As host nation, Scotland has a positive story to tell about LGBT human rights, having taken huge steps just within recent decades. Relationships between men were illegal in Scotland right up until 1980 and the age of consent was not equalized until 2001. The repeal of Section 2A and recent legislation to allow same-sex marriage have been two of the Scottish Parliament’s most notable victories for LGBT rights. And this in a society which was once regarded as a socially conservative religious stronghold.
DEMOCRACY is meant to offer meaningful choice, but it still leaves many people feeling the need for the occasional protest vote.
Protest can be a deadly serious business of course, as with New Labour and the Iraq War.
But often the desire to give political parties a kicking comes from a disillusionment with politics in general.
I would like to hope that at the next opportunity, in just four months, Scotland will instead register a positive vote for change.
The European Parliament election in May is starting to appear on people’s radar, and we’re being told by London-based pundits and pollsters to expect a protest vote for the anti-Europe UK Independence Party.
However, you don’t have to scratch far beneath the surface to see it’s an outfit that has less resonance north of the Border.
A YouGov poll has UKIP on a sliding scale; the further north you go in the UK the lower their vote.
In Scotland they’re neck and neck with the Greens in the race to take one of Scotland’s six European Parliament seats.
It’s clear that if we want to keep Scotland UKIP-free we need a strong Green vote in May’s election.
On one hand it’s easy to dismiss UKIP given their clown-like behaviour.
This week they had to suspend one of their councillors after he blamed the recent flooding on… wait for it… same sex marriage.
One of their MEPs, Godfrey Bloom, called developing countries “bongo-bongo land” and made insulting comments about women party members.
We also know that the party here in Scotland, what little of it there was, is mired in infighting.
But on the other hand, many people are understandably weary of an out-of-touch Westminster political class, and relentless tabloid headlines about “benefit tourists” and the meddling of “Brussels bureaucrats” only serve the UKIP agenda. When David Cameron labels UKIP “fruitcakes” he’s giving them the anti-establishment gloss they seek.
I believe we should instead be challenging what they really stand for.
UKIP’s immigrant-bashing rhetoric bears no relation to the facts on the ground, but fuels racism and resentment.
Their blinkered attitude to climate change is completely at odds with science and would prevent Scotland making the most of its natural resources and skilled workforce.
And their intolerance towards equality firmly underlines just how out of date and out of touch they are.
It’s clear that Europe needs to be more accountable, more transparent and more sustainable.
But I think most people in Scotland want to change Europe and not to leave it.
We understand the benefits of doing business across borders and welcoming those who come here for work. Migration to Scotland enriches our culture, strengthens our economy and is vital to sustaining many of our communities and public services.
Scotland’s not so daft as to ditch all that to keep Nigel Farage happy.
Although many people have a sense that Europe is important and that it’s where many of our laws are made, most people’s engagement with European politics is close to non-existent. That might be understandable given the remoteness of the institutions and the lack of media coverage, but it’s still a problem. Democracy only works well when people are in touch with the issues, and can hold their decision makers accountable. Whether you’re personally pro- or anti-Europe, nobody’s about to hold Europe up as a great example of democracy in action.
Holyrood returned from the winter recess this week, and the two main debates were on Scotland’s Future and Scotland’s Economy. In reality, they naturally covered quite a bit of the same ground; since the SNP used the first to announce some measures for the forthcoming budget, and to restate the economic objectives of its childcare policy. And of course the referendum is increasingly the prism through which every debate is seen, so the opening debates of 2014 could hardly fail to rehearse the arguments on both sides.
Here’s my speech from the debate on Scotland’s Future, which is followed by Neil Findlay with whom I had a brief exchange of interventions, highlighting the consistency of Tory, New Labour, Coalition and the SNP in seeking continual cuts to Corporation Tax. It’s a trend which needs to be reversed if either side in the referendum debate wants a fairer taxation system instead of one which serves the interests of the Amazons and Starbucks of this world…
And here’s my speech from the economy debate… followed by a little post-match analysis on Newsnight Scotland:
THE end of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow this year will see a curious key-change, as the enjoyment and celebration of sport are followed by the start of the programme of commemoration of the First World War
Indeed for many of the countries who are our guests for the Games, it will be a reminder not only of the war itself, but also of the time of Empire, when many of them were still under British occupation, with few personal or political freedoms.
It’s never simple thinking about the way times change, applying the values of today to the events and actions of previous centuries.
But if we’re to commemorate the war I think it’s important to do so on modern terms, and not to gloss over the injustices of the time with words like “patriotism” and “bravery”.
This debate has opened up in recent days, with Tory Education Secretary Michael Gove complaining that “left wing academics” have been cultivating a myth of the First World War as a “misbegotten shambles – a series of catastrophic mistakes perpetrated by an out-of-touch elite”.
One of Gove’s targets was the series of TV’s Blackadder, set in the trenches.
In reply Tony Robinson, who played Baldrick, was quite restrained and simply defended the right of teachers to use the series as one teaching tool among many, and one which nobody would mistake for a documentary.
I have no doubt that many who fought in the war did show bravery and, whether or not one considers it a virtue, patriotism.
But it would be wrong to acknowledge that without also acknowledging that this war was no unfortunate tragedy, as Mr Gove suggests, but an atrocity perpetrated by the powerful leaders of both sides, and that they were willing to expend the lives of millions of their own citizens.
Those who chose to begin this war may have sincerely valued bravery and patriotism when they were shown, but that didn’t stop them conscripting the unwilling or executing their own soldiers to impose discipline.
This was a time in which the governments of Europe, largely headed by branches of the same royal dynasty, rounded up vast numbers of young men from every city, town and village, herded them into muddy fields and forced them to murder one another, while telling them that it was noble.
To commemorate such a conflict without judging the actions of those who brought about such brutality, who squandered the lives of their own citizens and those of the countries they occupied in their empires, would be little more than empty jingoism.
A century on, it’s still vital that we strive to find lessons of peace in the memory of war.
The UK Government has a dismal track record in delivering the improvements in energy efficiency that we need, and the result is that we’re not only paying high prices for the energy we need, but also for the energy we’re wasting through our roofs, windows and walls. It seems that, regardless of whether David Cameron ever really said “Get rid of the green crap”, that phrase sums up his true attitude. With it, he’ll be getting rid of the most rational part of the energy agenda – the chance to tackle both fuel poverty and climate change at the same time.
On Tuesday the Scottish Parliament paid tribute to Nelson Mandela, in a motion supported by all parties. Alex Salmond, Johann Lamont, Ruth Davidson, Willie Rennie and I all said a few words. Here’s my contribution:
Over the weekend the revelation was made that our dear friend and first ever MSP, Robin Harper, intends to vote No in the referendum on independence.
This hasn’t come as a surprise to many people who know Robin. It shouldn’t be a surprise either that Robin’s not alone; the Scottish Green Party contains all shades of opinion about the constitutional debate within its ranks – and this is certainly true of our voters as well.
For as long as I can remember, every time the question of independence has come up at our party conferences we’ve debated it properly, fully respected the differences of opinion which exist, voted in favour of some form of words which at the very least leans heavily toward independence, and then moved on to other matters without falling out over it.
Indeed even the very firm supporters of independence within the Greens tend to be more strongly motivated by other aspects of our political agenda, and recognise that we have a huge challenge ahead of us if we want to see Green ideas put into practice, quite regardless of the constitutional future of Scotland.
Having said all that, the last time our party conference debated this issue support for independence had grown significantly, and we voted by something like four-to-one in favour of joining Yes Scotland, and of setting up our own Green Yes campaign.
So am I annoyed that Robin has made his views public, as Tavish Scott seems to think? Not a bit of it. I think it’s really important that those who disagree with our policy have their views represented, and I wish that other parties could be as comfortable with that diversity.
Partly it’s because dissent is a healthy and creative thing, and I wouldn’t want to be a member of a political party which suppressed it.
Partly it’s because the question of independence does not, and never has, split down party lines. Parties can adopt policies, or can even (in the case of the SNP) be defined around a single policy to such an extent that those who agree on nothing else in politics can sit together on the same benches. But they cannot tell their voters what to think. There will be Labour, LibDem and Tory voters on the Yes side. There will be SNP voters on the No side. The Greens have never tried to kid ourselves on that everyone who accepts our ideas about economic growth, or climate change, or any of the other issues which define us as a party, all think the same about the constitution.
But most importantly, it’s good that the SGP’s range of views are expressed on this issue because so many people across Scotland remain undecided about independence, and I don’t believe that waving saltires or union jacks at them will help them decide. I think it’s important to understand that this isn’t an easy, obvious choice for many people, and if we’re honest about the range of views within our own ranks I think we’re more likely to find ways of connecting with voters who are still turning over the arguments.
I think Robin’s wrong about many aspects of this debate. His article on the Better Together website is wrong about the extent of devolved control we have in Scotland; it’s wrong in comparing Scotland to Greece or Portugal; it’s wrong to imply that we won’t be a member of the EU. Most fundamentally it’s wrong that Scotland can be “Safe in a world political and economic system that is volatile, unpredictable, and often teeters on the edge of economic catastrophe”. If Green politics is about anything it’s about challenging the political and economic system which is dominant in the world, and which has left us with a degraded and vulnerable ecosystem, chronic poverty and inequality, and relentless exploitation of people and the planet. Robin’s call to steer clear of “political adventurism” sounds to me like a desire to pull the duvet over our heads and ignore the challenges of the real world or the responsibility of making the big choices about our future.
So Robin and I disagree about the debate Scotland’s engaged in, but we’ll disagree respectfully and in good spirit as is the Green Party’s way. Robin’s well aware that he’s in a minority within the party, but he does express views which deserve to be represented; indeed they need to be represented if we’re going to have the honest debate we need.
PS. Incidentally, I’ve just been told that the Green Yes fundraising page got quite a boost over the first few days after Robin’s announcement. It looks like the man in the scarf’s still got what it takes to make an impact… just maybe not the kind he intended!
AMID a media frenzy, the Scottish Government has published its detailed proposal for independence, almost 10 months before the referendum.
This sets out the SNP’s case for a Yes vote, its view of the process leading up to ‘Independence Day’, and some of their plans for the country’s future policy choices.
While we all accept that the SNP will remain in Government until 2016, it’s also important to remember that voting Yes or No is only the first choice we have to make.
Even a resounding majority for independence wouldn’t set the SNP’s policies in stone; rather it would open up the opportunities for Scots to choose the government we want.
The debate over the direction Scotland could follow must be – and can be – creative and inspiring.
Of course we will continue to hear some on the No side complain that “Scotland’s on pause”; that the referendum campaign is stifling wider debate.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Both sides of this campaign need to offer compelling ideas about the future and I’d love to see that level of debate coming from the No camp.
If they feel as I do, that Scotland needs a real debate about our political direction, then I am happy to let them know that it has already started, and they are very welcome to join in!
The truth is that as well as debating independence, Scottish politics is getting on with other issues too.
They might get less media attention, but they impact on many people’s daily lives.
THE Housing Bill, introduced to Parliament this week, aims to improve the lot of tenants in the private rented sector which has grown dramatically in recent years.
With more people finding that social housing is unavailable, and the option of buying is unaffordable, we simply can’t treat the private rented sector as just a choice people make freely.
For many, it’s the only housing available.
New measures such as regulation of letting agents would do a lot to protect private sector tenants, but the Bill could go further on issues such as affordable rents, more secure tenancies and so on.
And, of course, last week Holyrood saw its first debate on the Bill allowing same-sex couples to marry.
Some people are still demanding “protections” – loopholes allowing prejudice and discrimination to continue.
Others have vague worries about what “consequences” there will be.
Let me answer that: some people who love each other will get married.
Confetti will be thrown. Cake will be eaten. Occasionally an auntie wearing a new hat will wipe away a tear.
Life will go on, and with a little bit of luck some of these people might even live happily ever after.