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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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.