Neale Hanvey is entitled to the presumption of innocence. Especially when the allegations against him are so dubious. His suspension from the party and the withdrawal of SNP support for his candidacy in Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath amount to a pusillanimous knee-jerk reaction to appease a small but clamorous mob of self-appointed morality police. The charge of anti-Semitism has not been proved and does not stand up to scrutiny.
Despite this, and regardless of what Hanvey himself said in his hasty and ill-advised apology, it cannot be right for Nicola Sturgeon to declare him guilty before there has been the disciplinary hearing to which he is entitled. She has preempted and prejudiced that hearing by telling The Courier that “What Neale Hanvey said was anti-Semitic…”..
The SNP has form on this. Several people have fallen victim to their crude summary ‘justice’. The idea of reciprocating the loyalty shown by members doesn’t seem to feature in the thinking of the party’s officials or leaders. The message is clear. If you are an SNP member and you are accused, do not expect the party to be there for you. No matter how vexatious or malicious the allegations may be, you will be instantly abandoned and disavowed.
Anti-Semitism is a form of mindless bigotry no less repugnant than any other. It is because it is such a serious charge that it should not be lightly accepted. Intent must be proved beyond reasonable doubt. It is not possible to be accidentally anti-Semitic because anti-Semitism is an attitude. It requires that the particular mindset be present. If an individual shares an image or makes a comment totally unaware that others find anti-Semitic connotations in them, that individual cannot be guilty of anti-Semitism because they cannot possibly know the content of everybody else’s mind.
To see anti-Semitism in the puppeteer cartoon the viewer would firstly have to recognise George Soros and be aware of his reputation. They would have to know that Soros is Jewish. They would have to object, not merely to economically powerful individuals manipulating politicians, but to Jewish people in particular doing so. The viewer who comes to this image lacking any of this knowledge and without that attitude cannot be guilty of anti-Semitism. It could very easily be argued that posting that image proves that Neale Hanvey is not anti-Semitic. Because if he had the slightest trace of anti-Semitism in his mind he would have recognised the connotations that those others see.
There are things which are clearly anti-Semitic. And there are things which are only anti-Semitic because somebody has defined them as such. None of us can possibly be cognisant of all the things that everybody else deems offensive. We cannot hold that database in our heads. We certainly cannot update it minute by minute as ever more individuals and groups deputise themselves in the morality police.
If we allow others the power to label things at will then we better be prepared to see that power misused. Never more so than when that power is totally unaccountable. When someone yells “anti-Semitism!” the accusation invariably goes unchallenged. Those in power tend not to question the accuser or scrutinise the allegation. They more commonly behave as the SNP does and consider the charge proved until it is disproved and without the accused having the opportunity to plead their case.
The dictates of simple fairness demand that Neale Hanvey get the benefit of any doubt that may exist. And the circumstances of the allegations against him which are in the public domain suggest that there is considerable room for doubt.
Hanvey is still a candidate in the Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath constituency. He is still on the ballot paper as the SNP candidate. The party may have withdrawn its support, but it cannot now withdraw his candidacy. For that reason alone, the party should have stood by him. They should at least have considered the possibility of doing so. They owed him that.
SNP activists and pro-independence campaigners in Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath must follow their conscience. If their first loyalty is to the party, they may feel obliged to follow Nicola Sturgeon’s orders. But if their priority is to elect an MP who will support the fight to restore Scotland’s independence while serving constituents, then they may campaign and vote for Neale Hanvey with a clear conscience.
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