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.

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Theresa May defies the right by maintaining 0.7% aid pledge

The Prime Minister offers rare continuity with David Cameron but vows to re-examine how the money is spent. 

From the moment Theresa May became Prime Minister, there was speculation that she would abandon the UK's 0.7 per cent aid pledge. She appointed Priti Patel, a previous opponent of the target, as International Development Secretary and repeatedly refused to extend the commitment beyond this parliament. When an early general election was called, the assumption was that 0.7 per cent would not make the manifesto.

But at a campaign event in her Maidenhead constituency, May announced that it would. "Let’s be clear – the 0.7 per cent commitment remains, and will remain," she said in response to a question from the Daily Telegraph's Kate McCann. But she added: "What we need to do, though, is to look at how that money will be spent, and make sure that we are able to spend that money in the most effective way." May has left open the possibility that the UK could abandon the OECD definition of aid and potentially reclassify defence spending for this purpose.

Yet by maintaining the 0.7 per cent pledge, May has faced down her party's right and title such as the Sun and the Daily Mail. On grammar schools, climate change and Brexit, Tory MPs have cheered the Prime Minister's stances but she has now upheld a key component of David Cameron's legacy. George Osborne was one of the first to praise May's decision, tweeting: "Recommitment to 0.7% aid target very welcome. Morally right, strengthens UK influence & was key to creating modern compassionate Conservatives".

A Conservative aide told me that the announcement reflected May's personal commitment to international development, pointing to her recent speech to International Development staff. 

But another Cameron-era target - the state pension "triple lock" - appears less secure. Asked whether the government would continue to raise pensions every year, May pointed to the Tories' record, rather than making any future commitment. The triple lock, which ensures pensions rise in line with average earnings, CPI inflation or by 2.5 per cent (whichever is highest), has long been regarded by some Conservatives as unaffordable. 

Meanwhile, Philip Hammond has hinted that the Tories' "tax lock", which bars increases in income tax, VAT and National Insurance, could be similarly dropped. He said: "I’m a Conservative. I have no ideological desire to to raise taxes. But we need to manage the economy sensibly and sustainably. We need to get the fiscal accounts back into shape.

"It was self evidently clear that the commitments that were made in the 2015 manifesto did and do today constrain the ability to manage the economy flexibly."

May's short speech to workers at a GlaxoSmithKline factory was most notable for her emphasis that "the result is not certain" (the same message delivered by Jeremy Corbyn yesterday). As I reported on Wednesday, the Tories fear that the belief that Labour cannot win could reduce their lead as voters conclude there is no need to turn out. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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