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.
When I published Leaning Towards No, I expected reaction from Yes voters who’d been hoping I would come down on their side of the fence.
I wasn’t expecting the reaction to be so supportive of the SNP. From the reactions, [hardly anyone]* who plans to vote Yes intends to challenge the SNP’s plans to install devomax “currency union” in place of our present devolved system, and while some actively support the plan, many simply don’t see changing the SNP’s policy as possible.
*Not quite “no one”, as I initially wrote.
It therefore seems likely that – much to my annoyance and disappointment – I really don’t have any choice but to vote No. I don’t support devomax. I never did. I won’t vote Yes to have devomax replace status-quo devolution, and that’s what the Scottish Government’s White Paper says is going to happen.
Let me go through the various objections I’ve received to this, beginning with the silliest. (None of these are direct quotes from anyone, so if you recognise yourself in them, it’s purely coincidental.)
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 know that sounds like a silly question.
Back a couple of years ago, one of the ideas being proposed about the referendum was that it should include a third option – devo-max or devo-plus. In July 2012 I noted the multiple reasons why – though undecided on the Yes/No question – I was against these options, and moved on: there seemed no reason to dwell on what was not going to be voted on.
Tom Gordon outlined the difference between the two, and who was supporting them, in the Herald:
Devo-plus was supported by LibDem Tavish Scott, Conservative MSP Alex Fergusson and Labour’s Duncan McNeil plus Reform Scotland, a think-tank based in Edinburgh that is, it says, independent of its parent think-tank Reform based in London:
devo plus could be a credible alternative to independence, if that option was rejected in the referendum.
Devo-max was floated as “full fiscal autonomy” and was supported primarily by the SNP:
Devo Max is intended to make Scotland more accountable for its spending. At present, Holyrood is responsible for 60% of all public spending in Scotland but has a say in setting and raising just 6% of it, through business rates and council tax.
Under Devo Max, Edinburgh would be responsible for raising, collecting, and administering the vast majority of taxes and benefits, and would receive a geographic share of North Sea oil revenue. EU rules mean VAT would stay the same across the UK, and financial regulation, employment, and competition law would also remain reserved.”
David Cameron is bringing his Cabinet north to Aberdeen today “to highlight the importance to Scotland’s oil industry of staying in the UK.”
Presumably you have to be Scottish to understand why this is such a ludicrously bad idea. Or at least, not an English Conservative who was 25 and working for the Conservative Research Department in London in 1992.
In the 1992 general election, the Conservative Party won 5 seats in Scotland.
It’s been 22 years and that victory remains the highlight of their electoral achievements in the past quarter-century. (Yes, they do have 14 MSPs in the Scottish Parliament, but most of them are “list” MSPs – they represent a region, not a constituency.)
The most effective thing David Cameron could do to win a No vote for independence in Scotland is to stay in England and repeat some variation on “Of course the Scots have a right to hold a referendum on independence: naturally I want Scotland to remain part of the UK but we will respect the democratic will of the Scottish people whatever happens.”
I actually respected Cameron’s decision not to debate Alex Salmond; I assumed his advisors had let him know it would have done neither Cameron or the Better Together campaign any good in Scotland, however well the English Tory Prime Minister comes across in his own electoral territory.
The notion that a Conservative Prime Minister visiting Aberdeen to tell the Scottish people that we’d never be able to cope with our own oil industry if we were independent so we’d much better stay part of the UK…
When the SNP transited smoothly from “we’ll use to the Euro” to “we’ll use the pound” that was a campaign tactic.
When the Tories, LibDems, and Labour all bounced to their feet and said ha ha, we won’t let you use the pound, that was a campaign tactic.
I do not believe either the Yes Scotland or the Better Together campaigns have really thought this through: or at least, they are certainly not making a fact-based argument based on having thought this through.
Ian Bell writes in the Herald:
“Hardball” is the macho cliche being applied to the Chancellor’s fiat towards a currency union. Despite its protestations, Mr Darling’s team pursues the kind of negative campaigning that never goes out of style in Westminster. No compunction is involved. The referendum must be won at all costs. But what might that cost be, exactly, if the prize is a united kingdom in the aftermath?
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.
The population of the UK is about 63 million, and fewer than 5% of the population are Muslim. (In Scotland, 1.4%.) Muslims are slightly more likely to express pride in being British than non-Muslims; are more likely to want to live in diverse, mixed neighbourhoods: and much more likely to identify themselves with Britain. (From a recent study carried out by the University of Essex.)
Muslims are not a majority religion in the UK, and mosques are more likely to be firebombed than churches. The most powerful and dangerous country in the world, whose religious extremism has caused more deaths than any other nation’s, has Christian conservatism at the heart of power, not Islam. The right-wing domestic terrorists of the EDL and SDL march against Islam: the BNP occasionally takes up pickets outside KFCs that provide halal chicken: we see a BBC Question Time panel debate veiled Muslim nurses for 20 minutes without ever asking themselves or the audience “has it ever happened that a nurse wanted to wear hijab on a ward”? Right-wing men go on rants claiming it’s a big feminist deal how Muslim women dress. (It is.) An anti-Islamic pressure group masquerading as a “student rights” organisation is funded by a neocon thinktank. And heavyweights like the Daily Mail and the Telegraph run media campaigns trying to convince people that it’s a very big deal if a shop assistant who prefers not to deal with wine or pork, has her religious preferences met with flexibility by her employer. Right-wingers who wouldn’t support LGBT rights or feminism against any Christian institution get all worked up over the hazards of “Islamic extremism” to women and to gay people.
When you have a right-wing political movement trying to blame all the ills of the country on “immigration”, and presenting a persecuted minority as if they were a huge danger, what does this look like to you?
Because I know what it looks like to me.
At the beginning of October someone tweeted me a link to Yes Edinburgh North & Leith‘s first public meeting, on 3rd October in the Halls on Henderson Street.
Unlike most Yes events, this one was billed explicitly, both in the header and in the text, as for undecided voters – so, unlike with most events organised by Yes Scotland, I felt free to go along. When I got there, about five minutes before the start, I found some Yes activists who’d come anyway were leaving, and people identifying themselves as undecided were being let in on a one-for-one basis (the hall was packed). I got a seat at the front that had been vacated by a Yes voter and was sitting next to two Yes voters who weren’t budging and who didn’t know Leith votes Labour.
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.