A women’s campaign group has condemned remarks made by Scottish Labour MP Ian Davidson to a female MP describing them as evidence of “persistent sexism rooted in political and parliamentary culture”.
The newly launched “Counting Women In” (CWI) campaign published a letter today in response to the escalating row over ‘threatening’ remarks made by Davidson to female MP Dr Eilidh Whiteford.
Davidson is alleged to have said to Ms Whiteford that she would get “a doing” if details of a private committee meeting were leaked to the media.
Today the Labour MP issued a statement saying he apologised for "any offence that might have been caused". However Dr Whiteford has rejected the partial apology and called for Labour leader Ed Miliband to investigate Mr Davidson’s conduct.
Commenting on the Labour MP’s remarks CWI said: “The remarks from Mr. Davidson were exposed by Dr. Whiteford and witnessed by other MPs and Committee officials.
“Mr Davidson’s alleged threat to give Dr. Whiteford “a doing”, and his subsequent – and bewildering - clarification that his remark was “not intended as a sexual threat” underscore the extent of persistent sexism rooted in political and parliamentary culture.”
CWI criticised the slow pace of change at Westminster where men outnumber women by four to one, and claimed that females were “undervalued” and “disrespected”.
The group, who include respected academics from Glasgow and Edinburgh Universities as well as representatives from groups such as ‘Zero Tolerance’, added: “The allegations from Dr. Whiteford go well beyond party politics and our reaction and condemnation is not party-aligned.
“This incident is the latest evidence of the dominance of a sexist and antiquated political culture that underlies our political and economic institutions. So long as sexism is left unchallenged, and ‘casual’ references to violence are left unchecked and unsanctioned, women will continue to be held at arms’ length from the political process.
“Dr. Whiteford has made clear she has spoken out about the incident on the basis that it is unacceptable behaviour in any circumstance, and in recognition of the many women who experience intimidation and threats of violence. It is in that spirit that we support Dr. Whiteford’s stance.”
SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson welcomed the publication of a letter, endorsed by the academics and equality organisations, backing Dr Whiteford’s stance.
Mr Robertson said:
“Ian Davidson’s behaviour was inappropriate in any circumstances, but it is especially unfitting from the chairman of a parliamentary committee.
“One of the ugliest aspects around this has been the way people around Mr Davidson have immediately sought to attack Eilidh Whiteford for having the courage to speak out.
“In contrast, it is encouraging that organisations and individuals outwith parliament have been swift to condemn Mr Davidson’s remarks and, given his own reluctance to take responsibility for his
behaviour, the question is now for the Labour party over what action it will take.”
Responding to Mr Davidson’s belated apology Dr Whiteford said:
“This was an empty apology from Ian Davidson who clearly, still, does not recognise why his comments during and after last week's meeting were inherently threatening and unacceptable.
“We know now that at least one other member of the committee heard his remarks, and understand that another member passed him a note regarding his comments. I accept that some members of the committee did not hear the remarks, given that they were, as Mr McGovern seems to acknowledge, made in a casual, throwaway manner. For me, this only served to reinforce their menacing nature, a menace that was compounded by Mr Davidson's subsequent comments immediately following the meeting.
“There is no context in or out of Parliament where such comments are acceptable, and I am surprised that anyone would try to minimise, brush off or try to justify the remarks made by Mr Davidson.
“I am not prepared to be threatened and intimidated, and until Mr Davidson takes responsibility for his behaviour I regret that I will not be returning to the committee.”
Yesterday Labour claimed that no such remarks had been made by Mr Davidson and the claims were an SNP ‘smear campaign’. However today another un-named committee attendee has confirmed that the remarks were indeed made by the Scottish MP.
Labour also initially questioned why it had taken a week for the complaint to be made, however it has since emerged that the complaint was made within hours of Davidson making the remark.
Today Labour defended Mr Davidson by describing the remarks as “throwaway”. The party insist the SNP are simply trying to ‘orchestrate’ Mr Davidson’s removal from the Scottish Affairs Committee.