The Herald on Sunday
Inside the sexist scandal festering at the heart of Scottish society
One of Scotland’s underground stars, the self-styled rapper Loki, is at the centre of a domestic abuse row that has embroiled STV, Police Scotland and even Harry Potter author JK Rowling. Helen Archer investigates
A GLASGOW rapper who fronted an antimale violence programme funded by Police Scotland is at the centre of a storm over comments on an STV website about domestic abuse.
Self-styled Scottish commentator Darren McGarvey, who goes by the rap name of Loki, also came under fire for his refusal to condemn abusive comments against women by his friend Andrew MacKenzie who directed their controversial film about men’s violence.
The two collaborated on the film Gaslight, with MacKenzie as director and ex-Simple Minds’ member Mick MacNeil as producer, during McGarvey’s stint as “Rapper in Residence” at the Violence Reduction Unit. The programme was set up and funded by Police Scotland, and works with ex-offenders in an effort to stop them re-offending.
The director, who says he “sympathises” with “men’s rights activists”, described one critic as a “whiny meddlesome bitch” and a “c**t”. He then posted images which suggested feminists harbour rape fantasies and have “daddy issues”, sharing articles which associate “false accusations” of domestic abuse with the male suicide rate.
After being contacted by the Sunday Herald, however, McGarvey reversed his support for MacKenzie, saying that his attempt to explore violence against women had been undermined by the film’s director, as well as his own handling of the situation. “To be clear, Andrew has behaved idiotically in the aftermath of valid criticisms. His abusive and misogynistic language towards his detractors was utterly appalling and totally unacceptable.”
The furore began two weeks ago when McGarvey, in an article on STV’s digital site, described domestic violence as a “two-way street” and a “psychological tug-of-war”.
He also used the platform to promote his short film Gaslight, which looks at abuse from the perpetrators’ point of view.
Christina McKelvie, the SNP MSP, described McGarvey’s claim that “there may be a genuine issue at play for which the female has to take responsibility” as “victim blaming”. Others questioned his qualifications for writing on the subject, and criticised STV for publishing it without any expert commentary.
Scottish Women’s Aid has called it “an opportunity bitterly wasted” and said STV should have concentrated on the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm Bill rather than giving McGarvey a platform.
McGarvey’s comments provoked a barrage of complaints, including a critical post on the website A Thousand Flowers, written by Sarah Higgins and Leona Jack.
He reacted angrily, uploading a late-night, 10-minute video rant on social media, in which voice raised and clearly enraged, he admitted that he is a misogynist “in some instances”, explaining that it is “part of the work in progress that is me”, and that he “definitely had abusive impulses towards women in my past based on my own insecurities and also genuine relationship problems”.
McGarvey has described himself as MacKenzie’s “partner in crime in terms of collaborating on more controversial topics”.
More than a week after McGarvey’s first article appeared on the STV site, he requested it be replaced by a link to a new piece he had written. STV complied. In it, he responded to the A Thousand Flowers blog posts, and repeatedly uses the phrase “false allegations”.
He went on to say that he thought MacKenzie’s “personal politics are totally legitimate”, and refused to condemn his attacks on individual women because “he was reacting to events in a way many people would”. The link to that article remained on the STV website for three days last week, with no right to reply from Higgins, about whom much of it referred.
McGarvey worked for Police Scotland’s Violence Reduction Unit on a limited contract on a freelance basis, giving poetry readings and talks about fatherhood for a small monthly fee.
He completed the Gaslight film after he stopped working there, and without the organisation’s input.
However after screening it once, the VRU decided that it would be unable to use it in any of their further work. MacKenzie has claimed that a female employee remarked that the VRU’s refusal to put its name to the film was due to fear of a backlash sparked by a “feminist mafia”, a claim the VRU says is “without foundation and credibility”.
In a statement given to the Sunday Herald, MacKenzie backtracked on this claim,
The feminist narrative of victimhood must continue at all costs because it is financially advantageous for third sector workers, journalists and academics. Dissenters must be silenced
saying: “I speculated it was because of the type of backlash that we have received; “feminist mafia” was a term used by me and not anyone who speaks for the VRU.”
Gaslight remains on the internet, and has been retweeted by JK Rowling to her eight million followers, where she described it as “one of the most powerful videos you’ll ever see on domestic violence”. IN 2015, just months before he would start work for the Violence Reduction Unit, McGarvey was sentenced to 112 hours of community service after uploading a video in which he made threats towards an individual he had fallen out with.
As far back as 2014, he publicly admitted to having “dodgy attitudes towards women” stemming from issues he had after being raised by an what he described as an alcoholic and abusive mother. He has also spoken of his own abuse at the hands of a female partner.
McGarvey has demanded apologies from his critics, and tweeted: “I’m starting to get what that ‘Hell hath no fury’ phrase is all about”. He singled out one woman in particular, naming her and her place of work on his Twitter feed, be- fore deactivating this and his Facebook account. McGarvey came to prominence during the independence referendum in 2014 with a constant presence on social media. He garnered a large and loyal following, blogging about issues surrounding poverty and class, and become the darling of several high-profile supporters of the union after being critical of the SNP and other pro-independence organisations.
Earlier this year, Rowling donated £5,000 as part of a crowdfunder instigated by McGarvey which raised over £12,000 to help him develop his work. Upon donating, Rowling posted on twitter that McGarvey has “important, unsettling things to say” and that it was “valuable”.
Having seen Gaslight on her feed, it was picked up by various domestic abuse organisations both within the UK and globally. At the end of the video, the office number for Scottish Women’s Aid is shown, though they, like the VRU, had no involvement with the video.
On the subject of Gaslight and its surrounding controversy, McGarvey has also had support from Labour MSP Neil Findlay, who tweeted to him “Don’t let complete nuggets silence your informed comment” – later backtracking that “I wasn’t referring to any par- ticular comment he made on any issue”.
Andrew MacKenzie told the Sunday Herald: “I reacted in anger to Sarah’s [Higgins] blog about me, as it was the culmination of a campaign that had been waged against Loki on Twitter because his current project challenges the prevailing intersectional feminist/social justice narratives.
“I did not take the situation seriously, responded with some immature insults, including the meme of the “feminist brain”. None of this is a serious reflection on how I feel about women or feminism, it was online s**t-posting plain and simple. I also publicly apologised for it along with Loki.
“Given that Loki had been on the receiving end of a smear campaign before Gaslight ever got called into question and had huge amounts of personal and professional pressure leveraged against him, ‘feminist mafia’ is not an unjust term.
“The intent is clear: the feminist narrative of victimhood must continue at all costs, because for large numbers of third sector workers, journalists and academics it is financially and professionally advantageous, and for this reason dissenters must be silenced.”
Sarah Higgins said: “STV have caused me a great deal of distress by uncritically publishing a link to this blog post and I am disappointed that it took three days and multiple complaints from myself and others for it to be removed.”
Dr Marsha Scott of Scottish Women’s Aid said: “The consistent platforming of men’s voices above women’s is neither revolutionary nor taboo; since discussions on violence against women first began, women’s voices have been marginalised and women have been punished and abused when speaking out. We support and commend all those who chose to challenge this series of events in spite of significant online abuse.”
A spokesperson for STV said: “STV online provides a platform for a wide range of comment from a variety of voices and is committed to reporting responsibly on important issues.
“As with all opinion pieces, these give an individual’s view and may be controversial. We regret that linking to the online piece caused Sarah Higgins any distress.”
McGarvey now says he accepts he “should have consulted more closely with women’s groups, who have a far deeper understanding of gender-based violence than I do”.
He added: “My failure to do so led to this entirely regrettable affair for which I would like to wholeheartedly apologise.”