ONE week ago today was Groundhog Day, and you could be forgiven for thinking we are indeed stuck in a continuous time-loop, because here we are again – and again and again – having to make sense of the actions of a man who has abused his position of power to engage in predatory behaviour.

Wednesday night brought the news that Scottish Government Finance Minister Derek Mackay had sent more than 270 messages to a 16-year-old boy over a six-month period ending on February 1 this year. This included inviting him to dinner and to a rugby reception at the Scottish Parliament as his “guest”, contacting him persistently when he received no reply, and telling him he was “cute”, before urging him to delete the message.

All of this paints a picture of a classic case of “grooming”, orchestrated by a 42-year-old man whose age and status created an obvious imbalance of power between himself and the fifth-year school pupil he was targeting. Appropriately, and unavoidably, Mackay resigned from his position as Finance Secretary, and within hours he was suspended from the SNP pending an investigation.

The name and the details involved in these revelations may have come as a surprise, and yet there is something depressingly familiar about it all – the faces may change but the script stays the same. We are all just playing our part, shocked but not really shocked as we become almost desensitised to the knowledge that the people – most often men – who wield the most power are often also the most likely to use it for their own selfish and nefarious ends.

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Meanwhile, the lessons that ought to have been learnt by now appear to be forgotten as the same old refrains are repeated again. Shifting the blame, underplaying, excusing or misusing instances or allegations of harassment or abuse for political ends has been the name of the game since the concepts of power and abuse were conceived. And in the modern age of 24-hour, unregulated social media, we are exposed to these unhelpful “takes” in greater volume and variety than ever before.

The way in which we come to understand and process major (and minor) news events has been changed irrevocably by the advent of digital communication sites where people can say just about anything they want and create a snowball effect as the algorithm boosts the most controversial viewpoints or stated “facts”, allowing them to reach more and more people.

The problems with this are myriad, but most significantly it means that all of the risks and adverse impacts to the victims and survivors involved in any case of this kind are multiplied tenfold. It is beyond anyone’s editorial control to determine how a person making allegations – or, for that matter, a person who has been accused – will be written about, or what misconceptions, myths or malicious insinuations will be spread through the wildfire of social media.

And, oh, how they have spread. So, for the uninitiated – either to the world of awful takes on predatory behaviour or to the world of understanding that said behaviour is definitely wrong and definitely the responsibility of the person doing it –let’s clear up a few points about the Derek Mackay “incident” and the response it has received from the Scottish Government.

The fact that the age of consent is 16 does not make what Derek Mackay did acceptable, and whether his actions were illegal or not does not change that. Holding an adult man in public office accountable for this is not disrespectful to the agency and maturity of 16-year-olds, nor is it homophobic and only happening because Mackay is gay.

What has transpired is not: a tragedy for Derek Mackay; an instance of “foolish” behaviour; proof that men cannot control their sexual urges; a reflection on the suitability of gay men to work with children or of discussing LGBT issues with children and young people; a Unionist conspiracy; or a reflection on any specific policies or proposals made by the Scottish Government.

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Above all, what Derek Mackay has done is not a chance to use the distress of an actual, living young person as a political football — whatever your agenda. I, along with many others, have made this particular plea in the recent past and I will repeat it ad nauseam if necessary, but somehow it doesn’t get any less nauseating each time the issue rears its ugly head. This is not a game, this is real life and there are very real consequences for the people involved.

It bears pointing out that among those issuing problematic responses to the Derek Mackay story (as with every comparable story before it) are people who should definitely know better. From Scottish Labour MSP Neil Findlay tweeting the SNP’s new head of communications Murray Foote to jibe “how’s the first few shifts?”, to Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser declaring how “popular” Mackay is in the Parliament and wishing him well “in what will be a difficult time” (all the while forgetting to say a single word for the 16-year-old), the general tone with which the news has been met in some quarters has been significantly lacking.

Apparently, we have still not reached the point where we can collectively treat this kind of behaviour and its impact with the seriousness that it deserves. Fortunately, this instance has so far been dealt with swiftly and seriously by the Scottish Government, but until public attitudes catch up I fear that we are destined to remain caught in the loop, taken by surprise all over again when the next incident emerges.

Creating a world where people do not abuse their power in this way – and do not abuse, full stop – may be a long way away, but the first step we can all take towards that goal comes through our own reaction to such events.

It comes through our decision to create a culture in Scotland where this behaviour is acknowledged as part of a pattern of control and power imbalance: not one which can be pinned to one side of any political divide, and not one which can be brushed off as a mere “mistake”. That aim should, surely, be one that we can all agree on.

DEREK Mackay has handled himself in a way unbefitting of the responsibility he was granted. The question now is how we, as a society, handle ourselves in response. So, a word of caution and a call for all of us to do better: when speaking or writing in a public forum about a situation as sensitive as this, always act as though you are in the presence of someone who has been directly affected by the issues involved. The chances are that somebody reading your words or looking at the Tweet or Facebook post that you’ve liked has been victimised themselves. The basic test we should all be presenting ourselves with is to consider whether our contribution to the conversation will make it harder or easier for them to speak out about their experience or seek the support that they need.

At the centre this storm, in which innumerate battling forces are seeking to use the unsettled waters to steer the ship to their own ends, is one person who really matters. That’s the young man who received this slew of messages from a government minister. And it’s the next boy, the next girl, the next woman or man who finds themselves in a similar situation, or worse, and wonders who will be there to listen to them and whether they’ll be heard over the din.

If we could all learn to stop talking so much and start listening a little more, we might just create an environment where nobody needs to ask themselves those questions.