Scotland is in trouble if police are dragged into culture wars as SNP government stokes division – Susan Dalgety

Kirkcaldy was the scene of a heinous crime last week. Someone, probably under cover of darkness, slapped a couple of stickers on lampposts, before rushing off into the night.

Stickers placed on lampposts in one Kirkcaldy street sparked a social media warning from Police Scotland about their 'controversial' nature but the investigation concluded no crime had been committed (Picture: Fife Free Press)
Stickers placed on lampposts in one Kirkcaldy street sparked a social media warning from Police Scotland about their 'controversial' nature but the investigation concluded no crime had been committed (Picture: Fife Free Press)

So outrageous was this transgression, so terrible the offence, that Kirkcaldy Police took to social media to warn local residents of the abhorrent material.

“We received a report of controversial stickers having been placed on lampposts within the Viewforth Avenue area of Kirkcaldy,” officers tweeted sombrely.

“Should you come across stickers of this nature, please contact ourselves or @FifeCouncil so that their removal can be arranged.”

Lying in my bed on the outskirts of Edinburgh, I shuddered. I was planning a trip to Fife the next day. “Would I be safe?” I wondered. “Was the whole region under attack from a gang of violent sticker slappers?” I mused.

I scrolled desperately through my Twitter feed, stopping to smile wryly at memes of Taggart boasting the legend, “There’s been a sticker”, before the mystery was solved by Allan Crow of the Fife Free Press.

The controversial stickers, considered so dangerous to the public the police had issued a warning, said simply, “Women Won’t Wheesht” and advertised the website of feminist group For Women Scot (FWS) – if you’re interested.

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I had barely recovered from the shock of discovering that a group I supported was apparently now such a threat to Scottish society that Police Scotland felt duty bound to censor their publicity material before stumbling across a more sinister development.

Marion Miller, mother of twins and FWS’s accountant, revealed on Twitter that she was the subject of a police investigation into comments she had made on social media.

She has no idea what she is supposed to have said, as the police would only tell her that she is accused of posting “homophobic and transphobic” tweets. An interview planned for Thursday – Marion’s birthday – was postponed and her interrogation is now planned for 3 June. “Enquiries…are ongoing”, said a spokeswoman for Police Scotland. "I will be attending with my lawyers," says Marion.

Welcome to Scotland 2021. A country where in the week a male former prison officer was jailed for murdering a female colleague and a young man was found guilty of killing a 15-year-old girl after choking her during a sexual act, then abandoning her, our national police force is spending its limited resources investigating women for the crime of standing up for their rights.

And it doesn’t take an Inspector Rebus to work out things are likely to get worse. The unsurprising revelation that the SNP government has opened official coalition talks with the Scottish Greens augurs badly for Scotland’s women and girls.

As well as enjoying the finer things in life – drinks in Edinburgh’s George Street anyone? – the leadership of the Scottish Greens are passionate advocates of self ID. Lorna Slater and Patrick Harvie argue that a man should be allowed to become a woman – recognised as female in the eyes of the law – simply by asserting that he has changed his sex. Women who argue against this position are dismissed as transphobic bigots.

The Greens will demand reform of the Gender Recognition Act to allow self ID as the price Nicola Sturgeon will have to pay for their formal support. And despite her self-avowed feminism, it is a price she will consider worth paying.

Scotland is entering a dangerous phase of its post-devolution history. The country is divided on whether to leave the UK, and the SNP knows that its economic arguments for independence are, at best, weak; at worst they would precipitate a generation of deep austerity.

Recent events suggest they will, instead, engage in a culture war, painting those in favour of independence as progressive reformers, comfortable in a diverse Scotland, while Scots who want to remain in the UK will be caricatured as bigots, as the dying remnants of the old colonial order, whether they are football fans or gender critical feminists.

The SNP, aided by the Greens, will pretend that the choice facing Scots is between living in a rainbow nation with its own winning Eurovision entry, or life in a dark outcrop of Tory Britain where hatred and prejudice prevail.

It is a dangerous path for any government to go down. Characterising half the population as the enemy of the other half – as hateful transphobes or rancid racists – can only increase division. And when the national police force becomes an active participant in this 21st-century culture war – as it did in Kirkcaldy last weekend – we risk slipping into dystopia.

A new MSP, Labour’s Michael Marra, warned of the dangers in his maiden speech in the Scottish Parliament, on Thursday.

“I have to say that there is deep unease at that old siege [sectarianism] becoming a new front in what we are invited to call the culture wars,” he said. “I am sure that that is not the intent, but there are risks in how we portray and deal with the issues as they are, rightly, pursued.”

Earlier this week, when Nicola Sturgeon set out her priorities for government, she said that we faced a choice of two very different futures, either as part of the UK or outside it.

I would argue that we face a choice of two very different Scotlands: one where the government of the day encourages division as legitimate political discourse to achieve their main political objective, or one where we talk through our differences as we build a fairer, more prosperous society.

A country where stickers promoting people’s rights, be they women or trans folk, atheists or Christians, Marxists or free marketeers, are allowed to flourish on every lamppost, free from the long arm of the law.

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