Alex Salmond lambasts Scottish MSP over rape comments

Campaign for Bill Aitken to step down grows after he suggests a gang-rape victim was a prostitute.

 

The Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, has criticised Bill Aitken, the Scottish Conservative MSP who suggested that a woman who was gang-raped in Glasgow might have been a prostitute.

During a live webchat on the Mumsnet forum, he said:

I deprecate Bill Aitkens' reported comments, which were rightly greeted with outrage from both general public and across the political spectrum. I don't think they really represented his views, and in fairness, he did apologise later. However, it does illustrate two dangers.

Firstly, the implicit assumptions betrayed a dreadful attitude to the serious crime of rape, which is abhorrent for any person. Secondly, the temptation of politicians to occasionally shoot first and think later. It can cause deep hurt and upset.

As for the repercussions, it seems to be the best thing is don't vote Tory.

This follows criticism from the Labour deputy leader, Johann Lamont, who said: "No woman is ever to blame for rape and we need to challenge these attitudes by turning the focus on the male perpetrators."

There is a growing Facebook group calling for Aitken to be removed from his role as convenor of the Scottish Parliament's justice committee, which helps formulate rape laws. Aitken, the shadow minister for community safety, made the comments to Glasgow's Sunday Herald.

Though Aitken has apologised "unreservedly" for his remarks, they do raise serious questions about his suitability to adjudicate over rape. His automatic position of scepticism, and his suggestion that the importance of rape is somehow diminished by the circumstances of the victim, betray exactly the kinds of attitudes that prevent many women from coming forward.

You can judge for yourself – here is a leaked excerpt of the phone interview in which Aitken made the remarks.

Sunday Herald: Wondering if I could chat to you about the – have you seen the ET today?

Bill Aitken: No.

SH: The police are looking for another Glasgow city centre rape gang. I think from our counting it is the fourth or possibly fifth sexual assault in the city centre . . .

BA: Alleged.

SH: Alleged sexual assault since Christmas. Police are saying it's fairly – you know. It was a brazen attack, it was shocking by the . . .

BA: This one does seem to be a nasty one. Where had the woman been, to that Savoy disco, was it?

SH: Can you say that again?

BA: Where had the woman been? To that suave club?

SH: I'm not sure if we know that yet, unless you've read more than I have.

BA: Well, the address is indicative.

SH: It was the Walkabout area. Renfield Street way.

BA: Renfrew Street, was it not?

SH: Renfrew Lane, off Renfield Street, yes.

BA: Aye, exactly.

SH: We're interested in the pattern, really. Testing this idea that we are returning to something we thought we might have stamped out – very brazen attacks in the city centre, lane rapes. What do you think?

BA: Well, I really think we need to know a bit more about these. They are not always as they seem to be, put it that way.

SH: How do you mean?

BA: Errr. Well. If I was a woman up a lane.

SH: Right. She was dragged off the street.

BA: From Renfrew Street.

SH: Yeah, this is the thing.

BA: Huh?

SH: She was dragged off Renfield Street, into the lane.

BA: No, she wasn't in Renfield Street, she was in Renfrew Street, was she not?

SH: Errrm. Right. I mean, what I understood – she was raped in Renfrew Lane, but she was dragged off Renfield Street. I might be wrong.

BA: She must have been dragged about half a mile then. [LAUGHS]

SH: OK. Either way. I mean there's an element of dragging, which mirrors –

BA: No hold on. I'm not taking the [INDISTINCT]. If this woman was dragged halfway through the town, then it just couldn't possibly happen. So has nobody asked her what she was doing in Renfrew Lane?

SH: Right. What do you think she was doing?

BA: Well, I think, errr, somebody should be asking her what she was doing in Renfrew Lane. Did she go there with somebody?

SH: Right. What I'm getting at is are you not concerned that there have been four, five alleged gang rapes? In the city centre? In the space of two months.

BA: Well, what is particularly noteworthy in this case is it's three Asian people they are looking for. Now, Renfrew Lane is known as a place where things happen, put it that way.

SH: What sort of things?

BA: Well, it is an area where quite a lot of the hookers take their clients. Now, that may not have happened in this case. But, you know. What was happening? Certainly we cannot have a situation where women are getting dragged off the streets up lanes and raped. Erm, but you know . . . Are the police saying it is the same outfit?

SH: No, this is the thing – they are saying this and three or four attacks we are looking at since Christmas are completely unrelated. One was Asian, one was Middle Eastern, and there was a white group. And yet they appear such . . . There was a woman who was literally dragged off Buchanan Street into a lane. Sorry, carry on, where were you?

BA: Right. Well, you always know there's a lot more to these city-centre rapes than meet the eye, of course. But this does sound concerning. So what I will be saying: there is a disturbing pattern, and while the offences may not be related it is absolutely essential that unaccompanied women take the greatest care when walking in these areas. I have little doubt that the police will eventually get a result but it is a disturbing situation nonetheless. OK?

SH: That's really helpful. Thank you.

BA: OK?

SH: No, that's great. Appreciate it.

BA: Is there anything else you're wanting? Want me to toughen it up?

SH: You were mentioning the fact it's an Asian gang but I'm not sure if it's relevant. What do you think?

BA: If youse got an Asians, then you've said you've got Middle Eastern. If they're Asians is that the same outfit? How do you tell a Middle Eastern from an Asian?

SH: Well, police are saying not.

BA: Well, they'll know what they're talking about.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.