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 second and last article out of two will examine pro-Union – Better Together/No party leaders responses, yesterday we analysed the responses of the pro-independence Yes party leaders.
Devolution and the promise of more powers for Holyrood is possibly the final major campaign move for Better Together, however Ruth Davidson has indicated there will be no devolution of equality powers to Holyrood after the Referendum. The Scots Tory leader has refused to back the idea of a written constitution for Scotland with equality and human rights protections, as suggested by the SNP and Yes Scotland and explains why issues, including equal pension provision for same-sex couples, should be retained by London.
Asked specifically whether her party would support a written constitution in the event of a Yes vote, she responded, “If Scotland does vote to leave the United Kingdom, then it is the policy of the Scottish Government to call a constitutional convention. If this were to transpire, then it will be up to the people of Scotland to decide what provisions are included in any future written constitution and I would not wish to pre-empt this.”
The openly gay leader, elected in 2011, also makes no specific equality-enhancing commitments in her response, but does indicate Holyrood powers could be clarified in the area of equality, adding, “it is fair to say that their scope could be better understood and this is an on-going challenge for the Scottish Parliament.”
Ruth Davidson draws attention to the wide network of UK foreign missions across the world and the work they do to tackle LGBTI equality. “The Department for International Development, in accordance with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Government Equalities Office, has worked hard to promote LGBTI rights. From Ric Todd in Poland to Jon Benjamin in Chile, many of our ambassadors have marched proudly in support of gay rights and, in 2011, Mark Gooding, who is openly gay, was appointed ambassador to Cambodia. Moreover, across the world Britain has helped to fund various organisations dedicated to safeguarding LGBTI rights. From Aphrodite’s Pride in Jamaica, to KAOS in Turkey, grassroots organisations have benefited from Britain’s support.”
She openly criticises the proposed smaller network of around 100 foreign embassies which the Scottish Government sets out in their White Paper. “With less diplomatic clout and a smaller international aid budget, an independent Scotland would be less likely to affect change”, she says.
In a response to KaleidoScot on this topic, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office confirmed that, of their 270 foreign locations, some staff had taken part in events for IDAHO and local Pride celebrations in the past year, but failed to take the opportunity to explain what action or specific diplomatic progress had been made in those 81 countries where homosexuality is still illegal.
Yes campaigners continue to defend the influence a proposed international footprint of Scottish foreign missions might have, saying they would extending the fight for equality and human rights by adding more voices to those international diplomats already working hard in this area.
Responding for the Scottish Labour Party, Johann Lamont says the record of previous Labour Governments sends a clear message on LGBTI equality and human rights, but fears a YES vote will lead to years of delay in progressing issues that still remain.
“It was Labour that repealed Section 28, strongly supported the Marriage and Civil Partnerships (Scotland) Bill, equalised the age of consent, removed the ban on LGBT people adopting children, created civil partnerships, included homophobia in new hate crime laws and repealed out-dated laws such as gross indecency”, she explains.
Recognising the achievements for LGBTI people over the past few years though, Johann Lamont feels a Yes vote will only slow the fight for equality. “There are important additional steps which need to be taken in equality law in Scotland, especially around gender identity. Under devolution, Scotland has a nimble, consultative and equality-bound parliament ready and well placed to undertake this work. Far better it does that than get mired in decades of legislation to reinvent the myriad administrative functions required if there is a Yes vote. Equality will not be top of the agenda for many years if we vote for independence.”
In an interesting step, the Glasgow MSP does commit Labour to “devolving enforcement of equality law” in a new Scotland Bill, to be put before Westminster, if they win the next General Election in 2015. However, there are questions whether this commits her party to full devolution of equality legislation or not.
The Labour leader in Scotland states she believes splitting the UK will do nothing for the cause of equality and human rights in the future, adding, “We stand by the record of the Labour Party and devolution and, whilst we are in no way complacent, we do not believe that anything further could or would be achieved under a different constitutional settlement. But the record of devolution in Scotland, and the Labour Party as the architect of devolution, speaks volumes for what we can achieve in the future.”
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 Catholic Church on sex-ed; the rise of hate crimes against LGBTI people across the country; the mental health issues of our community leading to low self esteem and all too often suicide; and ofcourse 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 decision for Scots is whether parties promising Independence or the Union will address them more effectively?
Remember to have your say in our Referendum Poll – vote HERE