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Why LGBT Scotland Needs to Say FUCK YEAH!

Barry Church-Woods explores the Rainbow Paper and makes a decision on independence.

BCW

I have to admit, for a long time I was an undecided voter. I didn’t see how in a modern world, putting up more boundaries could be a positive thing. But I also knew deep down that my fair weather politic was at best naïve and at worst ill informed and ignorant.

I’ve kept my opinion to myself until now, unless fuelled by martini in which case everyone was fair game. Yes and No.

I’ll be the first to point out that neither sides of the argument have played very fairly as the campaigns roll out. I’m not in a position to be critical of politicians publicly. Some of them I like. Some of them I don’t. But I’ve removed most of the personal aspect from my voting decision. Most of it.

But not mine.

I am one of thousands of registered voters who will go to the polls on September 18th and vote YES for an independent Scotland. And vote yes for me. Selfish I know. But if you don’t have your own back, how can you feel confident to have someone else’s?

I’m voting yes for a number of reasons.

The overriding principle of my yes vote is that I believe it will give the people of the piece of land I live on a more robust democracy.

I’m also voting yes as I also fear there’s a very real chance that the next coalition for the UK could be Tory/UKIP and I’m not ready to emigrate just yet.

But here’s the realty important reason I’m voting yes.

I’m voting yes because I’m a gay man.

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Today, the Rainbow Paper was released and outlines 7 key reasons that Scotland’s LGBT community should vote yes.  They’re pretty straightforward, and make a lot of sense.

1: LGBTI equality and human rights will be enshrined in a written constitution

At the heart of an independent Scotland will be the values and principles espoused in our constitution. Having a written constitution that firmly protects and promotes LGBTI equality and human rights is an opportunity that only independence offers.

This is our one chance to ensure specific protections on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status in a written constitution, enshrining LGBTI equality in the law of the land and ensuring that protections from discrimination could not be easily reversed as they can be now.

The UK has no such written constitution, and the current Tory-led UK Government have demonstrated the threat that presents by suggesting that they may seek to review and repeal the Human Rights Act after the next general election in 2015. As a Labour Party parliamentary candidate in England recently warned, plans to repeal the Human Rights Act would put LGBTI equality in Scotland at risk if we remain part of the UK.

In June the Scottish Government published a draft constitution as a precursor to discussions post-independence. If this constitution were adopted it would see Scotland become the 8th country in the world with a specific mention for equal rights for all LGBTI citizens in its constitution, joining Bolivia, Fiji, Kosovo, Malta, Portugal, Sweden and South Africa.

At the heart of Scotland’s constitution will be the belief that sovereignty lies with the people of Scotland. Our written constitution will set out and protect the rights and aspirations of the people of Scotland, which form the basis of everyday life. It will be the highest and strongest of laws – a statement of the fundamental principles by which our country chooses to live, regardless of the political party in power.

You can read more about the plan for the constitution at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/0045/00452762.pdf

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Full control over equality law

One of the major gains of independence for LGBTI equality would be having full powers over equality law which is currently controlled by Westminster.

Since the Scottish Parliament was established Scotland has consistently taken a more progressive route on LGBTI equality, with world-leading progressive legislation in areas including equal marriage and hate crime, particularly when it comes to trans and intersex equality. With full powers over equality law we would be able to continue this more progressive approach and address the outstanding deficiencies in equality law that the Westminster parliament has been unwilling to address, including:

  • Ensuring all trans and intersex people are fully protected from discrimination (currently the protected characteristic only covers those trans people who have had gender reassignment)
  • Ensuring gender identity and intersex status are counted as protected characteristics in the general public sector equality duty (currently the protected characteristic only covers those trans people who have had gender reassignment)
  • Ensuring that sexual orientation is counted as a protected characteristic from harassment (currently it is one of the only protected characteristics not covered)
  • Ensuring equal pension provisions for same-sex couples (currently private pension providers can discriminate against same-sex couples and give them less provision)

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Full control over gender recognition

Independence would also give Scotland full control over gender recognition, some aspects of which are still decided on a UK basis by the UK Gender Recognition Panel and UK Government. A fully independent Scottish gender recognition system would better enable Scotland to fully implement more progressive gender recognition legislation and processes, ensuring equal recognition for all trans, non-binary, and intersex people – without the threat of resistance from Westminster.

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Full control over public spending

While the Scottish Parliament currently has legislative and executive control over some important areas for LGBTI equality, including education, health, justice, and funding for LGBTI equality organisations, Scotland has no control over the money that Westminster chooses to give us in our block grant to fund these important services and LGBTI equality projects.

That funding can be cut by Westminster at any point they choose. In fact, even the powers Scotland has under devolution can be reversed if Westminster chooses.

The Tory UK Government is intent on slashing public spending in their drive to privatise and sell out our valued public services like the NHS, and as a result Scotland’s budget is being reduced right now, year-on-year, putting immense pressure on the funding Scotland is able to dedicate to ensuring our public services meet the needs of LGBTI people through efforts to tackle bullying in schools, to stamp out hate crime, and to secure a health service that truly meets the needs of LGBTI people.

Without fiscal autonomy, full control of taxes, public spending and the economy, Scotland will always be entirely reliant on the whims of Westminster and therefore in an insecure and precarious position when it comes to guaranteeing funds for LGBTI equality.

With independence and full control over these powers Scotland will be in a much stronger position to protect and even extend funding in these important areas as we – the people of Scotland – control our own resources and choose what to do with them.

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Equal life chances for LBT women

Independence offers the best future for lesbian, bisexual and trans women across Scotland. Women have been hit hardest by the draconian welfare reforms and drastic cuts to public spending that the UK government is intent on continuing. LBT women are hit doubly hard by cuts to LGBTI services too, as well as those who are disabled, minority ethnic, and older people. Scotland’s MPs voted against these cuts, but because we do not have independence they were imposed on us anyway by Westminster.

Women make up 65% of the public sector workforce which has been disinvested in for a decade. Women also make up the majority of people on the minimum wage – Westminster’s inertia about raising it to a living wage means that it is clear they will never fulfil their promises to ensure a fair days pay for a fair days work.

An independent Scotland will:

  •  Introduce greater representation of women on public boards
  •  Work to ensure that everyone is paid fairly and equally for the work that they do
  •  Be in a position to choose to fully fund projects and services that help deliver equality for lesbian, bisexual and trans women

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Full control over foreign affairs & international development

Around the world – including in parts of the UK – LGBTI equality and human rights are routinely breached and denied on a daily basis. LGBTI people face persecution, including the threat of imprisonment and even the death penalty, in the 77 countries that criminalise same-sex relationships.

While Westminster currently has control over foreign affairs and international development, Scotland has shown that where we are allowed to make a difference on international LGBTI equality we will.

The Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games were a proud example of this, and are widely recognised as the most LGBTI-friendly games ever. With Scotland broadcasting a same-sex kiss to a billion people watching around the world, including in the 42 Commonwealth countries that criminalise same-sex relationships. During the Games, the Scottish Government funded the first ever Commonwealth Games LGBTI Pride House, flew the rainbow flag from government buildings, and proudly spoke up for LGBTI rights both in public statements and in bilateral meetings with foreign governments.

We want Scotland to be a progressive beacon that stands up for LGBTI equality around the world, but to do that we need to be an independent country.

Having full control over foreign affairs and international development would enable Scotland to make full use of diplomatic relations and take a more pro- active approach to promoting LGBTI equality and human rights around the world than is currently done by Westminster on our behalf. We could also maximise the impact that international aid has on promoting LGBTI equality and human rights.

The Westminster parties say that the UK can do all of this – but the question is why isn’t it already doing enough now? Independence would mean Scotland has its own voice on the world stage enabling us to actively promote equality ourselves and also work in partnership with other countries, including the UK, to ensure the best chance for progress.

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Full control over asylum policy

Most people in Scotland want to have a fair, just and humane asylum system where decisions are made on a case-by-case basis by an independent body, where asylum seekers are treated with respect not degraded, and where those LGBTI people facing persecution are offered protection. We don’t have this just now under the UK. If anything we have a system of asylum and immigration designed to thwart at every turn.

77 countries currently criminalise same-sex relationships, with state-sanctioned punishments including imprisonment and the death penalty, and LGBTI people face severe discrimination and harassment around the world.

The UK’s current asylum system is not working for LGBTI people and leaves too many at risk of continued persecution. The UK currently chooses to treat LGBTI asylum seekers in a degrading manner and too often refuses protection from those believed to be at genuine risk of persecution.

A recent report by the Home Office Select Committee found evidence of LGBT asylum seekers having to prove their sexuality, oftentimes at great personal danger. Recently the court of session has had to intervene to stop the UK deporting people back to their country of origin who are at risk of being seriously harmed because of their sexual orientation.

This is an appalling state of affairs and is in stark contrast to the pro-active efforts of the Scottish Government and Parliament to offer asylum to LGBTI people facing persecution in countries like Uganda.

It is clear from the established political consensus in Scotland, that as an independent country we would have a compassionate asylum system where asylum seekers are treated with dignity, respect and humanity.

You can read more about LGBTI issues and asylum at:

http://www.channel4.com/news/gay-asylum-seekers-britain-uganda-homophobia and here http://www.scottishrefugeecouncil.org.uk/news_and_events/latest_news/24 82_new_guide_for_lgbti_asylum_seekers

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Public service broadcasting and the arts

Do you agree with us that the lives of LGBTI people in Scotland are not adequately reflected on TV, film, and in the arts?

An independent Scotland would have its own Scottish public service broadcaster that could better reflect the lives of Scottish LGBTI people – and indeed all Scottish people – in its programming, rather than a London-centric broadcaster over which we have little influence and that often seems to forget we even exist.

Scotland would also have the ability to better fund the Scottish film industry and the arts, ensuring that our voices are heard and our stories are told.

As a matter of principle LGBTI people in Scotland deserve to have their lives represented on screen and in the arts, but representation is also crucial in the fight to changing the negative attitudes that some people still have towards LGBTI people.

After all, education and visibility are the most powerful tools that we have to change the world.

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And now it’s up to you.  YOU have the power to change the world.  Will you join me?

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