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21 February 2011

Bill Aitken resigns over rape comments

Tory MSP stands down after claiming “there’s a lot more to these city-centre rapes than meet the eye

By Samira Shackle

Update 17:35: Aitken has now resigned as chair of the justice committee. The Tory MSP claimed that he left himself “open to misrepresentation” over his views on rape.

He said:

By asking a journalist, by way of background during his inquiry to me, about the circumstances of a particular case, I left myself open to misrepresentation. That is my fault and that is why I immediately issued a full and unreserved apology for any misunderstanding or distress it caused . . . Today, I am standing down as convenor of the justice committee. I do so with a mixture of emotions. Frustration at allowing myself to be misrepresented. Anger at being misrepresented. And remorse to rape victims and their loved ones for any hurt they feel. But also in the hope that my true views can now be heard.

A full transcript of his comments, which was leaked to the New Statesman, is available here.

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Calls for Bill Aitken to resign have intensified, with the Green MSP Patrick Harvie lodging a motion to the Scottish Parliament to this effect.

In an interview with a reporter at Glasgow’s Sunday Herald, a full transcript of which was leaked to the New Statesman, the Conservative MSP suggested that the victim of a recent gang-rape may have been a prostitute, and said “there’s a lot more to these city-centre rapes than meet the eye”. Later in the interview he laughs while discussing how far the woman was dragged.

Aitken is currently convenor of the justice committee, which is responsible for rape laws. The Facebook group calling for him to step down now has nearly 1,000 members.

In a statement, Harvie said:

Bill Aitken’s comments are way beyond the standards any party in parliament should find acceptable from any MSP, but they make it entirely unacceptable for him to continue in post as convenor of the justice committee. No one who thinks we should blame rape victims should ever be allowed to hold that role in this country.

If he does not resign, the Tory leadership should force his hand. If they do not, parliament must act to remove him, and act quickly. The alternative would a serious loss of confidence in parliament as an institution, and the justice committee in particular.

The draft motion says that the “odious” view expressed by Aitken, “though disturbingly widespread, is rooted in misogyny and ignorance” and is “incompatible” with his role on the justice committee.