On 27th April 1968, 46 years ago, the Abortion Act became law, and women in the UK – except in Northern Ireland – were entitled to get safe, legal abortions. That’s half a lifetime ago. There can be few doctors or nurses still practicing who have first-hand memories of the bad old prolife days.
Every year for the past few years, on the Saturday closest to that date, SPUC stand in a line down Lothian Road, on the Sheraton Hotel side, and express their sorrow and regret for 46 years of health and wellbeing for women.
There were two big arguments going on in non-party-political politics the past two years: lifting the ban on same-sex marriage (England and Wales, 29th March: Scotland, sometime this autumn after the Commonwealth Games and this other thing: Northern Ireland as soon as they lose the court case).
Making it legal for same-sex couples to marry, matters hugely to people in same-sex relationships, obviously, but to everyone else aside from a small number of seriously homophobic fanatics, it’s no big deal: two-thirds of the population of Scotland agreed that gay marriage should be made legal in a 2012 poll.
This other thing that is happening in Scottish politics: the referendum. In the US, where they have referendums whenever they can get enough voters to sign off on one, they went through a phase of holding referenda in which voters were invited to agree that “marriage is between a man and a woman”, which was then held to mean that marriage between a man and a man, or a man and a woman, was unlawful. In the UK we referend much more rarely, and only – so cynics say – when the government thinks they can get the public to vote the way they want.
I celebrated Valentine’s Day this year outside the Russian consulate, 58 Melville Street, Edinburgh.
The new cafe on Ferry Road, Coffee and Cream, was having a sale on, so with malice aforethought I selected the largest, cheesiest Valentine’s Card to be delivered to the consulate for Vladimir Putin, and a couple of packs of red shiny hearts and a roll of hearts on crepe paper.
Spoke to the two fine representatives of Police Scotland who were lurking on the corner pretending they hadn’t read the Facebook event, and assured them we wouldn’t be blocking the pavement or doing anything else that the police might feel they had to do something about. (On some previous demos outside the consulate, we’ve been instructed not to approach the door, but not this time.)
And met some friends. The nuns are two Sisters of the Order of Perpetual Indulgence, Convent of Dunn Eideann.
Vladimir Putin is, quite cynically, demonising the LGBT community in Russia in order to strengthen his position as President. The official Russian line is that any claim that LGBT people are being persecuted is slander – they claim “gingers” are treated as badly in the UK as LGBT people in Russia.
No, says Putin. Gay people are welcome in Russia. Just stay away from children.
There in a scene described in the New Testament where Jesus, having been asked who will be greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, calls a small child to him, and tells his disciples “This kid is, and you guys need to become more like little kids, and furthermore, anyone who hurts little kids should have a big stone hung round his neck and dropped into the deepest part of the sea, am I clear?”
No one knows how many priests in the Roman Catholic Church have abused children and are still active as priests in their communities. In each diocese, there are files on the priests who worked there which would make that clear if all of them were opened up, but the Catholic Church has steadily refused to do that.
Four hundred priests who have been accused of child molestation by the secular law authorities have been defrocked. I know of no instance where the Church has defrocked a priest and turned him and the evidence they had uncovered of his abuse of children over to the secular law authorities so that the legal authorities could act.
John Fortune died on 31st December. I probably first saw him as Major Saunders in Yes Minister in 1982: he and his partner John Bird doing their unscripted – but terribly well-researched – double-talk were always the best part of Bremmer, Bird, and Fortune.
Rory Bremmer said:
John Fortune “had the most beautiful brain of any man I’ve ever known”.
Elaine Smith MSP, deputy presiding officer in the Scottish Parliament, argued for polygamy in her written evidence to the Equal Opportunities Committee last year, as the Scotland on Sunday anti-gay marriage story this morning quotes:
“Whilst the government has said that it has no intention of allowing polygamous marriages as part of this legislation which changes the essential nature of marriage, it has not explained in any detail and with research analysis its reasons for taking that position.
“Further, if the government is sincere about its support for ‘equal love’ then it appears to have a contradiction on its hands.”
There is “no logical reason” for discriminating against more than two people getting married if the redefinition of marriage is driven by love, Ms Smith adds.
On Monday 23rd September, at a Demos fringe meeting on “Privacy, liberty and security: How will Labour tackle terror?” David Blunkett talked about pornography.
Conservatives propose that there should be a default ban on accessing sites that your Internet provider thinks may contain porn. Labour supports this default ban. David Blunkett spoke in favour of it:
“In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Berlin came as near as dammit to Sodom and Gomorrah. There was a disintegration of what you might call any kind of social order.
“People fed on that – they fed people’s fears of it. They encouraged their paranoia. They developed hate about people who had differences, who were minorities.
“There always has had to be some balance, in terms of the freedom of what we want to do, for ourselves and the mutual respect and the duty we owe to each other in a collective society. I think getting it right is the strength of a democracy.”
One of these things is not like the others? After all, Thatcher’s sole political merit was that she was pro-choice. Let me explain.
Ding Dong the Wicked Old Witch is a jolly song. As Angry Women of Liverpool note in their feminist analysis of how to discuss Thatcher’s death “there are so few songs you can sing joyfully about the death of somebody thoroughly deserving”:
Tough one. The history of witch persecution is fraught with the very foundations of modern capitalist and patriarchal oppression, as anybody who’s read Silvia Federici knows. But there are so few songs you can sing joyfully about the death of somebody thoroughly deserving.
You want a proper argument in defence? Give me a minute. Continue reading
I still don’t know how I’ll vote in autumn 2014. But a few days ago, one thing at least was made definite for me: the Better Together vote is going to win. I’m certain enough of that to lay a bet on it, if I were the gambling sort.
What made me so sure?
It’s not just that the SNP are saying blithely that Independence Day will be March 2016, though that is a highly-unrealistic timescale. (It’s also not a binding decision.)
On 11th May I predicted, correctly, that Barack Obama was going to be a two-term President. My certainty was founded in Obama’s own sense of political security: that’s when Obama opted to come out for repealing DOMA and in support of lifting the ban on same-sex marriage recognition: for gay marriage.
For the most part, there are two sorts of politicians who come out for LGBT equality: the very principled, who will stand up for what’s right regardless of what this does to their future career, and the very confident, who are sure of their future career regardless of what they say. Barack Obama is not the first sort of politician (that sort doesn’t become President of the United States) but he is superb at the job of getting elected. I was sure Obama was going to win.
I’m now sure that the SNP leadership is certain they won’t win the referendum in 2014: they can set a date of March 2016 for independence because that’s not in their plans. They can separate off the “Yes Scotland” campaign as officially not-really SNP, and the morning after the votes are counted and the result is published, the SNP can move on with their plans for contesting Scottish seats in the May 2015 Westminster election.