FAR-RIGHT politician says something stupid and offensive about women.
It’s hardly a story likely to send the presses to a shuddering halt, but this one does have a happy ending.
Janusz Korwin-Mikke MEP – he of the “attitudes of men are passed to women by way of the semen” quote that wouldn’t even make a Bad Science spiked piece – told the European Parliament last month that "of course women must earn less than men because they are weaker, they are smaller, they are less intelligent, they must earn less.
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Fortunately, the new President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, was having none of the MEP’s nonsense. Korwin-Mikke lost his daily subsistence allowance for 30 days, was suspended from all parliamentary work for 10 days, and was banned from representing the EP for a year. Subsistence allowance is the flat rate allocated to MEPs to cover their local transport, meals, etc, so this is no symbolic slapdown.
“I will not tolerate such behaviour, in particular when it comes from someone who is expected to discharge his duties as a representative of the peoples of Europe with due dignity,” Tajani said. “By offending all women, the MEP displayed contempt for our most fundamental values.
Now, a wise man once said offence is taken, not given. But we live in unsettling times where people compete to be venomous, anonymously or not, and we’re rapidly beginning to regard this as a fact of life. Nobody expects politics to be a gentle game, yet the bile meted out to the female party leaders of Scotland has a particular edge to it that should raise the hackles of any decent person. I get abuse, but it is as nothing compared to the abuse women receive.
Eleanor Roosevelt said “every woman in public life needs to develop skin as tough as rhinoceros hide”, but I wonder what she would have made of Twitter.
Sexism, misogyny, the vitriol of eggs – they’re the tantrums of a world order that’s slowly on the way out.
The politics of guns and tanks and ridiculous dominance-asserting handshakes should be over. Hard power has served people well in the past, when we existed in a Hobbesian society where he who had the biggest stick had the pick of resources. We’ve moved on but it still has a simplistic allure: "We’re the good guys, they’re the bad guys, let’s go get them".
That’s not how politics is supposed to work now. The EU is "never again" in action, a radical form of international relations that keeps nations locked in a perpetual cycle of negotiation and compromise, channelling energy for the common good and tackling common problems that would be too big for one country to solve alone.
It’s soft power; a non-coercive, cultural, value-led currency instead of jackboots and bombs.
This week has shown us that the First Minister’s statesmanship is far closer to Europe than Westminster. In the space of a few days, the First Minister had spoken at the United Nations to reiterate Scotland’s credentials as a “good global citizen” ready to take its seat on the world stage, brought the house down at the Women in the World summit, and delivered a headline lecture at Stanford University.
The only good thing about the chaos of the last few months has been that supporters of an independent Scotland have put our case to the world, speaking calmly and providing a marked contrast to the insular attitude of the Westminster government.
And being listened to like never before. We have the chance to make the choice about the kind of country we want to be, and who to have as our allies. Think about how we look to the world right now. The UK Government brought in an abhorrent, spiteful, ignorant piece of legislation that penalises women for having more than two children. The Scottish Government announced that it will be funding the training of 200 women from conflict zones on peacekeeping and conflict resolution to build long-lasting peace in war-torn countries.
Sometimes it feels like the world is going backwards, and we’re having to fight the same battles and defend the same rights over and over.
It’s not easy – we’re all tired, and it’s understandable to be disheartened. But right now we have a golden opportunity to keep pushing forward for a better Scotland, leaving the denizens of the past – and their outdated attitudes – behind.