If we are honest, Scotland is one country but two nations. Divided not by how we voted in the referendum, but by circumstances. One, the majority: fulfilled, doing well, getting by or getting on. The other, a minority: falling behind, denied opportunity, struggling to escape the hardship of their upbringing. This inequality is wrong. And Scottish Labour’s mission is to end it."
I was on Good Morning Scotland this morning, debating with a member of Radical Independence about what Jim's election means for Labour's relationship with the trade unions. I fear it was largely a dialogue of the deaf. No heed was paid to the fact that Jim won 40% of the union vote despite 90% of union leaders backing other candidates. No acknowledgement was made of the fact that, for all the spin and bluster, all three candidates were actually backing the same core Labour principles - fair pay, equality and fair taxation. The arguments against Jim were arguments against a caricature, a straw man. What Jim is actually standing for was being ignored.

For too many people, the politics of division has taken such deep root that we are struggling to set it aside even when we find common cause. But there is great common cause here: between those who voted No and those who voted Yes; between the trade union movement and the Labour movement; between all parts of Scotland.

It's about building a fairer Scotland. Jim and Kez have got it. For the first time in a while, the cause of social justice is on the front foot. I'm excited, and ready. Let's go.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Guest post from Andy Maciver: "I'll not be signing the pledge"

A rare guest post today. Andy Maciver asked to respond to my Pledge to end all-male panels. Here's what he has to say:

A couple of weeks ago, I was challenged by Kezia Dugdale to refuse to participate in all-male panels on political TV shows following the opening of a pledge by Duncan Hothersall. I am by no means a prolific commentator, but every month or so I’ll pop up on Scotland Tonight or Scotland 2014 to throw in my tuppenceworth. Indeed, I’m doing so tonight.

Most of the TV appearances I have made have been alongside women, as tonight’s will be, and I generally find that those segments provide a better viewer experience than an all-male or indeed all-female panel.

But I’ll not be signing the pledge.

Now, I think that politics and political commentary would benefit hugely from more female involvement. Back in the days of Newsnight Scotland, the tedious, old, male commentariat was relatively unchanging throughout the first decade of this century. It was, in truth, fairly boring; partly because they were all men, and partly because they had no new ideas.

STV’s Scotland Tonight took a different approach, and the BBC’s Scotland 2014, as well as having a better set-up and production, appears to me to have a significantly better gender balance, and a better age balance, amongst its commentators than its predecessor.

I don’t bow to anyone in how much I want the make-up of Scottish politics and the Scottish commentariat to change, with a big part of that change being the increasing influence of women. But I think change is happening already in the media (to a degree) and especially in politics.

Kezia is an outstanding talent. She was the best Unionist performer in the referendum, closely followed by Ruth Davidson. On the other side, Nicola Sturgeon outshone all others. If Labour has any sense left they’ll make Kezia their Deputy Leader, and with Ruth and Nicola as Leaders the three main parties will have women at or near the top. But these individuals are not outstanding because they are women. They are outstanding because they are outstanding.

And, fundamentally, I would consider it condescending and chauvinistic of me if I ‘gave up’ my slot for a woman. Many women I know would be horrified to think that they needed this sort of help from a man to get on TV.

I fully understand that type change will be too slow and too organic for some, and furthermore I know that the ‘merit’ argument does not find universal favour.

But they are not the only reasons I won’t sign the pledge.

Most of the panels I sit on consist of only two people plus a presenter (usually a woman - Sarah Smith - on Scotland 2014 and a woman - Rona Dougall - half the time on Scotland Tonight). A two-person panel, in theory, provides an obvious gender-balance opportunity, but behind the scenes there is often more to it than meets the eye.

Firstly, the broadcasters do not always get their first choice people to appear as commentators. Both shows tend to finalise their agenda late in the afternoon, then find commentators to fill the slots. Last week, Scotland Tonight faced criticism on Twitter because of its all-male panel (John McTernan and Iain Macwhirter) discussing Ed Miliband’s woes. It retorted that it had tried to get a woman commentator but was unsuccessful. What would we have them do? Pull the segment? If John McTernan or Iain Macwhirter had signed the pledge, they may very well have had to do so. It’s unfair on our broadcasters to tie their hands in this way.

Secondly, I have no problem accepting that in some circumstances single-gender panels are acceptable and indeed appropriate. I am aware that the pledge was changed to accommodate this, but I foresee problems in justifying the justification, so to speak. Fundamentally, I would not support shoehorning a man into an all-female panel if he wasn’t able to make as insightful a contribution, so I see little merit in supporting the reverse.

Thirdly, I do have a concern at why we are singling out gender. I don’t see a campaign for ideological balance on panels. Similarly, we do not demand geographical balance, or class balance. We do not demand balance between heterosexuals and homosexuals, nor between whites and ethnic minorities or between Protestants and Catholics. What is so different about men and women?

For what it’s worth, I think debates over this issue are healthy. I think they help to raise the profile of the issue, and for that reason I’m glad that Duncan and others are pushing this. The broadcasters, I’m quite sure, will be aware of it and it will inevitably have an impact on the way they put together their shows.

But I think we are already seeing more female commentators, and women of major political influence, and I think that’s largely happening organically. I prefer organic change to enforced change. So I’m afraid this pledge is not for me. Sorry about that.

You can follow the story of the pledge, from the initial attempt, to the discussion of how to make it more workable, through to the current pledge, which is still open to signatories until the end of the year. Even if Andy isn't going to be one of them. ;-)

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Wanted: 20 like-minded men for a serious commitment

I'm pledging to take action against all-male political panels in Scotland. Will you join me?

The updated wording in the pledge above takes into account the very helpful feedback after I posted my initial pledge last month. I hope the new wording and explanation means it can be more widely adopted.

For background, please see previous blogs here and here. Thanks!

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Ending all-male panels - version two


New Pledgebank pledge now live. Please consider signing if you can.

Yesterday I wrote a blog post about ending all-male TV panels.

As part of it, I set up a PledgeBank pledge to try to gain support for collective action. Huge thanks to Paul Cairney, Malcolm Harvey, Gerry Hassan and James Mackenzie for quickly signing up.

However, I also had some constructive conversations with other folk who, while sharing the aim, felt unable to sign the pledge as written for a number of different reasons.
  1. Broadcasters often change the line-up at the last minute, so meeting the pledge may simply be beyond an individual's control.
  2. The definition of a "TV panel" is not immediately obvious.
  3. Restricting the pledge to the TV isn't really necessary.
  4. Even if representation were truly equal, there is a reasonable likelihood that occasionally all-male panels would occur, so they shouldn't be stopped from happening.
I'm going to dismiss the fourth argument. The point of this sort of exercise is to redress the balance and end the status quo. So our aim here is to stop all-male panels from happening until the status quo is fair.

The first three arguments do seem fair. So here's a proposal to deal with them. The pledge becomes:
  • I will refuse to participate in all-male political discussion panels, and make that clear to organisers up-front when asked.
  • If last-minute changes mean I end up on an all-male panel, I will call attention to that fact during the discussion, and make reference to this pledge.
  • A political discussion panel is defined as two or more people plus an interviewer/chair discussing politics or current affairs at a public meeting or on a broadcast network. 
  • The all-male test applies to those participants there to express opinions, not to an interviewer/chair who is not contributing opinion.
That final point is designed to make clear that two men being interviewed by a woman is still an all-male panel.

So, your feedback is requested. Let's try to tweak this into a proposal more men can agree to. Once we've done that, I'll set up a new pledgebank pledge with the new construction, and we'll see if we can make this a reality.

Comments below please, or find me on Twitter at @dhothersall to give your thoughts. Thanks very much.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Ending all-male TV panels


It happened again.

Last night I was on Scotland Tonight as part of a panel discussion and everyone involved in the conversation was male.

Men make up a minority of the Scottish population, but a majority of the talking heads we see on TV. And too often that majority is 100%.

Friends of mine rightly challenged this, and while I explained that I didn't know who was going to be on the panel beforehand, that doesn't help solve this problem. There are things that can.

At the 2013 Lib Dem conference, Mark Pack and Mark Thompson cooked up an idea for a simple pledge for their party colleagues. At 2013 Labour conference, Kirstin Hay called for a boycott of all-male fringe events. And earlier this year, Caron Lindsay called for Scottish political commentators to refuse to participate in all-male TV panels. Some folk, including Gerry Hassan, did so.

I think this can help, but it isn't the whole picture. We need a strategy that includes signing folk up to a pledge, but goes further.
  • Parties need to encourage and support women to participate, and if possible help to maintain lists of women participants so that those who are refusing a request are able to suggest an alternative.
  • Broadcasters need to find a way to balance their absolute right to choose their preferred person for the job with the undeniable fact that unless they do improve women's representation they are failing a majority of their audience.
But at this point there is something I can do, and I should have done it already. So I'm doing it now.

"I will refuse to participate in all-male TV panels but only if 20 other Scottish political pundits will do the same."