Today is International Women's Day, which is widely celebrated on social media through the time-honoured phrase "So when's International Men's Day, eh?" (It's November 19th, by the way.)
Last year I made an ill-fated attempt to drum up support for a pledge to be made by male political commentators in Scotland to refuse to participate in all-male TV panels. I chose the PledgeBank system as it is designed to base outcomes on wide participation, rather than just enable unilateral acts.
My first attempt was deemed too restrictive, so I tried a collaborative approach, but in the end the opposing argument won out. Thanks to the men who did join me though. It was worth a try.
The casual observer may wish to note the number of times I've been invited to participate in TV panels since.
So at the turn of the year, when the PledgeBank sign-up period had expired, I was delighted to have the opportunity to instead join a different communal effort, and I signed the Labour Women's Network PowerPledge. This includes a pledge not to participate in all-male panels, but it takes things even further, with backing for all-women shortlists, 50:50 cabinet appointments, policies against sexual harassment and more.
I'm proud to have made this pledge, and to be associated with the wonderful LWN which has been such a force for good in women's rights. I will do my best to live up to it.
Yesterday evening, my Twitter mentions were full of personal invective. This is nothing new. I had spent the day live-tweeting the Scottish Labour conference, and there are many people on Twitter who would very much prefer if I shut up. And not all of them are in the Labour Party!
Among them though, rather unusually, were accusations that I am a misogynist. And to add a touch of the surreal, some of those accusations were in tweets copied in to Somerset's most active blogger, Wings Over Scotland, who had apparently included me in yet another of his attack pieces. Here's a quick background on Stuart Campbell, who writes that blog. A real women's rights activist, that one.
It turns out that, during a barnstorming speech at Scottish Conference yesterday, the outgoing Midlothian MP Davie Hamiltom had made a reference to "a wee lassie in a tin helmet". I genuinely didn't hear it, but I'm assured he did say it. Various people are certain that he was referring to the First Minister with that phrase, and was therefore a misogynist and worthy of the dogs' abuse heaped upon him by the anti-Labour keyboard warriors who hang on Wings' every word.
During his speech, I tweeted that Davie is a "hero of Scottish Labour". The immediate response from our opponents was cries of "Who is he?". Later, my tweet was interpreted as an endorsement of that single phrase.
Let me answer the first question first. Davie Hamilton was born in Dalkeith, left school at 14 and became a coal miner. He joined his union, and worked for the Coal Board for 19 years. During the miners' strike in the 1980s, Davie fought for the livelihoods of his colleagues, was fitted up by police for assault, was abused by the justice system, and served two months on remand before being acquitted. He never stopped fighting for workers' rights. He was elected a councillor in the 1990s, and succeeded Eric Clarke as MP for Midlothian in 2001. He is a man of principle and honesty, a born fighter and a powerful ally for the poorest and most downtrodden in our society. That's why I called him a hero. He is one.
Davie is also human, and makes mistakes. If he was referring to the First Minister as a "wee lassie" in his speech, then that was a mistake, and it is right that he should be pulled up for it.
But let us not be fooled. The participation of Wings Over Scotland and his angry mob in the condemnation of this phrase does not stem from a belief in women's rights. It is based purely on this being yet another opportunity to pour hate-filled invective on the Scottish Labour Party. These keyboard warriors who heaped misogynistic abuse on Johann Lamont for years, who continue such attacks against Kezia Dugdale now - these are not champions of women's rights. These are people who will simply seize any and every opportunity to take a shot at Labour.
But let me return to the original allegation. I have been called a misogynist. I'm afraid it's true.
That I don't always hear a phrase like "wee lassie" used to demean another human being shows I'm a misogynist. That I don't always see an all-male panel or unbalanced representation shows that I'm a misogynist. I'm afraid I am the product of a patriarchal society and I'm not doing enough to fix it.
So let me today reiterate the pledge I made in January and commit to trying harder to stand by it.
The Labour Party has a proud record when it comes to women’s rights, but the battle for equality is not yet won.
Women aren’t held back by a lack of skills or a lack of confidence, but because our society and our institutions systematically withhold power.
All parts of our movement have to play a part in changing the balance, so I pledge to share our own power and campaign to ensure more of it ends up in women’s hands.
Defend the principle and active implementation of All Women Shortlists and other positive action measures to reach and maintain equal levels of representation in the PLP, local government and other bodies and assemblies in which Labour contests elections;
Support 50:50 membership of Labour’s cabinet/shadow cabinet and Labour cabinets/shadow cabinets in local government;
Refuse to organise or appear on an all-male panel (defined as a discussion with more than one speaker plus a chair)
Support the institution of comprehensive policies against sexual harassment in the Labour Party and wider Labour movement, covering staff, elected representatives, activists and members;
Recognise and act on the specific barriers facing LBT, BAME, disabled and working class women and work to create a Labour Party which does even more to draw strength from our diversity;
Join or support Labour Women’s Network and women’s organisations across the movement;
Encourage others to sign the #powerpledge.