Last week a few eyebrows were raised at the idea of drawing up underground heat from below Glasgow’s streets, and the prediction that this could meet up to 40% of the city’s heating needs. I can understand why some people were sceptical; even in this relatively mild winter, it’s hard to believe as we trudge about the streets in February that there’s a ready supply of warmth under our feet.
But the study under way at Caledonian University will be looking at the disused tunnels and mineworks under the city’s streets, which stay warm throughout the year and which could be tapped for cheap energy. Glasgow wouldn’t be the first city in the world to use geothermal energy in this way, but it would be a unique example in Scotland or the UK, and the benefits could be huge for a city where around a third of households live in fuel poverty. That statistic is only likely to get worse as energy prices rise, unless we can do two things; cut down our costly waste of energy, and develop new sources of green energy.
Achieving those vital goals, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and using energy more efficiently, will require a real transformation of our energy system. But it must be done in a way which creates a social benefit too, and I think that means much more than just changing the technology. We have the chance to change the ownership structure too. Right now we’re almost all completely dependent on a handful of vast multinational energy companies, and the sad truth is that they will always put profit ahead of public interest. The global factors driving up energy prices can’t be wished away, and it’s not all the fault of these companies, but their primary function is to make bigger profits for their shareholders, not to serve their customers’ best interests. Right now we’re in danger of missing the chance to change that.
I think there will always be an important role for the private sector, but we certainly don’t need to leave these few huge companies so utterly dominant. Some European countries have successful publicly owned energy companies too, putting the profits from the industry back into serving the public good. Some of them are even developing renewable energy in Scotland, and while I’m happy to welcome their investment I can’t understand why we shouldn’t take the same approach ourselves, and reap the rewards for the public purse. Creating a Scottish public energy company would be a tremendous legacy to leave for future generations.
We could start building it right now, if local authorities used their borrowing power to invest in profitable sources of green energy. Different technology would work in different places, and in Glasgow those underground heat pumps could be a great way to start. In other areas wind, solar (yes, even in Scotland!) and hydro power would be options. The income generated could be invested in public services, or in the housing stock to cut down on energy waste and save even more money. Ultimately, if Scotland votes for independence, we’d have the chance to put a national energy company in place.
There’s a real chance we could make green energy the people’s energy, and I don’t think it’s a chance we can afford to miss.
A great roar had been predicted from the Tory benches at PMQs, and I gather that it was duly heard. I am relying on the reports from my office for this, as I was meeting with colleagues from PCS at the time, but I have no problem believing it.
David Cameron’s commitment that a future (mercifully as yet hypothetical) majority Tory government will commit to a referendum on membership of the European Union will be greeted with enthusiasm by his local constituency associations in every part of the UK where support has been leeching to UKIP. They know that the majority they seek in 2015, with which they hope to gain the power to finally consign the last ragged remnants of the welfare state to the dustbin of history, can only be achieved if those oily ticks out leafleting for Farage are sent packing. Never mind that they can’t get a single MP elected; they can drain support away from the true representatives of the loaded class in enough constituencies to thwart Tory aspirations.
But it is of course interesting to consider how this news will be greeted in Scotland, where we already have one referendum process to contend with, even if the debate is clearly yet to inspire many of the crucial “open-minded but unconvinced” voters who I am still confident can decide the outcome.
As David Torrance writes in an excellent piece on Newsnet Scotland, both Salmond and Cameron are winging it to a degree, asserting their ability to secure the negotiated outcome they want, in a vacuum of facts.
Jeff at Better Nation meanwhile warns of the danger for independence advocates in Scotland thinking of the EU vote as one which even involves us, given the work toward a Yes vote some three years before Cameron’s promised poll.
Tom Harris is amongst those pointing out that the Prime Minister has spent much of his limited attention span for Scotland claiming that a two-year referendum process is terribly long and will be awfully damaging. Hmm.
The SNP for their part… I’m currently watching the admirable Humza Yousaf on Newsnight Scotland giving not a whit more detail than Jackson Carlaw can muster on the actual terms of EU membership he eventually wants to see.
Few things seem certain to me as yet about how the long-anticipated debate on a European referendum will impact on the independence referendum here in Scotland. It seems possible that these two dynamic debates, emanating from Edinburgh and London political bubbles, will create chaotic interference patterns which disrupt the debate on both topics throughout these islands.
Good. It’s about time something did.
Certainly those who argue that we’re all ‘Better Together’ can no longer expect Scots voters to blink in fear at the prospect of uncertainty about our future relationship with Europe. But Jeff is quite right to argue that Scots’ involvement with the UK debate on Europe risks an implicit assumption that it’s through the UK that our relationship with Europe must forever be defined. It’s vital that we take responsibility in Scotland for our European debate. If those undecided voters, open to independence but not yet convinced, vote No in the expectation that they can then keep the UK in Europe and simultaneously put stronger home rule onto a constitutionally crowded UK political agenda, we will have missed a chance to shape our future relationship with both London and Brussels. I was already dubious that the UK parties would spare much mental space for further devolution if Scotland votes No, much less spend any political capital on it. The prospect of an EU referendum halfway through the 2015 Parliament (and don’t be surprised if Labour eventually offers something similar too) seals the deal. For Scotland, it’s 2014 or nothing.
One further point. These are not directly comparable choices being offered. David’s comparison of a renegotiated UK/EU deal with Devomax was clever, but a little misleading. Even the most enthusiastic Europhile would not argue that the EU is sovereign. It is generally agreed to be a pooling of member states’ sovereignty, whether viewed kindly or otherwise.
Scotland’s referendum is something different. It is an attempt to resolve the fundamental conflict between two models of sovereignty within the same state. Scotland tells itself that sovereignty lies with the people. In the UK, a very different story is told. What happens, as Elliott Bulmer put it, when the unstoppable force of Scottish popular sovereignty meets the immovable object of the sovereignty of the Crown in Parliament? This is a question which must be resolved, and I am convinced that a Yes vote is the best chance – indeed the only chance – we will have to do so for a generation.
One of the scariest things to come out of the recent revelations about big corporations avoiding paying their fair share of tax is trying to think of an alternative. A handful of big companies have become so dominant, that even if you are disgusted with them, it’s hard to imagine who else to use (think, for example, of trying to completely avoid Google). People swapping their Starbucks for a Nero in an effort to punish tax avoidance will sadly be switching one offender for another. And Amazon have a seemingly irreversible strangle hold on the book market, despite the bad stories about their tax avoidance and poor treatment of seasonal staff (stories that carry an extra sting when you recall that they have been on the receiving end of over £10m of Scottish Government subsidy).
Of course there’s a very good case for having a less consumerist Christmas altogether, by making gifts or sticking with the (often more interesting) second hand shops. But very few of us will avoid the retail whirl altogether, so instead of the chainstore giants, let’s seek out the alternatives, both online and on the high street (or perhaps more likely off the high street).
Glasgow still has some excellent independent record and book shops, and there are plenty of online retailers that are proud to wear their ethics on their sleeve. Sometimes these shops will cost a little more, but you might be surprised what a small difference there is on the pricetag. Independent cafes are often the places you’ll be really pleased you found, and offer something worth remembering instead of instantly forgettable blandness.
Besides, when you spend money in local independent retailers, that money stays in the local economy, and has a multiplier effect, meaning that it contributes to the success of other local shops. When you spend money on multinational corporations, all too often the money disappears into the offshore bank accounts of wealthy shareholders, with the only real value to the local economy being the wages. The economic crisis has revealed just how hollow this model is.
Aside from the clear economic benefits, there’s something inherently depressing about every town and city having the same shops on their high streets. It is so refreshing so walk along Queen Margaret Drive, Kings Court, or Otago Lane, and see the diversity of names and shop fronts and produce. Independent retailers, and independent minds, bring so much more to the mix than their corporate opponents.
I don’t think anyone expects people to stop using supermarkets or getting the odd bargain from Amazon; the tax avoiders are hard to avoid! But if we all just make that bit more of an effort to seek out our local independent retailers we can make a positive impact on the economy, and keep our city streets that little bit more alive. That’s what economic recovery would look like to me; not just another round of consumption for its own sake, but a celebration of the diversity independent businesses bring to life.
Rob Edwards did some sterling work in the Sunday Herald this weekend, highlighting the threat of a big increase in “unconventional” gas extraction in Scotland.
It’s a term that covers various activities under the two broad approaches to getting hold of shale gas and coal bed methane – fracturing (fracking) and the use of boreholes.
There are no current applications for fracking in Scotland, but Dart Energy is extracting coal bed methane, and looking to expand. The UK Government is expected to lift the moratorium on fracking, and intends to introduce incentives for unconventional gas extraction. Something in the region of 20000 sq km of Scotland has been identified for exploration by the industry.
I discussed this on the Sunday Politics at the weekend:
While licensing is a UK matter, the Scottish Government can choose to take a favourable or unfavourable approach to the planning and environmental regulation of these techniques. At present, while they are sticking to the line that unconventional gas is not “included in their energy models”, they seem determined to take a pretty favourable attitude to the exploitation of this resource.
The world already has far more known reserves of conventional fossil fuel than we can afford to burn if we’re at all serious about climate change, but for months now the Scottish Government has refused to accept this.
Yesterday, the Energy Minister Fergus Ewing was questioned in the Chamber about this, and seemed absurdly positive about the role unconventional gas could play as a source of new fossil fuels. This response is yet another example of the SNP’s “high carbon / low carbon” energy policy, and I will continue to challenge them on it.
Tax avoidance has been high up the political agenda lately. Quite right too. It’s one of the key mechanisms used by the wealthy to ensure that the profits from economic activity is captured for their own benefit, while the majority are left with the social and environmental costs. For years the UK Government has actively facilitated tax avoidance, but the work of activists like UK Uncut and the Tax Justice Network has started to challenge this.
Corporate tax dodging has been the latest high profile example, with companies like Amazon, Google and Starbucks caught out for various kinds of tax wheeze.
You’d think that the position of a Scottish Government, straining at the bit for new powers to make Scotland a better place, would be demanding the ability to clamp down on this parasitical behaviour. Sadly not. In fact they have given grants from public funds to some of these tax avoiders! They even have a tax exile on their Council of Economic Advisors.
Faced with yet another corporate tax giveaway by the UK Government in this week’s Autumn budget statement, I challenged the SNP leader to drop the obsession with making even deeper cuts to corporation tax. He wasn’t exactly forthcoming:
When the SNP adopted their current position on Corporation Tax, the UK rate much higher than their proposed level of 20%. It’s now being cut to 21%, and it makes no sense whatsoever for the SNP to pretend nothing has happened.
They can start demanding rock-bottom CT levels, and lose the support of people who don’t want Scotland to become a tax haven of the north run for the benefit of wealthy corporations, or they can accept the need ensure that those corporations pay their way in the world and contribute to the public good by paying a meaningful level of tax. But after this week, I don’t think they can stick to their current position.
I recently wrote to Peter Kearney of the Scottish Catholic Media Office to raise concerns about his statements in the media which appeared to recycle some of the junk science being used by campaigners against LGBT equality in the US. In my letter I promised to publish his reply, so here it is. Where he has provided URLs I have incorporated them as active links, but this is the only change I’ve made to his text.
However I have made a few comments, and noted these throughout in square brackets and italics. Over the next day or two, I’ll add more of my own, as well as those from other sources. However two crucial points stand out:
He doesn’t explain why any of this is relevant to the same sex marriage debate, which is the context in which it was raised. If he wants to see poor health treated as a legal barrier to marriage, I suspect he will be on his own on that one.
He says almost nothing which is relevant to women. His original comments were about same-sex sexual activity, but almost everything he writes to back this up is about gay and bisexual men. I can’t say I’m hugely surprised by this glaring omission.
7 August 2012
Patrick Harvie MSP
52 St Enoch Square
Dear Mr Harvie
Thank you for your letter of 27 July on the subject of the health implications of same sex relationships. I agree entirely with you that public debate on this issue should be “well informed and not subject to misleading arguments.” Sadly, to date, there has been little or no public debate in Scotland on the matter. This is in stark contrast to the ongoing debates on the health implications of smoking, drug use, alcohol abuse and over eating. I welcome, therefore, the opportunity to correspond with you on the matter and your commitment to publish our exchanges on your website.
You mention your previous work in the field of “gay and bisexual men’s health” in your letter. There is no question that such work has firmly established the proposition that gay and bisexual men have particular health concerns and consequences. This is instructive and I presume you would resist any attempt to suggest that it wasn’t the case.
[Naturally. Many groups have particular patterns of health and ill health, and particular needs in terms of health promotion. LGBT people are no different in that than straight people, young people, disabled people, or dare I say it celibate people.]
From December 1997 you were employed as a Glasgow Youth Worker by a group called PHACE West (Project for HIV and AIDA Care and Education). I understand part of your responsibilities included helping to run the meetings and activities of the Bi-G-LES youth group. This group was attended by children as young as twelve. A publication called “Gay Sex Now” was available at this youth group. It can be viewed here.
I am sure that anyone who reviews this publication will agree that the extremely graphic images and offensive language are not appropriate for a youth group attended by children as young as twelve. Yet this approach is symptomatic of what passes for “debate” on the subject of same sex health risks in Scotland. I believe that we urgently need a new approach informed by a concern for the wellbeing of anyone with same sex attraction based on an honest assessment of all medical evidence.
[Mr Kearney may be sure what offends him, but I'm surprised that he feels he can speak for everyone. In fact - as made clear at the time - this publication was produced for and was used with sexually active adult gay and bisexual men. The youth group I worked with, like many youth groups, had an age range up to the mid twenties, and there were certainly occasions on which it was entirely appropriate to use this publication.]
Insofar as evidence is concerned, I think our starting points are probably similar I have not made any assertions which are not regularly made by others. The issue of life expectancy is relevant, the Canadian study, R. S. Hogg, S. A. Strathdee, et al., “Modeling the Impact of HIV Disease on Mortality in Gay and Bisexual Men,” International Journal of Epidemiology, (1997) has been widely quoted and as you know subject to considerable revision, reflecting the fact that underlying mortality rates attributable to HIV improved in the decade following the initial research. According to a CDC News Release in October 10, 2001, death as the result of HIV infection had dropped significantly since 1996. It is important to note however that this study focused on HIV/AIDS only which according to some authors is under-reported by as much as 15-20 per cent. Alarming recent increases in HIV rates must also be considered.
[This is the study which I highlighted in my original letter. The authors have, as I pointed out to Mr Kearney, been so concerned about the misuse of this work by anti-equality campaigners that they have issued this statement.]
Interestingly, in 2009 a group of homosexuals headed by Gens Hellquist, director of the Canadian Rainbow Health Coalition, filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, they detailed numerous statistics to prove the high-risk nature of the homosexual lifestyle, including:
- The life expectancy for gay and bisexual men is 20 years less than the average Canadian man;
- GLB people commit suicide at rates ranging from twice as often to almost 14 times more than the general population;
- GLBs have smoking rates ranging from 1.3 to three times higher than average;
- GLBs become alcoholics at a rate 1.4 to seven times higher than the general population;
- GLBs use illicit drugs at a rate from 1.6 to 19 times higher than other Canadians;
-GLBs experience depression at rates ranging from 1.8 to three times higher than average;
- Homosexual men comprise 76% of AIDS cases and 45% of all new HIV infections;
- Homosexual and bisexual men suffer a higher rate of anal cancer than heterosexual men;
I don’t think these campaigners were accused of “homophobia” for raising their concerns, but I may be mistaken.
[Mr Kearney does not provide the original source of the life expectancy figure, but here it is. As expected it is not a piece of peer-reviewed research, but a clinical guide designed to help health professionals care for lesbian and gay people effectively. The legal complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Commission was written clearly to highlight the negative health impact which arises from a group being marginalised in society, and was not the work of scientific researchers.]
In their Wellbeing in Sexual Health (WISH) e-Bulletin in June 2012, NHS Scotland promoted “GAYCON 2012: Scotland’s 4th National Conference on Gay Men’s Sexual Health and Wellbeing” being held later this year in Glasgow. As well as urging recipients to attend, their message stated: “The conference will identify key priorities for future sexual health work for gay men in Scotland at a time when this group continues to be disproportionately affected by HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.” This statement tends to suggest that I might not be not alone in believing that a variety of medical complications affect the homosexual population in a way that is not proportionate.
[Clearly in Scotland gay and bisexual men have a higher than average prevalence rate of HIV. This is in contrast to the picture in other countries where HIV is widespread throughout the population, and heterosexual transmission is the norm. This is not news to anyone.]
I have suggested that same sex sexual practices, not surprisingly, lead to disproportionately high rates of STI incidence among gay men. This echoes an assertion by Peter Tatchell that “Soaring rates of sexually-transmitted HPV infection are occurring among gay and bisexual men” and his concern that “very high rates of anal HPV infection, especially among gay and bisexual men who are HIV-positive, have huge implications”; these statements are available on his website.
[HPV infection is indeed a concern, but that concern is not confined to gay and bisexual men. Heterosexual transmission of HPV puts many women at risk of cervical cancer, and this underlies the importance of the vaccination programme. As Peter points out, many straight couples also have anal sex, so the issue of anal cancer risk also affects them. In short, HPV transmission is not caused by sexual orientation.]
A major study published in the journal ‘Cancer’ in May 2011 revealed that men with SSA (same sex attraction) in California are twice as likely to report a cancer as heterosexual men. Boehmer, U., et al. (2011) “Cancer Survivorship and Sexual Orientation,” ‘Cancer’ 117 (2011): The study which analyses what is described as “the higher prevalence of cancer in gay men” can be viewed here.
A systematic review and meta-analysis of the prevalence of, substance misuse, suicide, suicidal ideation and deliberate self harm in LGB people, concluded that they were at higher risk of suicide, substance misuse, and deliberate self harm than heterosexual people.
[Both these studies, which I will read in detail in due course, appear at first glance to be in keeping with the view of the Canadian Rainbow Health Coalition that there are negative health impacts which arise for a marginalised group whose health needs are not properly addressed. They don't appear to suggest that simply being lesbian, gay or bisexual, or having same-sex relationships, is the cause of health problems.]
Crucially, many such studies have been conducted in countries where homosexuality is widely accepted and affirmed in law such as New Zealand and the Netherlands. Since there does not appear to be an appreciable difference in rates of depression and suicide across societies with widely differing levels of tolerance towards the LGBT community it seems clear from all empirical evidence, that social acceptability is not a significant factor.
[These "many studies" are not cited, so it's difficult to respond. However the conclusion Mr Kearney draws is quite at odds with the view of professionals in the field. As George Valiotis of HIV Scotland reminded me, the International AIDS Conference in Washington D.C. July 2012 unequivocally pointed to the need to end stigma, discrimination and legal sanctions, recognising that stigma and discrimination hamper all our efforts to end the HIV epidemic, and prevents delivery of essential services.]
A study of young men, aged 17–22, who have sex with men, found that the “prevalence of HIV infection is high among this young population of homosexual and bisexual men” Lemp, G. et al. (1994). “Sero-prevalence of HIV and risk behaviours among young homosexual and bisexual men.” An abstract is available here.
[As I noted above, the fact that in Scotland gay and bisexual men have a higher than average HIV prevalence is not news. The idea that society should respond to that by further marginalising gay and bisexual men is, to put it politely, counterintuitive at best.]
Promiscuity is regularly cited as an exacerbating factor in same sex relationships. [Exacerbating what? Does it exacerbate something in same sex relationships that it doesn't exacerbate in mixed sex relationships?] One of the largest studies of same sex couples revealed that only seven of the 156 couples studied had a totally exclusive sexual relationship and the majority of relationships lasted less than five years. Couples with a relationship lasting more than five years, reported incorporating some provision for outside sexual activity in their relationship: McWhirter, D. and Mattison, A. 1985. The Male Couple: How Relationships Develop. Prentice Hall.
Such analyses would explain why even following the introduction of Civil Unions or Same Sex Marriage, there does not seem to be an increase in monogamy or fidelity within the LGBT population or a concomitant reduction in disease prevalence associated with promiscuity.
[Monogamy is an entirely personal choice of course. Whether people choose to have an open relationship or not, their sexual health risks will relate to their behaviour, not to their sexual orientation.]
A study in the Netherlands, revealed that the rate of new HIV infections among gay men in Amsterdam has increased steadily since the introduction of effective antiretroviral therapy according to the online edition of AIDS.
The study found that most of the infections were acquired from casual partners, but the researchers also found evidence of transmissions within relationships.
[Antiretroviral therapy isn't intended to reduce transmission. It's intended to keep people alive. It was always clear that if HIV+ people could stay alive and healthy, this would mean a larger cohort of HIV+ people which could itself give rise to additional new infections. Many developed countries are currently trying to understand this new phase of the epidemic, and exploring what this change and others such as migration patterns will do in terms of new infections. But once again, this has nothing to do with sexuality. Where straight people have access to modern therapy, similar patterns emerge. Would Mr Kearney prefer that people don't have access to antiretrovirals at all?]
I’m sure you will agree these are all challenging findings suggesting an ongoing need for significant public debate in the area of “gay and bisexual men’s health”. It would be refreshing in the extreme if this did not comprise the sort of “do as you please” platitudes commonly uttered by Scottish politicians who appear to be utterly lacking in compassion for a minority group whose health has deteriorated in inverse proportion to the political and social affirmation they have been given.
[Wow, there's a leap. Nothing in the research provided by Mr Kearney, even with his own unique interpretation, has shown that anyone's health has "deteriorated in inverse proportion to the political and social affirmation they have been given". It appears that he has done exactly what he did in his TV interview, and cherry picked the evidence he thinks supports his own prejudices, and then made a wildly unsubstantiated claim to follow it up. It's astonishing to be accused of a lack of compassion by someone representing an organisation which has opposed LGBT people's equality and civil rights at every step of the way.]
It would be equally refreshing if those who disagree with the Church were to accept that it speaks from a position of genuine concern for individuals and for human flourishing. By highlighting facts which have been established by relevant scientific and medical enquiry we do not intend to engage in political point scoring but wish to advance the wellbeing of everyone in society by paying due regard to the consequences of particular behaviour.
Scottish Catholic Media Office
5 St Vincent Place
27th July 2012
[cc Bishop Philip Targtaglia, President, National Communications Commission, Bishops’ Conference of Scotland]
Dear Mr Kearney,
I am writing following your comments on the Scotland Tonight programme on Wednesday 25th July which discussed the issue of same sex marriage. We are both very aware of the clear disagreement between us on the principle of same sex marriage, and while this debate will of course continue I don’t intend to rehearse it here. My purpose in writing to you is to try to ensure that the debate takes place in a context of accurate information.
During the programme, you made several comments about the health of people who have same sex relationships. Having worked in the field of gay and bisexual men’s health before being elected to Parliament, this naturally remains an issue of interest and concern to me. It is important to me, and I believe it should be important to all of us, that public debate on this issue should be well informed and not subject to misleading arguments.
During the programme you stated that there exists a “vast array of medical evidence … to suggest that same-sex behaviour is hazardous, is harmful, and is dangerous.” You went on to make a direct comparison between same-sex relationships and smoking, alcohol, overeating and drug addiction.
You claimed that there is “an overwhelming body of medical evidence” to suggest a link between same-sex sexual activity and early death. You also claimed that one study has shown that “the life expectancy of a practising homosexual man will be reduced by something between 12 and 20 years”.
Whether this line of argument has any bearing on the same sex marriage debate is unclear; I am sure you were not implying that poor health should be a legal barrier to marriage or civil partnership for anyone, regardless of their sexuality. However it is important that those of us in the privileged and powerful position of speaking on these issues in the national media don’t confuse proper scientific evidence with some of the distortions which circulate online or in the wilder imaginations of some campaigners in the very polarised debate in the US.
I am sure that you will be aware of some of the studies which have been misused in this way. The work of the avowedly anti-gay campaigner Paul Cameron for example, has been thoroughly discredited by the American and Canadian Psychological Associations and by the American Sociological Association and although it is based merely on a sampling of obituaries in gay newspapers it continues to be cited by some campaigners as though it is based on robust science.
Similarly, research by Hogg et al published in the International Journal of Epidemiology (which was designed to make an assessment from limited available data about the impact of HIV in urban Vancouver in the days prior to modern antiretroviral therapy) has been misused to such an extent that the authors have had to issue a statement to clarify the actual meaning of their work and to oppose “the use of our research in a manner that restricts the political or human rights of gay and bisexual men or any other group”.
I very much hope that you have not mistaken such distortions of science for the real thing, or worse still decided to repeat the deliberate distortions and untruths being peddled by certain campaigners in the US. I would therefore like to offer you the opportunity to clarify your comments from the programme, and to give clear references to the “vast array”, or “overwhelming body of medical evidence” to which you referred.
From the confidence with which you made those comments, I would assume that you can provide clear references to published research which is relevant, recent, of high quality, and which has been subject to peer review.
Toward the end of the interview, you said “We only need to imagine the complex infections, diseases and illnesses that are caused.” I hope that on reflection you can see the problem with this statement. The last thing we need is an approach based on our imagination, or on assumptions. We need an approach which is based on robust data if we’re going to accurately discuss issues of public health, whether in relation to sexuality or any other issue.
I look forward to your reply and the opportunity to scrutinise whatever data you are able to share. Please note that I will publish this letter and any reply I receive from you on my website.
Patrick Harvie MSP
I’m delighted to welcome the announcement today by the Scottish Government that it will introduce a bill in the Scottish Parliament enabling same-sex couples to get married. This has been a long time coming, and I’m so grateful to the thousands of people who lobbied MSPs and Ministers in favour of the principle of equality.
This decision sends the right message about Scotland as a society. Marriage has huge symbolic significance to many people, and should be available to all couples who want to celebrate their love regardless of sexual orientation.
It is also right that we protect religious freedom by allowing same-sex marriage in religious settings for the first time, something that the UK Government doesn’t seem ready to do. The writing is on the wall for those backward individuals who argue that same-sex relationships should be treated as second class.
I’d also urge the Government not to allow further delay while it lobbies for changes to UK equality law. In making the announcement Nicola Sturgeon said that a technical change is needed at UK level
I think it’s pretty clear that religious freedom can be protected and extended within existing equality law, and I would urge the Scottish Government not to delay progress until the changes they want are made by the UK Government. This issue has been on hold for too long already.
As shown in yesterday’s emissions figures, the Scottish Government has missed the first carbon target under the Scottish Climate Change Act, and Scottish Ministers’ inaction on homes is a big part of the problem.
The Greens laid out serious plans to insulate every home during budget negotiations in 2008, and yet the Scottish Government only agreed last month to finally launch a National Retrofit Programme for homes.
The Government are blaming this failure on the cold winter, but they simply can’t get away with expressing shock that Scotland has cold winters some years; this failure of Government policy can’t be pinned on bad weather when they have delayed year after year the national, street-by-street effort we need to insulate Scotland’s leaky homes. Cutting energy bills and carbon emissions at the same time should be a no-brainer.
These figures highlight our damaging reliance on coal and gas, and the need for a plan to phase out fossil fuel use alongside the growth in renewables. We need a clear timetable set for taking fossil fuels out of the system, but the SNP are still intent on extracting every last bit they can find.
Last night I debated these issues on Newsnight Scotland – here’s the clip with Gordon Brewer introducing, Stewart Stevenson defending the Government’s record, and then me responding:
Scotland’s transport emissions will grow in importance over coming years. They remain higher now than before climate change was even accepted by most political parties, and the SNP’s failure to show the slightest interest in making sustainable transport work for people is the biggest single threat to future progress toward the climate targets. It’s clear that a transformation of our transport system is needed but there is a serious lack of leadership at cabinet level. Far too often, the junior minister is dispatched to fend off frustrated bus users and cyclists while the cabinet secretary takes the stage to announce new road spending or support for aviation. The next climate change plan must mark a bold shift in transport thinking or there is little hope of meeting the targets and Scotland’s self-promoted status as a climate leader will unravel within a few years.
What a dangerous precedent it would be for the Government to cave in to religious demands of this kind. What would it say about the kind of society Scotland is becoming if a Church – any church – was handed an effective veto over the parliamentary process whenever an issue was raised that didn’t comply with their own absurd doctrines.
We’ve seen the way such processes are used in the US to promote the agenda of whichever religious groups can spend the most money, and I’d hate to think of Scotland going the same way.
Same-sex marriage was raised in most party manifestos at the 2011 election, it has broad public support, and it’s entirely reasonable to go ahead with the normal legislative process on this just as we do with any other proposal to change the law. Marriage has changed fundamentally for the better over the years, and is now a relationship between equals instead of a means by which men own and control women. Opening it to same-sex couples on equal terms is a minor change by comparison.
The campaign against equal marriage has been misleading and selfish from the word go, and merely represents a continued refusal to accept lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people’s equal status and basic human rights. Let’s remember that the Catholic Church in particular has opposed every step forward, from an equal age of consent to the repeal of Section 2A and the outlawing of discrimination in employment and services.
However it clearly doesn’t represent mainstream opinion, which has transformed dramatically for the better over recent decades.
Perhaps this video, produced by the campaign for equal marriage in Ireland, captures how many people would feel if the Government gave in to this delaying tactic and turned our personal lives into a referendum issue.