Archive for category Equality

When civil partnership was radical

My OathJust over ten years ago, the Rainbow Parliament came to town, full of Greens, Socialists and independents. Of the new rainbow intake, just one still remains at Holyrood: Patrick Harvie. His first act, more or less the moment he’d taken the oath, was to propose legislation for civil partnerships – in fact, it was soon enough for the Herald’s cartoonist to draw Patrick with his hand in the air saying “I hereby swear my allegiance to the queens”.

The outrage was widespread, and not just from the usual suspects. Even the less reactionary parts of the media complained that this wasn’t what Greens were elected to do – surely they should just be talking about conservation or climate change? They moaned that Robin wouldn’t have done this, neglecting the fact that it had been a Green manifesto pledge, and that Robin had made the exact same arguments during the previous session.

Just three years prior to that, Scottish Ministers had been the subject of the bad-tempered Keep The Clause campaign, Brian Souter’s hateful effort to try and marginalise LGBT youngsters at school. They’d stuck to their guns, but why would anyone at Holyrood want to kick off another controversy in this area, they asked? It’s too soon. It’s not a big deal. Who cares?

Although Patrick’s Bill wasn’t successful, it did get Holyrood talking about the issue, and it helped ensure that the Scottish Parliament fully debated the issue, and voted in support of the principle, before Westminster passed legislation for the whole UK. Just a year later civil partnerships were approved UK-wide.

Today, as the Scottish Government publishes a bill to deliver equal marriage (with some flaws), supported by the leadership of all five parties at Holyrood, it’s hard to believe how radical it was just ten years ago to propose civil partnerships. This country isn’t free of prejudice or inequality, nor will it be when this bill passes, but on no other issue I care about have I seen such rapid progress. Patrick: you deserve a glass of something fizzy today.

Scottish politics’ Old Firm

A few things have happened to me in the last few weeks which have reminded me of the importance of community to every aspect of our lives, and how this can be a wonderful thing.

Last Sunday I joined tens of thousands of other Hibs fans at the Scottish Cup Final in Glasgow. To see half the stadium singing Sunshine on Leith – a crowd made up of people who you recognised from bars and shops and the local swimming pool – underlined what a powerful thing community can be. Hibs went down 3-0 to a Celtic side with a global fanbase and several times more money composed of players from across the globe.  A defeat, but one which cemented the feeling that Leith is a very special place with a very specific identity and community.

A few days later came another defeat dished out by the big boys, but this time it was Edinburgh and not Glasgow putting an end to a long and hard fought campaign. The City of Edinburgh council’s Labour/SNP administration made the decision to sell the local fun pool to a private developer instead of the preferred community option that it should be taken over by a community organisation and run on a non-profit basis with a public subsidy. The council have opted to sell it to a property developer with plans for a generic indoor play zone, despite the area already having indoor play facilities.

Now, to return to the question of Hibernian FC, it has a fine tradition of producing footballers who are then purchased for apparently irresistible  money by Glasgow teams, the rationale being that the payoff is too good to refuse and that it will help the team build and move on in the long term.

As long as I have been a supporter of Hibernian FC this has demonstrably failed to happen, and I am worried that the same will be true of the Leith Waterworld saga. Were that one million pounds ploughed directly back into the local area it would be welcome, but it won’t be. That one million pounds could cover the whole of Leith in safe cycle and walking projects to keep kids fit, or it could be used for community startups or form the basis of a cooperative energy company which would more or less print money for the community to reinvest. Hell, it could even pay for a few metres of the tram line down Leith Walk, which we are in far greater need of than the poverty-stricken residents of Edinburgh Airport are (on this note it is also worth pointing out the council masterplan to develop the greenbelt land around the tram line by the airport when we have a huge number of brownfield sites which are either underdeveloped, underused or contain housing so bad it should probably be torn down anyway).

Leith is not a suburb of Edinburgh – it is a cosmopolitan place in its own right full of wonderful people. We have been let down by decision makers who do not know what the needs and desires of the local community are, in a failure of both democracy and common sense. The decision has cemented people’s dissatisfaction with structures of governance which view our assets as belonging to the city chambers and not to the people of our communities. We may not to be able to afford Leigh Griffiths, but we can definitely afford to invest in our collective resources.


Press support, democracy and well resourced media.

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. 

Shetland phoney.

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.

Men for independence

KILTSThe 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.