Edinburgh-based Equality Network this week published responses from the main political leaders into questions on equality, asylum and human rights after the Referendum. We analyse what they said, and what they didn’t.
Our first article out of two will examine the pro-Indepedence YES party leaders responses, while the second, to be published on Thursday will assess the pro-Union – Better Together/No party leader responses.
Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland and Leader of the SNP, says independence is a unique opportunity to enhance LGBTI rights in Scotland. In a public response to equality campaigners, the Aberdeenshire East MSP declares a written constitution as the best method on offer to protect LGBTI people.
“A vote for independence means protecting and enshrining equality and human rights in a permanent and written constitution and equality law that reflects Scotland’s needs. The constitution … will protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of everyone living in Scotland, such as the equality of opportunity and the right to live free from discrimination and prejudice. That is why a Yes vote will be better for the future of equality law in Scotland”, he says.
The First Minister also explains that extra powers will be handed to the Scottish Human Rights Commission, which will continue the protection and promotion of human rights and equality in Scotland.
The record of the SNP-led Scottish Government has been hailed, despite often heavy criticism of the party for continuing its long-standing association with party donor, Brian Souter, the Stagecoach bus company millionaire. Souter recently donated £1million to the party but caused controversy in 2000 when he launched the “Keep the Clause” campaign, aimed at keeping Clause 2A of the Local Government Act, which restricted “the promotion of homosexuality” by local councils. The law was eventually over-turned after his campaign failed.
Salmond and the Scottish Government face criticism, though, if the strength of the Catholic Church in sex education was to strengthen. Michael McGrath, Director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, spoke out earlier this year to Catholic News Agency, he said, “The Church has a legal right to provide guidance for Catholic schools in this country. We intend to retain that right, and we’re looking for the government guidance to respect that and honour the assurance that was previously given us.”
Proposals to give every young person in Scotland access to information on contraception, as well as education and guidance on LGBTI relationships and same-sex marriage, are opposed by the Church. Around 20% of schoolchildren in Scotland are educated in over 350 Catholic schools. The thorny issue of church influence in state education, choosing to exclude content about diversity and putting at heightened risk the sexual health of young people, is an issue yet to be given much airtime by the SNP. Its one thing to promise legislation but quite another to implement policies and to follow the letter of the law. It remains to be seen then if the SNP will commit itself or sacrifice these issues for the sake of political power, equality campaigners will take note.
The First Minister does acknowledge the progress made by past administrations at Holyrood, but says, “Only with the full powers of an independent country can we finally secure true equality for all LGBTI people and a fairer society for all.”
Green Party Co-Convener, Patrick Harvie, suggests the international voice of Scotland on equality and human rights would be strong, especially in partnership with other EU countries. “While Scotland would clearly have a smaller development and aid budget than the UK as a whole, the combined budget and influence of the two independent countries would be every bit as significant on issues where we agree. There would no doubt be opportunities to work together. Indeed the influence of European countries is often at its strongest when we co-operate across the whole EU. However where Scotland’s priorities diverge from those of the UK, it is important that our voice is heard in its own right.”
In the event of a No vote, the Glasgow MSP thinks progress on asylum, which would be retained to London, would be limited. “If there is a No vote we will continue to put pressure on the UK Government and the UK Borders Agency to change its policies and practice, and rebuild a humane asylum system.
“However the UKBA has consistently refused to engage with Members of the Scottish Parliament who are seeking to represent their constituents on these matters, and there seems no prospect of a change of political leadership on this issue from within the UK political landscape”, he says.
He goes on to say, “Scotland’s LGBTI communities have a strong and respected voice within the country, and those who oppose our equality are an ever smaller band who are losing every argument. We have nothing to fear from independence, and much to gain.”
Despite the success of the Equal Marriage campaign, many issues of inequality and prejudice remain in our society. Important causes such as the case for immunisation of boys against HPV; blood donation for gay and bisexual men; sex education in our schools and specifically in Scotland the influence of the faith based schools on sex-ed; the rise of hate crimes against LGBTI people across the country; the mental health issues of our community, such as low self esteem and all too often suicide; and of course the teasing and bullying of youngsters in our schools.
These issues will need addressing on 19th September just as much as they do today, the commitment on these specific policy issues has been vague not just by the SNP, but all Scottish political parties – the decision for Scots is whether parties promising Independence or the Union will address them more effectively?
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