Straw men: Exposing the Herald’s nasty side

Alasdair Macdonald

Let me state at the outset that harassment of any individual or group because of race, gender, belief, disability, etc is unequivocally WRONG! I was angered to read of the unpleasant experiences of some Muslims on our streets, but, sadly, I was not surprised.

I was not surprised, because societies have a proportion of nasty people and we are not exempt and never have been. However, the large majority of us are not. I was also not surprised because of the continuous drip drip of ant Islamic reports in the media and the paradigm used in these reports. I was not surprised because of the anti-immigrant legislation being planned by the Westminster Government.

What Ms McQuillan is doing is the old hack’s tired ploy of creating a ‘straw man’ and building a story which is expressed in luridly outraged terms implying we are all guilty. It is a version of the unionist ‘exceptionalism’ jibe (also a straw man) which they hurl at us ‘nationalists’ (loaded term, hinting we are fascist, racist bigots). It is also the trope of generalising from particulars – there is an islamophobe two closes down from where you stay, so everybody in your district must be an Islamophobe.

An example is the way that sectarianism is “Scotland’s secret shame”. There is bugger all ‘secret’ about it. Anyone who has lived here for any length of time knows that there are some pretty nasty sectarian bigots. However, in my personal experience (anecdotal) and more objectively, in Professor Tom Devine’s statistical analysis, sectarianism has declined markedly in Scotland over the past 60+ years.

What was a secret shame for a long time, largely due to its exclusion from school syllabuses, was Scotland’s role in slavery and the benefits which accrued to the City of Glasgow. Over the past 10/15 years far more has been published and the extent is now much more widely known. However, none of us alive in Scotland today bear any personal blame for that. Nevertheless it is important that we recognise and accept that it is a part of our history and is within our culture. I, for example, frequently used Stirling’s Library, when it was a public library, and the Mitchell Library and continue to enjoy what these buildings currently provide. I think it is important that we acknowledge this publicly and express regret that many people of colour suffered grievously as a result. As an alumnus of Glasgow University, I think that what the University has done, with regard to educational scholarships for people in the West Indies is a far more positive and honourable action of atonement than any ‘apology’.

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