Alex Salmond’s ‘Behave yourself, woman’ jibe to Conservative minister Anna Soubry in the Commons is so rich in possibilities I can see a whole industry springing up around it, not unlike his Solero moment.
At the lighter end of the spectrum, I note that his first stint as an MP overlapped with Margaret Thatcher by five years. I would love to have seen him try ‘Behave yourself, woman’ on her. Readers too young to remember Maggie in action need only seek out the Spitting Image sketch of her puppet at dinner with the cabinet. ‘What will madam have?’ asks the waiter. ‘Steak,’ rasps Thatcher, ‘Raw.’ ‘And the vegetables?’ Thatcher waves her arm over the assembled grey suits, ‘Oh, they’ll have the same.’ She would have eaten Salmond alive and spat him out.
I love the SNP supporters (presumably – who else?) coming to his defence with the claim that the phrase ‘Behave yourself, woman’ is normal civilised discourse in Scotland. As they say in these parts, ‘Aye, that’s right.’ There are women I know who would be tempted to react, quite rightly, with a slap around the chops if I tried that with them.
Then there are the other responses, both predictable and unexpected it has to be said. For the first, and maybe only time, I can cite The National newspaper approvingly. They carry quite a balanced article on the incident today. Here I love the un-named SNP spokeswoman [clever – put up a woman to show no offence has been caused] quoted as saying
There is no place for sexism in the House of Commons.
Great, go for it SNP person. You’ve hit the nail on the head. Sense at last. Then, oh dear,
And this was not an example of it. This was a boisterous but good-natured exchange and the remark was not intended to cause any offence.
Do they really believe that? ‘Good natured’? Look at the clip of him as he builds up to his final words. The body language. The facial expressions. The ‘like some … heh heh … demented junior minister.’ The avoidance of eye contact when he says the words themselves. This is not good natured.
The National article also alerted me to a tweet from Women for Independence, again a probable one-off positive citation from me
we would observe that well behaved women don’t make history and, for that reason, telling women to ‘behave’ is unacceptable.
Ouch. Thank you for that. Incidentally, you’ll love the comments on their Twitter feed from SNP women members who just cannot accept any, any, criticism of their party or its leaders. This is why some unkind souls refer to it as more of a cult than a normal political party.
Anyhow, we’re getting to the serious stuff now, what the incident tells us about Salmond’s political character. No-one could deny him his pre-eminence for many years in Scottish politics, and that takes some skill and intelligence. But, as others have noted, he does seem to have a problem with women. His (unofficial) biographer David Torrance was quoted on this in the Telegraph last year
He’s quite aggressive and assertive, verging on arrogance. He can get quite irritable and be extremely unpleasant when provoked. That’s obviously not going to resonate very well with female voters.
Sadly, much more sadly than the sexist jibe, the death of former Lib Dem leader and MP Charles Kennedy was announced at about the same time. Salmond’s response was characteristically ungracious, managing to get in an allegation that Kennedy’s heart wasn’t in the Better Together campaign, and that he would have been more enthusiastic for the forthcoming EU referendum. Sorry, but this was not the time. A decent man had died far too young, probably of a dreadful disease, and left a ten-year old child without a father.
I think it’s not inappropriate, male to male so no sexism, to say quietly ‘Behave yourself, man.’