Following on from James calling attention to the plight of National Collective and the need for diverse media voices, a link to a post by myself on the Edinburgh based Green media project POST, and a possible solution to Scotland’s democratic deficit.
Archive for category Equality
If Tavish Scott is serious about Shetland’s Scandinavian heritage, he would do well to consider the advantages of an independent Holyrood.
Tavish Scott is a sort of self-styled Lord of the Isles. As a constituency MSP Shetland is most definitely his, and he seems to have a habit of seeing himself as its de facto president. He also loves going on about the islands’ Scandinavian heritage whenever distancing himself from any whiff of nationalism. Shetland needn’t be independent with Scotland because it has as much to do with Norway as it does with Edinburgh, he claims.
And fair enough perhaps . I was wandering around Scalloway this week and took a look at their shiny museum, opened by Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg last year. Likewise, Lerwick’s magnificent new arts centre would not be out of place on a quayside on the other side of the North Sea. You can sit on the beach and tune in to Norwegian local radio, and Lerwick is the only place in the British Isles to have tourist signage in Faeroese.
But it has even less to do with London than with Edinburgh. Tavish wants Shetland to assert its northerness, but not for Scotland to do so. Now Scotland will never be a Scandinavian country, just as Shetland will never be entirely Scottish perhaps, but they both share a pervasive Northernness.
But does Tavish speak for Shetland, and if Shetland is serious about some sort of political autonomy, would it really want to be reduced to a Westminster territory? There is a phrase loved by certain Scottish liberals, home rule, which will always be inextricably linked to the establishment of the Irish state, and which is also about the last time liberalism was the hottest ticket in the burgh. Tavish can beat his drum, but considering that less than half of the electorate voted for him, his claims to be the voice of the islands are somewhat tenuous.
To quote a respected colleague, “The SNP are centralising f***ers.”. There is a serious case to be made for Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles to be given far greater powers over their day to day existence. The council tax freeze which both of the big parties signed up to is an assault on the ability of communities to take charge of their own futures. What works well in Livingston or Ayr will not necessarily be right for Harris and Lewis.
If Tavish wants to have a genuine conversation about appropriate powers, local devolution and Scandinavianism, he should probably pick up the phone and give Patrick Harvie a call.
The SNP’s six-man shortlist for the European elections was announced at the weekend. Sorry, not quite: five-man and one-woman. In 2009, the last time the SNP selected for Europe, they managed exactly the same poor gender ratio. In 2004 they selected eight candidates, of whom only the seventh was a woman. In that election Janet Law would have been elected only if the SNP had won every single MEP slot going.
Their list for 1999 was somewhat better, with three women out of eight, although again none were in a winnable position. You have to go back almost twenty years to the pre-PR days of 1994 to find the last time an SNP woman was elected to the European Parliament: the indomitable Winnie Ewing, of course.
There’s been plenty of chatter about the gender gap on the referendum, and rightly so. Yesterday’s figures showed 47% of men in favour of independence compared to just 25% of women. What with the European elections coming just a few months before that vote (which is therefore inevitably being seen already as a mock referendum rather than the election of mere MEPs), you might have assumed the SNP would have taken this opportunity to select a decent gender-balanced list.
There’s still a second stage to go, of course. Predictions of Alyn Smith’s deselection following the NATO debacle might yet effectively come true. Questions might be asked about Hudghton’s total absence of public profile. It’s possible that the one woman on the list, Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, will come out ahead of those two sitting MEPs, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
Even if she does, it’s no good for the sexist old guard in any party to claim they just select on merit when over and over again they keep picking more men than women. After four selections in a row, it’s not possible to claim that’s a coincidence, especially when more than 70% of the MSPs the SNP elected in 2011 were also blokes. The SNP do in fact have a lot of first-class women, both activists and those already elected, and more of them should have got the nod here, through a formal gender balance mechanism if necessary. It can be done.
Why do I care? First, I want to live in a society where the best people are selected and elected, not one where being a bloke comes with a massive advantage – and yes, I know there are other inequalities to consider too. Second, until the referendum’s won or lost, that vote is the prism through which almost all of Scottish politics is examined, and I want a win. How the SNP behave is inextricably and unfortunately tied to public perceptions of independence itself, and results like this make it look like a future Scotland will be a business-as-usual boys’ club.
Declaration of interest: Natalie McGarry, of this parish, was one of the women not to make the cut, which I think is unfortunate. This post was all my own idea, and I have shown her it once complete only for any factual corrections.
At Glasgow City Council Full Council today one of the issues debated- and finding a rare moment of relative harmony between bitter Labour and SNP factions – was that of the Bedroom Tax; with the Labour Party and the SNP agreeing to an amendment asking Nicola Sturgeon to consider using Scottish Government powers to offset the worst effects of it.
All admirable sentiments, and worthwhile doing – after all it is the role of the Scottish Government to act in the best interests of the Scottish people – but can the Scottish Government always be expected to legislate to mitigate the worst effects of policy decisions taken at Westminster?
Evidently I am absolutely in favour of the Scottish Government intervening to protect the most vulnerable in Scottish society, and in fact I have some suggestions based on a huge amount of research I have been taking on the Bedroom Tax in my employed capacity. There are actions that the Scottish Government can take, and I am sure that all SNP MSPs and councillors will be pressing them to explore any and all suggested options.
In the first instance, Govan Law Centre has made suggestions about the reclassification of housing debt as a civil debt and treated as such in the same manner as any other civil debt; like council tax arrears, or utilities debt meaning that courts will not be forced to evict for non-payment as a first option. There are a number of problems with this suggestion; indeed as there are with many others, not least the fact that the most vulnerable in society will still be accumulating unmanageable debts, and that Housing Associations, and Councils as Social Landlords will be subject to huge gaps in funding and revenue stream. It is simply unacceptable to pass the problem on to Housing Associations and Councils without trying too to mitigate their funding gaps too.
That said, it is a mitigation which requires due consideration. Perhaps there are ways in which to make it workable with agreement between the Scottish Government, Councils and Housing Associations. It is only one of a few suggested options.
So whilst I fundamentally agree and urge the Scottish Government to do all it can, and further, I am not averse to utilising some existing but unused powers to do so, I have my concerns about the expectation that the Scottish Government is the line of last defence when the UK Government takes decisions which we deem unpopular, socially unjust or morally reprehensible.
That the Welfare Reform Act fits all of the above descriptions, and more, does not offset the fact that the Westminster Government is a democratically elected beast. We can quibble about the Tories going in to coalition with the Liberal Democrats not being the settled will of the United Kingdom voters until the cows come home, but, in my opinion, that is wholly disingenuous. Allow me the right to despise the Liberal Democrats the choice to enter a coalition which contravenes so many values which Liberal Democrats should hold dear whilst respecting their right to do so.
I support a reform of the First Past the Post system, and by dint, support a form of proportional representation. By their very definition, PR elections create the need for parties to negotiate coalitions. This means compromise; and yes, if chosen, some parties will sell their souls to do so. The Liberal Democrats did in the first Scottish Parliament where they abandoned their principles on free tuition fees – sound familiar? – To enter coalition with the Labour Party. However, many of those same voices clamouring for the same electoral change that I desire are prepared to criticise a coalition formed to govern because they dislike the hue of the parties who entered it. That, to me, is hypocrisy at best. We either support coalition government as a compromise which is more inclusive of societal views, or we don’t. Perhaps I over simplify, but there it is. This is a blog post, not a thesis.
The UK government has taken on the mantle of welfare reform which began under the previous Labour administration and is taking the decision to implement changes which, again in my opinion, undermine enshrined ECHR Article 8 on right to family life. Clearly by implementing the Bedroom Tax, the state is interfering with this right by preventing respite for carers, overnight access for parents with shared custody rights etc. But The United Kingdom electorate gave them the power to do so.
I have been to a number of the University of Glasgow Independence debates, and I obviously pay attention to social media and messaging which is coming from the “Better Together” camp and its partners in the Labour Party. A now constant refrain seems to be that asserting the right to independence is a betrayal of solidarity with fellow Brits in Salford, or Brixton, or Bradford who are also suffering from austerity measures. Indeed, as I sit here typing at the last of the University of Glasgow independence debates, I am listening to Willie Bain attempt to articulate the same point – very confusedly, as it happens.
It is beyond me that a constitutional settlement means that we cannot share solidarity with fellow human beings across the United Kingdom as we do those fellow world citizens across the globe. A point was made by a member of the audience last night that solidarity respects no borders. Choosing independence is asserting the right to self-determination; it is not an abandonment of humanity.
Another argument seems to be predicated on the basis that by choosing independence we consign England and Wales to eternal Conservative domination. This is as ridiculous as certain factions of the Yes campaign who believe that voting Yes means no more Tories. It could be argued that a small c conservative party would have a small renaissance in an independent country, and that is not necessarily a bad thing, as the state, and the Left, needs to have checks and balance.
These shouldn’t be arguments which are made by either side. They are lazy and crass and entirely without empirical evidence. Blair’s landslide Labour Governments would have been elected regardless of the Scottish block voting. It England wants to vote Labour, it can and will. If England wants to vote Conservative, it can and will and we do not have the right to usurp their will. Staying in a union to subvert the voting will of the English people is entirely nonsensical and presumptuous and fundamentally undemocratic.
That the Labour party is simultaneously using the issue of solidarity with fellow Brits as a reason to vote no in the referendum whilst urging the Scottish Government to act in mitigation of the choices of the United Kingdom Government to offset a degree of the worst effects for the Scottish people only, smacks of double standards. That the powers retained by the United Kingdom include all legislative powers over Welfare should not be forgotten, and whilst the Calman Commission was an opportunity for the pro-Union parties to make suggestions about this, they failed to make any substantive points which would change the impact of Welfare Reform. That they also failed to advocate a second question on the ballot paper with powers over welfare is again indicative of their inability to practice what they preach.
The “Better Together” Campaign has made no concrete suggestions which would entrust power of welfare to the Scottish Parliament, yet they want and expect the Scottish Government to mitigate any decisions made under that retained power when they disagree with them. Surely the UK under their premise, which retains the power, should make UK wide welfare decisions, or they shouldn’t. The only way they shouldn’t or couldn’t is if welfare is devolved. And whilst the pro-Union parties hid from any concrete proposals for a second question on the Independence Referendum ballot paper, there is only one option on the table whereby Scottish voters have the opportunity to help build a welfare system that they believe in and shares their values of fairness. And that isn’t the status quo.
So, yes, the Scottish Government should take any and all actions it can to help the Scottish people it serves, but we should remember, by choosing to remain in the UK, we choose to retain UK wide welfare reform, and long-term, it is not feasible, practical or affordable for a parliament which survives on a set, and shrinking, block grant to continue to play the role of mitigator. And consequently ,Scottish tax payers taking on the burden of reduced public expenditure on other vital public services to correct the folly of the coalition.
Pleasing as it is to see last night’s vote in favour of equal marriage at Westminster, and to know that the Scottish Government’s parallel process will surely bring fruit, the SNP’s Westminster group’s decision not to vote still perplexes me. Kate’s got a fantastic post up about the implications of the Westminster proposals for Scots law, the roll-call of shame, and concerns about the SNP’s reasoning: I agree with all of that, and there’s no point replicating her arguments here.
There are other concerns, though, about the SNP abstention. The UK is, unless and until the referendum is won, a single nation-state. Until that point it’s extremely hard to identify what does not affect Scotland, and the question of whether England and Wales deliver marriage equality certainly does matter to Scots.
People live, work and love across the border largely without thinking about it. If two Coldstream residents want to marry in Berwick-upon-Tweed, should SNP MPs not speak up for their right to do so irrespective of gender? What if one partner is from Gretna and the other from Carlisle? If the vote had been narrowly lost last night, the effect of the SNP group’s decision would have been to tell that couple they could only tie the knot in Gretna, an idea which admittedly has some historic resonance.
So what if English MPs can’t vote on the equivalent Scottish proposals? It’s not the SNP’s fault that we have this halfway house which institutionalises the West Lothian Question. Equality isn’t a dull managerial England-and-Wales-only issue of the sort Scots MPs might well be justified in avoiding. It’s a question entirely of principle. As such, a supportive position from the SNP would have helped to offset the reputational downside for Scotland of hearing Labour’s west coast dinosaurs braying in their swamp of pseudo-religious bigotry.
Getting a vote on affairs in the rest of the UK is one of the few compensations for the Union. Until independence, if you have a vote, it should be used wherever there’s a point of serious principle at stake. Independence offers a trade-off I’ll be glad to take: losing the influence Scots MPs have at Westminster will be more than outweighed by shedding the influence Westminster has on Scotland.
SNP MPs voted against the Coalition’s hike in tuition fees: good. Scots students wishing to get an education in England and Wales would have been righteously angry had they not. But when the Coalition’s assault on the English and Welsh NHS came forward they sat on their hands. When those students get to university, or indeed any other Scot moves down south, do the SNP not wish them to have a decent NHS to rely upon? Is a publicly-run free universal healthcare system a point of principle or not?
Like it or not, SNP votes at Westminster matter. They may sometimes be decisive, but what’s more, when they’re not, they will be read as a statement of the Scottish Government’s intentions and position. Last night was a missed opportunity to be consistent and to support the idea that the principle of equality knows no borders, just as love does not.