Category Archives: Scottish Constitution

46 years of safe legal abortion

Celebrating 46 years of the Aborion ActOn 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.
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Filed under Healthcare, Human Rights, LGBT Equality, Religion, Scottish Constitution, Scottish Politics, Women

A better nation…?

Scotland's FutureWhen 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.)
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Filed under Currency, Indyref White Paper, Scottish Constitution, Scottish Politics

Women for Independence, Independence for Women

Women for Independence goes public with its website this week and will formally launch in September. “The group’s ultimate aim is to increase the number of Yes votes amongst women in the referendum”: autonomous and not affiliated to Yes Scotland, to correct the earlier opening to this blogpost. Yes Scotland are launching a campaign on Scottish independence targeted at women: Women for Independence. The most recent YouGov poll, conducted by the Fabian society, discovered that there is a massive gender split on independence: 39% of men, 22% of women.

The traditional Scottish male way of dealing with such dissension, as we see with Ian Davidson, is to berate the women, inform us we’re wrong, and instruct us how we should change our minds. According to a founding member of the campaign, Isobel Lindsay, the plan is

“Although most of ’s supporters are not involved in party politics, all of us in this new group believe in independence for Scotland. But we also know that women are less likely to vote yes than men in 2014. We want to change that but, first of all, we want to find out what some of the issues are so we can work with women to provide the information they want and, hopefully, persuade them that voting yes makes best sense for them and their communities’ futures.”

Carolyn Leckie says:

“I love that this group is as wide as its name and that we have very diverse reasons for supporting independence, but we all agree that independence needs to be better than the status quo for women. So this group will listen to women and bring women together to organise for our own voices to be heard centre stage, for our own independence as well as that of the nation.”

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Filed under Housing, Public Transport, Scottish Constitution, Tax Avoidance, Women

Newsnight: there was no meltdown

Lallans Peat Worrier, an SNP blogger at an Oxford college, writes:

At some point in our lives, most of us should have encountered a moment when we were surrounded by people for whom some cherished conviction of our own was absolutely anathema. Whether representative of the wider population or not, this “common sense in the room” can be intoxicating. For an extreme instance, watch Scottish Questions at Westminster, which is now devoted to pouring vial after vial of scorn over SNP heads. In the great baying mob of MPs, the isolated Nationalist delegation’s voices are thin, reedy and invariably drowned out in a haughty chorus of gleeful insolence.

The SNP said they’d hold a referendum on independence after they’d won two elections. Salmond said, before the 2011 election, that if the SNP won the referendum would be held in the second half of the Scottish Parliament. The SNP have won two elections, and so have a democratic mandate to hold a referendum on independence, and a right – seeing as they are in government – to say when it shall be held.

That is doubtless very aggravating for Labour, who have a Westminster majority of Scottish MPs, but that’s democracy for you.

I heard that Ian Davidson, Labour MP for Glasgow South West, career Labour politician since 1978, and currently still chair of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee despite having called the SNP “neo-fascists” and having threatened a fellow MP on the committee with a “doing”, had now had a “meltdown” over exactly this issue on Newsnight Scotland on Tuesday.

So I checked it out while it was still on BBC iPlayer (till 11:29PM Tuesday 14th August, if you want to check it out yourself) but the segment is now on Youtube for all time, or at least till Google get a request to take it down.
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Filed under Scottish Constitution, Scottish Politics

Our constitution, July 2012: Sectional Rights & Affirmative Action

(f) Sectional Rights (eg rural rights: a “Crofter’s Charter”)

(g) Affirmative action for women, people with disabilities, ethnic minorities (poverty, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation)

I was distracted by the Olympics, but that’s not the only reason I had trouble writing this post.

It’s because I eventually concluded I did not agree either one should be in a Constitution.

Thomas Jefferson apparently declared once that every Constitution should be rewritten every 19 years. In practice, though a Constitution may be amended, it is unlikely to be completely rewritten.

A Constitution, I think, should be intended to pin down the powers that be – the Parliament, the judiciary, the head of state and the Crown powers, the power that comes simply from being very wealthy and/or owning a lot of land. Pin them down in a way that does not permit of much wiggle-room, and pin them down in perpetuity.
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Filed under Disability, Elections, Equality, LGBT Equality, Poverty, Racism, Scottish Constitution, Scottish Culture, Scottish Politics, Women

Our constitution, July 2012: Rights to the Commons

Today, Andy Wightman reports, the Scottish Government announced

the establishment of a “Land Reform Review Group” that will oversee a “wide ranging review of land reform in Scotland”. If this happens it will be very worthwhile.

However, the remit and membership of this group are yet to be agreed with Scottish Ministers and it is unclear how wide the remit will be. If it is simply to undertake a technical review of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, it will be of very limited value when the real issues concern inflated land values, affordability of housing, succession law, tax avoidance, secrecy, absentee landlordism, theft of common land, land registration laws, common good etc. etc. etc.

So Andy is crowdsourcing definitions of “land reform” and outlines of the remit of this Land Reform Review group in the comments at his blog – go, read, join in.

1. Enhanced constitutional rights (e) Rights to the Commons (eg water, access to countryside)

You may remember, before the council elections earlier this year, an Aberdonian pensioner, Renee Slater, registered a mannequin, whom she named Helena Torry, to stand in the Hazlehead, Ashley and Queens Cross ward. When it was discovered that Helena Torry was not entitled to be a council candidate, the notice of poll for that ward was republished, deleting Helena Torry, and Grampian Police charged Slater with an offence under the Representation of the People Act 1983.

What you may not remember, unless you live in Aberdeen, was that this wasn’t just a silly joke or a satiric commentary on the quality of council candidates these days.

Union Terrace Gardens are a public park opened in 1879: part of the park is planted with elms that are about 200 years old, about two and a half acres of sunken gardens, planted with elms that are nearly 200 years old. From early in the 21st century onwards, there had been plans to develop a centre for contemporary arts in Aberdeen, in partnership between Peacock Visual Arts and Aberdeen Council. The development had been designed by Brisac Gonzales, had been budgeted at £13.5 million, and would have included a restaurant and a gallery. Full planning permission and £9.5 million of public funding from various sources had been secured.
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Filed under Corruption, Elections, Housing, Poverty, Scottish Constitution, Scottish Culture, Scottish Politics

Our constitution, July 2012: Environmental rights

1. Enhanced constitutional rights (d) Environmental rights (eg prohibition of nuclear power)

It is customary for capitalism to regard the environment as an infinitely renewable resourse. The dangers of this custom have been made repeatedly clear, but the custom still continues: whether hunting sperm whales to near extinction or logging forests or pumping oil.

Left unchecked, climate change will accelerate. The use of fossil fuels, a growing demand for energy and increased deforestation will escalate emissions of carbon dioxide to potentially irreversible levels. Uncertainties in the scientific understanding of global warming do not warrant a ‘wait and see’ attitude and there is much that we can do now that makes both environmental and economic sense. (Scottish Environment Protection Agency)

It’s an idea so far only in utopias Continue reading

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Filed under Elections, Scottish Constitution, Scottish Culture, Sustainable Politics

Our constitution, July 2012: Cultural Rights

The British are second only to Americans in being the kind of foreigner who is an international stereotype for never understanding any language but English. (An English secretary, who understood French pretty well, travelling with her boss, who spoke only English, took advantage of the situation to eavesdrop on the English company’s competitors discussing the terms of the deal in French, sure that neither boss nor secretary could understand them. True story.) Still, the stereotype holds up alarmingly well: over two-thirds of the UK population are English-speaking monoglots: and thanks to Doctor Who and Star Trek, this is practically an interstellar stereotype.

“To create a constitutional order that reflects a broad public commitment to a more inclusive, egalitarian, and communitarian way, and to mark Scotland out as a ‘progressive beacon’, the following additional provisions might be considered:”
1. Enhanced constitutional rights (c) Cultural rights (ie for Gaelic, Scots)

Cultural rights isn’t just language, of course, but language is likely to be the most contentious of the cultural rights issue, both by those who take for granted it should be English and those arguing for Gaelic and/or Scots.

More and more the international festivals in Edinburgh in August seem primarily for tourists – the days are long past when you could get home from work, decide you felt like going out to a show, and pick something from the Fringe programme that was handy to get to and would cost a fiver or less for an hour or two – and when concessions for students, under-16s, unemployed, and pensioners meant half-price, not “so we’ll knock a quid off the £12 or more we’ll be charging you”. But once upon a time that was do-able: when I was reading Hamlet for Higher English I could and did go to all the perfomances one year on the Fringe, and it didn’t cost my parents their life savings the way it would if an enthusiastic schoolkid got the idea of doing that this year. We should keep the Scottish BBC funded by licence fee. We should be investing in written and spoken Scottish culture.

I also liked Kenneth Roy’s trenchant finish to his three-part dissection of the current state of Scottish newspapers in the Review, earlier this year:

The Scotsman needs to win back all the broadsheet people – the ones who take those decisions, the others who influence them – and move out from there to the idealists and teachers and artists, the many thousands of us who are alienated by the state of our mainstream media. We are there for the taking. We wait for something better. We long for it every day.
Can this be done by the Johnston Press? Clearly not. They talk not of newspapers, but of products. They have failed journalism and they have failed journalists. Their grave is fit only to be danced on. I suggest the Eightsome Reel. I issue this challenge to the wealthy patriots of Scotland, of whom there are many. Get out there, form your consortium, convince us of your honourable motives, and make a reasonable offer to this lot’s bankers to take a great newspaper out of their hands. Better still, let’s have a trust along the lines of the Guardian’s, safeguarding the paper’s interests and supported by all who care about Scotland.

But what language is our culture? Continue reading

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Filed under Childhood, Education, Elections, Human Rights, Scottish Constitution, Scottish Culture, Scottish Politics, William Shakespeare

Our constitution, July 2012: Social rights

1. Enhanced constitutional rights (b) Social rights (right to universal healthcare, education)

The right to work, and to be paid for your work, is a radical demand in the UK at the moment (see Economic Rights) also A day’s work for a day’s pay:

How is it that wanting a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work has become a left-wing, radical/revolutionary value? Iain Duncan Smith notoriously called Cait Reilly “snooty” for expecting to be paid to work in Poundland – though he himself continued to draw his MP’s salary and expenses during the six months he took off work in 2009 to care for his wife when she had breast cancer.

Social rights are good for the individual, but they’re also good for the general welfare.

Article 25: (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Healthcare: what you need, when you need it, free at point of access Continue reading

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Filed under Education, Elections, Equality, Healthcare, Housing, Scottish Constitution, Scottish Culture, Scottish Politics, Tuition fees

Our constitution, July 2012: Economic rights

The previous constitutional posts have been based on a short list of things pretty much everyone agrees you should have in a functioning modern democracy. Politicians in government (or with hopes of being in government soon) may be less enthusiastic about some of the provisions, which are explicitly intended to restrict their power. But most of them are provisions that even the UK’s unwritten Constitution allows for and that even governments with a thundering huge majority will think carefully before overturning.

What follows is a series of ideas that would

“create a constitutional order that reflects a broad public commitment to a more inclusive, egalitarian, and communitarian way, and to mark Scotland out as a ‘progressive beacon’, the following additional provisions might be considered:”

1. Enhanced constitutional rights

Beginning with the most commonplace:

(a) Economic rights (minimum wage, right to collective bargaining)

Cait Reilly has received widespread ridicule from the right-wing press (and Iain Duncan Smith called her “snooty”) for saying her human rights were breached by being forced to work for her benefits in Poundland: I don’t know who first referred to this as “slave labour”, which is banned by Article Four of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but we can agree that being required to work 30 hours a week for £2.30 an hour may be illegal, but it is not literally slavery.

Articles 23-25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, however, were clearly breached:

Article 23: (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
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Filed under Benefits, Elections, Human Rights, Poverty, Scottish Constitution, Scottish Culture, Scottish Politics, Supermarkets