Family, Language and the Scottish Independence Referendum

The idea for this article was sparked at the end of party conference season when it crossed my mind that (it seems) ‘the family’ features more heavily in British than in Scottish political discourse. To ‘test’ this proposition I searched the conference speeches of David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband and Alex Salmond for mentions of ‘family’ or ‘families’. Cameron, Clegg and Miliband notched up five, 16 and 12 mentions respectively; Salmond, however, referred to family and families only thrice. This is far from conclusive evidence (a detailed content analysis would be required to test the proposition rigorously) but it does provide a premise for this short article: family issues are less prominent in Scottish than in British politics.

This is as comparative as this article will get, as it is primarily concerned with finding any relationship between voters’ family situations and their voting intentions in next year’s independence referendum.  There is a long line of literature – stretching back to Glaser’s (1959) ‘The Family and Voting Turnout’ – suggesting a close link between family ties and voting behaviour. Let us use this literary tradition to construct a hypothesis: a person’s family situation will affect his or her voting intention in the independence referendum. There is no agreed-upon definition of a twenty-first century British family but for our purposes – and also because of data limitations – we will use a loose ‘immediate family’ definition of at least one adult and one child.

The Scottish Social Attitudes (SSA) 2012 survey asked respondents to provide the number of children aged four or under; aged between five and 11; aged between 12 and 15; and aged 16 or 17 in their households. For our analysis, these four variables have each been recoded [1] into straight-forward yes/no variables. These new variables take account not only of children’s biological parents but all other adults (i.e. other potential voters) within their households such as adult siblings, stepparents, foster parents and legal guardians. However, they exclude parents whose children do not live with them, as well as parents whose children are all 18 or over.

I have opted to use four separate age category variables rather than a single ‘number of children’ variable (which simply asked respondents to give the total number of children under 17 in their households). If we use the single ‘number of children’ variable we could, for example, discover those who live with children are more likely to vote Yes. This, however, could mask variations among different types of families: if one age category is highly supportive of independence but the remaining three are sceptical, the use of the single variable could skew the results, making families in general appear more supportive of independence than they actually are. The use of four separate variables will improve the reliability of the results by detecting any attitudinal uniformity among different types of families.

The same respondents were also asked to pick their favoured Scottish constitutional arrangement from a list of five options [2]. This has also been recoded into a yes/no variable similar to the question that will be asked in the referendum (and the question asked in most opinion polls): should Scotland be in independent country?

 

Table 1 – Attitudes to Scottish independence (percentages).

 

 

 

                                                  Should Scotland be an independent country?

 

 

 

 

 

Yes

No

DK

Do you live with children aged 4 or under?

 

 

 

 

Yes

 

 

 

 

32

61

5

No

 

 

 

 

23

73

4

Do you live with children aged 5 – 11?

 

 

 

 

Yes

 

 

 

 

26

66

8

No

 

 

 

 

24

73

4

Do you live with children aged 12 – 15?

 

 

 

 

Yes

 

 

 

 

27

67

7

No

 

 

 

 

24

72

4

Do you live with children aged 16 or 17?

 

 

 

 

Yes

 

 

 

 

32

59

9

No

 

 

 

 

23

72

4

 

Table 1 indicates that those with immediate families are generally more supportive of independence, particularly those who stay with children aged four or under and aged 16 or 17. Nonetheless it also shows that a majority still plan to vote No, regardless of family situation. This is not surprising given the nature of the survey question: as noted above, respondents were asked to pick their favoured constitutional arrangement from a list (see footnote [2]) rather than the yes/no question that will be asked in the referendum. This has likely reduced the number of Don’t Know responses, which comprised 32% of the responses in the latest opinion poll. Table 1 also shows that those with immediate families are slightly more likely to give a ‘Don’t Know’ response so it therefore appears that they are also more likely to be on the fence. Had the SSA survey asked a yes/no question, it stands to reason that those with immediate families would be shown to be more undecided over independence – and less supportive of the union – than Table 1 highlights.

Given these results we would be justified in assuming families are also more supportive of ‘devo max’, the yet-to-be-nailed-down term generally used to describe the devolution of full fiscal autonomy. However, Table 2 below shows no such pattern. There is little difference between those with and without immediate families. If anything, those without immediate families have slightly more confidence in devo max. 

 

Table 2 – Confidence in ‘Devo Max’ (percentages).

 

 

 

 

                                       How confident would you be for Scotland’s future with ‘Devo Max’?

 

 

 

           

Confident

Neither

Worried

Do you live with children aged 4 or under?

 

 

 

 

Yes

 

 

 

 

35

32

33

No

 

 

 

 

37

26

36

Do you live with children aged 5 – 11?

 

 

 

 

Yes

 

 

 

 

36

33

31

No

 

 

 

 

37

26

37

Do you live with children aged 12 – 15?

 

 

 

 

Yes

 

 

 

 

36

29

34

No

 

 

 

 

37

27

36

Do you live with children aged 16 or 17?

 

 

 

 

Yes

 

 

 

 

37

34

29

No

 

 

 

 

37

27

37

                           

 

The story becomes even more confused when we look at the findings detailed in Table 3 below. There are two notable features of these results. Firstly, those with immediate families are somewhat more comfortable with Holyrood controlling Scotland’s fiscal levers: 68% of respondents who stay with children under four support the devolution of tax powers, compared to 56% of respondents who do not stay in such households; and 64% of respondents who stay with children aged between five and 11 support the transfer of tax powers, compared to 56% who do not stay with children in this age category. Secondly, going on the results of Table 2, we would perhaps expect support for tax devolution to be low; instead, there appears to be broad agreement, regardless of family situation, that Holyrood should set tax levels for Scotland. This suggests there is public uncertainty over what devo max actually entails.

 

Table 3 – Attitudes to tax (percentages).

 

 

 

 

                                                                Who ought to set levels of tax for Scotland?

 

 

 

           

Holyrood

Westminster

Councils

Do you live with children aged 4 or under?

 

 

 

 

Yes

 

 

 

 

68

27

5

No

 

 

 

 

56

40

4

Do you live with children aged 5 – 11?

 

 

 

 

Yes

 

 

 

 

64

33

3

No

 

 

 

 

57

39

4

Do you live with children aged 12 – 15?

 

 

 

 

Yes

 

 

 

 

56

38

6

No

 

 

 

 

58

39

3

Do you live with children aged 16 or 17?

 

 

 

 

Yes

 

 

 

 

59

38

3

No

 

 

 

 

58

39

4

                           

 

But is this confusion confined to devo max, or are there other language issues within the independence debate? After all, independence itself has yet to be defined (will Scotland be part of the EU? Will Scotland join Nato? Which currency will Scotland use?). As with devo max, voters may be reluctant to support the concept of independence if its meaning has not been clarified.  

The SSA survey also asked respondents ‘who should make government decisions for Scotland?’. Four response options were provided, ranging from full Holyrood to full Westminster autonomy, but with no reference to ‘independence’ or ‘devo max’. If there are language issues, we would expect to find higher support for full Holyrood autonomy in this set of responses than in the results detailed in Table 1. The findings are displayed in Table 4 below.

 

Table 4 – Government decisions (percentages).

 

 

 

                           Who should make government decisions for Scotland?

 

 

 

 

Holyrood only

Holyrood all but foreign policy

UK foreign policy/tax; Holyrood rest

UK all

Do you live with children aged 4 or under?

 

 

 

 

Yes

 

 

 

41

44

20

6

No

 

 

 

34

32

27

8

Do you live with children aged 5 – 11?

 

 

 

 

Yes

 

 

 

34

36

25

6

No

 

 

 

35

31

26

8

Do you live with children aged 12 – 15?

 

 

 

 

Yes

 

 

 

39

33

23

5

No

 

 

 

34

32

26

8

Do you live with children aged 16 or 17?

 

 

 

 

Yes

 

 

 

33

39

27

2

No

 

 

 

35

32

26

8

 

Table 4 shows support for full Holyrood autonomy is more popular when references to ‘independence’ are removed. In Table 1, we saw that approximately one quarter of those who do not stay with children supported independence this rises to one third when reference to ‘independence’ is taken out of the question. A family ‘effect’ also remains. Those in households with children aged four or under and aged 12 to 15 are more likely to support full Holyrood autonomy. Such support is not as marked in the other two categories but they are still more likely to back Holyrood autonomy save foreign policy (devo max?) than those not from such households.

The importance of language is further illustrated by the results in Table 5 below, which displays attitudes to defence and foreign policy. If we compare these findings with those in Table 4, we see the number of respondents who support full Holyrood autonomy is very similar to the number who believe Holyrood should set Scotland’s defence and foreign policies (for example, 34% of respondents who stay with children aged between five and 11 support full Holyrood autonomy; 34% also believe Holyrood should control defence and foreign policy). Again, those with immediate families appear more supportive of ‘independence’ – in three out of the four age categories, support for Holyrood’s control of defence and foreign policy is higher among those with immediate families. 

 

Table 5 – Attitudes to defence and foreign policies (percentages).

 

 

 

 

            Who ought to decide Scotland’s defence and foreign policies?

 

 

 

           

Holyrood

Westminster

EU

Do you live with children aged 4 or under?

 

 

 

 

Yes

 

 

 

 

42

52

6

No

 

 

 

 

34

63

2

Do you live with children aged 5 – 11?

 

 

 

 

Yes

 

 

 

 

34

66

1

No

 

 

 

 

35

62

3

Do you live with children aged 12 – 15?

 

 

 

 

Yes

 

 

 

 

38

61

2

No

 

 

 

 

35

62

3

Do you live with children aged 16 or 17?

 

 

 

 

Yes

 

 

 

 

40

60

-

No

 

 

 

 

35

62

3

                           

 

The overall results indicate a paradox in which voters are more likely to vote Yes if the end result is not referred to as ‘independence’. This presents an obvious problem for the Yes campaign: how to convince a country to become independent without actually mentioning the word? Voters are unmoved by abstract terms such as ‘independence’ and ‘devo max’ but appear more responsive to specific debates over where particular powers should be wielded.

The results, although they suggest a majority will vote No, do offer a window of opportunity for the Yes campaign. Voters with immediate families are more sympathetic to the independence cause, for reasons which are unclear from available data. Yes Scotland would do well to identify the most important issues and concerns for Scottish families and use them to boost their so-far uninspiring campaign (a family-friendly conference speech from Salmond next year would not go amiss either…) but until then, the advantage remains firmly with Better Together.

 

[1] Respondents were asked to provide the following four household characteristics:

  1. 1.       The number of children aged 4 or under in their households
  2. 2.       The number of children aged between 5 and 11 in their households
  3. 3.       The number of children aged between 12 and 15 in their households
  4. 4.       The number of children aged 16 or 17 in their households.

These have been recoded into four yes/no dichotomous variables:

  1. 1.       Do you live with any children aged 4 or under?
  2. 2.       Do you live with any children aged between 5 and 11?
  3. 3.       Do you live with any children aged between 12 and 15?
  4. 4.       Do you live with any children aged 16 or 17?

[2] Respondents were asked to pick their favoured Scottish constitutional arrangement from the following list of options:

  1. 1.       Scotland independent, separate from the UK and the EU
  2. 2.       Scotland independent, separate from the UK but part of the EU
  3. 3.       Scotland in the UK, with own parliament and some taxation powers
  4. 4.       Scotland in the UK, with own parliament but no taxation powers
  5. 5.       Scotland in the UK with no Scottish parliament

These responses have been recoded into a yes/no dichotomous variable similar to the question that will be asked in the referendum, and the question asked by most opinion polls:

Should Scotland be an independent country? (options 1 and 2 recoded as ‘yes’; options 3-5 recoded as ‘no’).

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                          

 

 

Why You Should Vote No to Scottish Independence

Originally written for the Strathclyde Telegraph.

If you are leaning towards a Yes vote in 2014, here is a task for you: think of a single way in which Scotland is guaranteed to be better off long-term if independent.

I will hazard a guess that a Tory-free government is the first thing most of you thought of. But now ask yourself this: what makes you so sure an independent Scotland will never vote in a Tory or right-wing government? Sure, the Tories only polled around 13 per cent in the last Scottish Parliament election but 50 years ago they got well over 40 per cent of the Scottish vote in general elections. Electoral outcomes change over time and there is no evidence to suggest the Right cannot rise again in Scotland- it is a myth we are more socialist than England.

The same logic can be applied to foreign policy, Trident, welfare and any other policy areas nationalists claim will be radically revised. The referendum is a vote on the constitution, not SNP policies, so all future governments elected in an independent Scotland will not be bound by nationalist preferences.

Put simply, going independent would be a shot in the dark. There is not a single way in which an independent Scotland is guaranteed to be better off long-term. Nationalists know this and that is why they alter their argument to reflect changes in the country’s political mood as the years go by. Escaping the clutch of the London Tories is at the heart of their present ‘case’ but what was their motive for secession when Churchill was leading the war effort or Attlee was creating the NHS and welfare state?

To paraphrase The Newsroom’s Will McAvoy, if 10 Nobel Prize-winning economists walked into Alex Salmond’s office and presented unquestionable evidence that Scotland would be worse off independent, he would ignore it. Nationalists see independence as an end in itself and do not care about the ramifications. They are being deceitful by suggesting their anti-Toryism is why they support independence.

I believe you should vote No in 2014 as devolution has delivered the best of both worlds. The Scottish government has autonomy in a significant number of policy areas, while the UK provides us with collective security and international clout. It also ensures Scotland and England remain economic partners rather than competitors for jobs and investment. The Tories might be a nuisance, but that’s democracy for you.

In Defence of Blair.

Originally posted in Speaker’s Chair.

I read Harry Booty’s recent Speaker’s Chair article on Tony Blair with interest. While it was refreshing to read a student blog that did not resort to typical anti-war Blair bashing, it is indicative of a deep-rooted problem in the Labour party: we are embarrassed, perhaps even ashamed, to defend New Labour’s great achievements. From my experience, the average party member talks of the Blair years, the most electorally successful period in our history, as though it should be swept under the rug. It was not ‘real’ Labour, allegedly. There were jeers at last year’s conference when Ed Miliband dared to mention Blair. His ‘comeback’ as the party’s sporting policy advisor was met with hysteria.

I should say that I do not regard myself as a Blairite as there were many of his policies I disagreed with. His government dreamed up farcical welfare reform policies. The attempted introductions of ID cards and 90-day detentions were shameful attacks on civil liberties. The flagship Foundation Hospitals policy has left some NHS Trusts debt-ridden and key services under threat. It is also inescapable, despite what his most avowed followers believe, that Blair’s popular appeal was greatly exaggerated by the favourable electoral system; in 2005, for example, Labour gained only 35.3 per cent of the vote and was actually outpolled by the Tories in England.

But none of this should mask the great advances in equality and social justice that took place after 1997. I disagree with Harry that Blair’s domestic and foreign policies cannot be fully separated: we choose not to separate them because of his unpopularity. As a result, we accept the tragic myth that his leadership and the entire New Labour project was a failure.

The reality is that the Blair years were incredibly successful. A survey of British political experts found the majority of the top five most successful government policies of the past 30 years were enacted by New Labour. The National Minimum Wage (NMW) benefited over one million people and reversed the trend of increasing numbers of low paid workers. Devolution gave Scotland and Wales degrees of regional autonomy after rejecting the Tories at every general election during their 18 year rule.       Sure Start, currently being sabotaged by the coalition, has improved the life chances of thousands of children born into deprived families.

Party members should be proud of the many ways New Labour helped struggling families. Child poverty was significantly reduced due to the extra investment on benefits and tax credits. Paid maternity leave was extended from fourteen to twenty-six weeks leave, with an extra twenty-six weeks if required. Women can no longer be dismissed or made redundant for any reason relating to pregnancy. Parents can now take unpaid maternity and paternity leave without the fear of losing their jobs. They can now also formally request flexible working hours to fit around their family commitments.

There were many other employment reforms under Blair which contributed to a ‘workplace revolution’. The qualifying period for unfair dismissal was reduced from two years to one year and compensation was raised, fantastic policies which have since been reversed by the coalition. Part-time workers were granted the same rights as full-time workers, while the law was tightened against workplace gender, age and racial discrimination. Workers were also given at least four weeks annual paid leave and minimum rest periods during shifts.

Even the trade unions benefited, despite Blair’s individualistic approach to employment. Workers now have the right to be accompanied by a trade union official in disciplinary hearings. There is now automatic recognition of unions in companies if over half of the workforce has membership. Workers are protected from bullying and intimidation when campaigning for union recognition. It is now illegal to blacklist workers on account of union membership and activity. Unions now have input into employee training schemes. It is also now automatically unfair if workers are sacked within 12 weeks of lawful strike action. The unions may want the remnants of New Labour banished from the party but they cannot seriously claim they did not benefit during the Blair years.

Not only did the Blair government address the employee-employer power balance, it enacted fundamental human rights legislation. The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) was finally enshrined into UK Law with the Human Rights Act. The setting up of the Supreme Court created a truly independent appeals court by removing the responsibilities from the House of Lords.  The Freedom of Information Act (albeit, not Blair’s favourite achievement) gave us unprecedented access to the government. The Gender Recognition and Civil Partnerships Acts have significantly extended social equality and have laid the foundations for equal marriage legislation.

And yet, despite these fantastic progressive reforms, Tony Blair is vilified and hated by the left. We take our minimum wages, work and family rights and record low NHS waiting times for granted, but are happy to pretend New Labour was a Tory government in red. We must change our attitudes and defend Blair’s name and legacy. Feel free to disagree with his foreign policy outlook but do not let your view on Iraq blind you to his domestic achievements. The Blair government changed British society for the better and it high time we showed the man the respect he deserves.

Labour must challenge the EU’s inequalities.

Originally posted at Speaker’s Chair.

Barroso. Euro. Hollande. Human Rights. Sarkosy. Prisoners. Farage. I would hazard a guess these are some of David Cameron’s most hated words and phrases. Hardly a day has gone by since he staggered into number 10 that at least one of these things has not caused him grief. He was rocked by a massive anti-European rebellion last October. He tried to appease Tory Eurosceptics by ‘vetoing’ an EU treaty change, only to suffer another rebellion last week. All the while, his party could potentially face a minor challenge from UKIP in 2015 if they maintain their current poll standings. Most worryingly of all, he could face an anti-EU rebellion in his own constituency if he does not promise a membership referendum.

Europe, quite simply, is not going away. The flirting of both Labour and the Tories with a membership referendum means Britain will probably seek a new settlement with the continent within the next decade. It will therefore be vital for pro-Europeans to put forward a positive case for membership. We do not often hear pro-EU arguments; our most prominent pro-European, the Prime Minister, boasts of being a Eurosceptic. Pro-Europeans tend to stick their heads in the sand, emerging only to lampoon UKIP et al as fruitcakes. This air of arrogance in the pro-EU camp- that only idiots oppose membership- is dangerous and unfounded. Voters are fully aware of the basic rationale for membership- the war-free continent, the common market, the Social Charter – yet the EU remains an unpopular institution. A YouGov survey carried out in September found 47 per cent of respondents would vote to leave the EU, compared to only one third who would opt to stay. Anti-EU sentiment increases with age which, considering older people are more inclined to vote than the young, should worry pro-Europeans.

Whether or not a referendum takes place, something must be done to improve the EU’s standing among the public. This means Labour, as Britain’s most prominent pro-European party, must construct a new, positive case for EU membership. This starts, however, by publicly recognising the fundamental problems of the EU and offering solutions; pro-Europeans generally tend to give the impression, intentionally or otherwise, they believe the EU operates suitably and is immune to criticism.

One area which could be addressed is the EU’s extensive inequality: the increasing power of European elites at the expense of citizens and member states. Citizens across the continent have become increasingly suspicious and critical of the EU over the years as it has gradually morphed from the modest inter-state organisation to a powerful political actor. This became clear when Dutch and French voters rejected the Constitutional Treaty in 2005 (saving our own Tony Blair the embarrassment of calling- and losing- a referendum) but the EU took little notice and rehashed it as the Lisbon Treaty.  This is not to say it is a bad Treaty- putting the elected European Parliament effectively on the same footing as the Council of Ministers was welcome- but European elites and pro-Europeans paid little attention to citizens by ploughing on with Lisbon without a public vote; only Ireland had a referendum but they had to be asked twice until the EU got the result it wanted.  We can spin it however we wish, but Labour broke its 2005 manifesto commitment by refusing a referendum on Lisbon. Given the hostility towards the EU, I am inclined to agree with David Cameron: referendums should be held on any future power transfers. Not only would it give Labour the chance to properly convince the public of the merits of membership, it would give voiceless voters a say on the direction of Europe.

Because, let’s face it, they hardly have a say in the European Parliament (EP), where domestic parties merge with counterparts from other member states to create European ‘super parties’- parties the British public cannot vote for. MEPs, theoretically, are free to pursue different policies than what appeared in their manifestos back at home. Not that anyone is actually paying close attention to what they are up to: UK turnout was only 34.5 per cent in 2009 compared to the EU average of 43 per cent. That is not to say the EP and MEPs do not carry out important work. The EP has a budget of almost €2 billion and our Labour MEPs were instrumental in the Robin Hood Tax campaign, but it is inescapable that voters have little input in the process. There are not many solutions to this problem because there isn’t another feasible way for the EP to operate: voters cannot and should not vote for foreign parties. Labour could, however, be more transparent on its relationship with European parties and role within the EP. This could involve, for example, promoting Party of European Socialists (PES) manifestos more openly during elections.

Despite its problems, the EP at least has a democratic element. The unelected Commission wields considerable power and retains a degree of independence from the EP. The Council of Ministers, although indirectly elected by voters, has become increasingly powerful since Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) was brought in to replace unanimous voting in 1979. QMV has (rightly or wrongly) empowered the Council at the expense of member states. The loss of the veto in certain policy areas means we can theoretically have unwanted policies forced on us. The unaccountability of these institutions is contributing heavily to the citizen-elite gap.

Tony Blair is right to call for an elected Commissioner or Council President (even if he does have personal ambitions in mind) as it could give voters a direct input into EU decision-making. Not only would it be good for Britain, but for the EU as a political actor.  A Commission report published last month showed 49 per cent of EU citizens ‘do not trust’ the EU. Furthermore, 26 per cent of citizens think MEPs and Commission members are best placed to ‘explain how the EU impacts on day-to-day life’, compared to 39 per cent who reckon it is national or regional representatives are best placed. Some sort of election could do no harm, and would at least bring citizens closer to Brussels. It is certainly something Labour should consider including in the 2014 European manifesto- Labour and PES!

For too long, pro-Europeans have pushed through their agenda without a second thought about voters. This dismissive attitude must change, especially if a membership referendum crops up within the next few years. Should a referendum pledge be in our 2015 manifesto? I’m torn, but it would be completely legitimate since the European Economic Community we joined in the 1970s no longer exists. Labour will, however, be united on Europe whatever the final decision, unlike the Tories who continue to tear themselves apart. But Labour must begin to truly address voters’ concerns over the EU; we can do so by challenging its serious structural flaws. By critiquing its inequalities, Labour can defend the EU. To be pro-European is not to be uncritical.

It is Labour’s responsibility to introduce votes at 16.

Originally posted at Speaker’s Chair.

They took their time, but the Scottish and UK governments have finally ironed out a deal to allow the 2014 independence referendum to proceed. There will be one question on the ballot paper, meaning the ‘devo-max’ cop-out option will not appear. More significantly, however, 16 and 17 year olds will be allowed to take part in a major public vote for first time. The importance of this should not be underestimated: it will be a landmark in British electoral history and, much like the Reform Acts, will bring about significant franchise extension.

Yes, this is supposed to be a one-off for 16 and 17 year olds, as the Advocate General confirmed soon after David Cameron and Alex Salmond signed the ‘Edinburgh Agreement’. Nonetheless, questions have been raised about what it could mean for future British elections. Lords Forsyth and Jopling- both Tory peers- consider it a major constitutional shift which will eventually pave the way for permanent franchise extension. I agree- following the independence referendum, it is inevitable that 16 and 17 year olds will one day participate in all public votes.

But unlike Forsyth and Jopling, I fully support votes at 16, particularly in the referendum. It is my generation who will deal with the consequences of secession, so it is right we each get a say in Scotland’s future. Opponents have accused the SNP of exploiting the issue solely to boost the number of Yes votes (even if the SNP is guilty of this, opinion polls have shown 16 and 17 year olds are no more likely to back independence than over-18s). This allegation, however, is unfounded and cynical. All six SNP MPs and at least 48 SNP MSPs support the Votes at 16 campaign, so there is no reason to assume why the party would not extend the franchise in Scottish Parliament elections if the UK government devolved the power.

In fact, I have yet to hear a single legitimate argument against votes at 16. “Look at all the things 16 year olds can already do!” is indeed a tiresome point but one that has never been properly rebutted. At best, opponents point to the legal drinking, smoking and drinking ages, as though the anomalous law is reason enough to deny 16 and 17 year olds the vote. At worst, they patronisingly assume 16 and 17 year olds are not fit for, interested in, or grown up enough for, the vote.

Any party member can testify for the efforts and political awareness of younger activists. I know of at least two fellow Labourites, now heavily involved in the party, who joined on their fifteenth birthdays. I worked with 16 and 17 year old activists (some even younger) during 2011’s AV referendum campaign who confidently debated adults three times their ages at street stalls. To say these young people are not worthy of the vote is nonsensical and offensive.

This is, unfortunately, not typical of the young. Turnout is already depressingly low among 18 to 24 year olds and research has shown there is little enthusiasm among under-18s for lowering the voting age. It is understandably feared that few 16 and 17 year olds would bother to vote, thereby lowering the total turnout even more. That may be true but it is not a valid reason to deny the vote to the under-18s described above. The long term solution to low turnout must not be franchise restriction but increased political education in schools. By making us more politically aware at a younger age, we are surely more likely to grasp the importance of voting.

So if votes at 16 are inevitable, when will reform be implemented? It certainly won’t be introduced before 2015, nor is any future Tory government likely to bring forward the legislation. The task therefore falls to the next Labour government, hopefully elected in 2015. Our 2010 manifesto committed the party to a free vote on lowering the voting age and- especially following the independence referendum- it must not drop from the 2015 manifesto. The party’s constitutional conservatives can make noise but, with over two thirds of Labour MPs signed up to the Votes at 16 campaign, they are surely swimming against the tide.

In short, it is Labour’s responsibility to introduce votes at 16. We must carry out what a Gordon Brown government would have done: we must stop discrimination against full time employed, car owning, flat renting tax payers on the basis of age. It was a Labour government who lowered the voting age to 18 and, as the only progressive party capable of winning an election, we must build on our legacy by reducing it even further.

Time for Scotland to face reality and embrace tuition fees.

Note: I have not included calculations in the article so my sources are below if  anyone wishes to check my maths. I refer only to undergraduate university students studying in Scotland. The specific fees increase I put forward is hypothetical; I am simply arguing Scotland should adopt moderate fees and more generous student grants:

http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2011/10/25133537/18

http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2011/10/25133537/15

http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2011/10/25133537/12

http://www.hesa.ac.uk

Scottish universities have been returning over the past two weeks but while students toast the new term with cheap booze and foam parties, those running the institutions face another long year as financial uncertainty. According to the most recent estimates, Scottish universities face a funding gap of over £200 million as a result of higher tuition fees in England. This has inevitably led to course cuts all over Scotland. The University of Glasgow alone has begun making £20 million of efficiency savings. This funding crisis became even more apparent just weeks ago when it emerged universities were denying Scottish school leavers Clearing places in favour of their fee-paying counterparts from the rest of the UK (RUK). Scottish campuses have (rightly) been plagued by strikes and protests against these course cuts and subsequent job losses. For the sake of higher education and our world-renowned universities, this massive funding gap must be plugged.

Nonetheless, the issues facing our universities must be put into perspective. Universities may technically be providing a public service but they are not schools. They effectively operate as independent businesses, specialising in particular areas and carrying out different types of research. We all deplore course cuts and job losses but universities must compete with each other. All institutions have a common aim: attract the best staff and students. Our universities are being starved of cash, hindering their ability to do so. The blame for these cuts lies not with the big bad Principals, but with the Scottish Government.

The solution to the problem is not, however, taking more cash from the taxpayer. It is not unreasonable- particularly in times of economic hardship- to ask those lucky enough to make it to university to pay a contribution after graduation.

As someone from a far-from-well-off family, I do not take lightly the issue of tuition fees. I qualify for the maximum Young Students Bursary and, after changing course halfway through a degree, have amassed a loan debt of over £7,000 to pay for two years of tuition. Yet despite my own circumstances, I believe an introduction of tuition fees in Scotland would be a correct- and fair- decision.

But we must tread carefully with fees. Application numbers have plummeted in England but this is due to the extortionate rates rather than the fees themselves. Student numbers continued to rise when the Blair government introduced modest top-up fees.  This included undergraduates coming from ‘low participation neighbourhoods’, whose numbers rose from 9.2 per cent to 10.5 per cent of the English intake between 2005/06 and 2009/10. We must therefore strike a balance between protecting students from overbearing debt and sufficiently funding our cash-strapped institutions.

So for talking sake, let us say current tuition fees for a full time degree are increased from £1,820 to £3,000 per year, and this charge is transferred from the public purse to the student. This would not only give our universities an extra 64.8 per cent funding per undergraduate, but ensure Scotland remained the cheapest country in the UK to obtain a degree. The public money currently spent on fees could then be put to more efficient use. For example, one third could continue to go to universities to maintain a level of state funding, while 10 per cent could be diverted to other areas of the economy requiring investment. The remainder could then be used to beef up existing grants to incentivise school leavers to continue applying as it is vital we ensure application numbers do not decrease. The Young Students Bursary could be improved and extended to provide more financial assistance to those from lower and middle income families (it could even be handed to every undergraduate, giving everyone an average grant of £1,756). The Lone Parents’ Childcare Grant could be bolstered to help single mums taking the brave decision to juggle studies and motherhood. The Disabled Students Allowance could be increased to encourage more disabled people to take up a degree. The options are endless.

Admittedly, this policy still leaves students with a £12,000 fees debt after a four year course. Students can, however, presently leave university with loan debts of over £16,000. One of the biggest letdowns of the SNP government has been the failure to eradicate student loan debt. The SNP may boast about free tuition but it does not matter if one is repaying fees or loans: debt is debt. Overall debt levels could be controlled by lowering loan entitlements. Non-Income Assessed Loans could be reduced. Income Assessed Loans could be linked to grants; for example, students’ loan sizes could decrease as their Young Student Bursaries increase. Even without an introduction of fees, there is a strong case to reduce loan entitlements to tackle high debt levels.

Any introduction of fees would undoubtedly be unpopular among students. To the average student, a university education is a ‘right’, not a ‘privilege’. I respectfully disagree. If such a right existed, everyone in Scotland would have the chance to obtain a degree in a subject of their choice. This, of course, is not the case. Limited course places mean each year many school leavers are denied the university education they desire. Despite what students like to sing on protests, no one has the right to attend university. Rather, everyone has the right to apply. It is only fair that those who have had the privilege to go to university pay something back to help future students.

A Labour-SNP consensus stifled any real policy discussion but Johann Lamont’s timely intervention means the funding gap may be a key issue by the next Scottish Parliament election. She is right to argue that, unless the current policy is altered, universities may begin balancing their books by recruiting more RUK fee-payers at the expense of Scottish school leavers. An introduction of moderate tuition fees, along with more generous student grants, is the most realistic way to ensure the long term future and success of both school leavers and universities. Only one in five Scots back free tuition; we must stop pretending it is a tradition we are all proud of.

Assangists are deluded armchair lawyers; Ecuador cannot lecture us on free speech.

In case you missed it, Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, has been granted political asylum by Ecuador. Well, I say political asylum. What the Ecuadorian government has actually done is shield an all but convicted rapist from justice. That is not an exaggeration; just ask Assange’s own lawyer.

Predictably, Assange’s starry-eyed disciples came to show their support at his balcony appearance at the Ecuadorian embassy. Throughout this entire pantomime, they have buried their heads in the sand and outright denied any wrongdoing by Assange. At best, they have dismissed the rape allegations as one piece of a western anti-Wikileaks conspiracy. At worst, they have seriously argued that Assange’s actions do not constitute rape.

The speech highlighted almost everything wrong with the Assangist doctrine. The reference to Wikileaks- or more specifically, the response the reference received from the audience- underlined the fact that apologists still see Assange and Wikileaks as one in the same. They are not. Support for Wikileaks and support for extradition are not incompatible.

The non-acknowledgement of the rape allegations may have seemed disrespectful but it was probably wise from Assange’s point of view. By refusing to mention the allegations, he has in effect restated they are irrelevant and politically motivated. It is a sure bet his followers will continue to argue this tiresome and unfounded point.

He instead spoke of an American ‘witch-hunt’ against Wikileaks, reaffirming what his followers believe the extradition is really about (it’s Wikileaks, stupid!). The independent and apolitical British judiciary who approved the extradition order, along with the independent and apolitical Swedish police who issued the international arrest warrant, are in cahoots with the Yanks who want to lock up indefinitely- perhaps even kill- the founder of Wikileaks. Plausible, right?

From what I gather, the only ‘evidence’ Assangists can produce of this massive conspiracy is that Assange has yet to be charged with any crime. As Owen Jones pointed out a few days ago, this is typical of Sweden’s legal system. A suspect must be arrested first- which can only take place in Sweden- before any charges can be brought. They have also questioned why Sweden has refused to rule out further extradition to the United States. I believe there are two main reasons why the Swedish authorities have done so. Firstly, it would be politically unwise for them, after having Assange extradited to their country, to rule out further extradition elsewhere. Secondly, and something which Assangists are quick to forget, the United States has not requested an extradition. Swedish authorities cannot rule out sending him to the United States because they have no idea what this presumed extradition request- if it ever comes- actually says.

But let’s assume the Assangists are right and an American extradition request is issued. Would that prove there is indeed a conspiracy? Of course not. While they shamelessly showcase the Bradley Manning affair as ‘proof’ of Assange’s fate in the United States, these deluded armchair lawyers ignore the fact that Sweden, as a signatory of the European Convention of Human Rights, cannot extradite someone to a country where they face the death penalty or ‘inhuman treatment’. If the Americans wanted him extradited and if the conditions are as bad as Assangists purport, Swedish authorities will certainly not be sending him to Washington, even if they want to.

What was truly shocking about Assange’s speech was his willingness- despite being the self-appointed overseer of free speech and freedom of information- to cower behind the Ecuadorian government. Ecuador’s Criminal Code allows for imprisonment for ‘offending’ President Correa. The President is known for personally taking critics to court and in 2011, he was awarded $40 million in damages (unsurprising in itself, given the judiciary’s problems with corruption and political influence) after he judged a published article to be ‘inflammatory’. The writer, Emilio Palacio, and the three publishers of the article were each subsequently sentenced to three years in prison. It is therefore unsurprising that Ecuador ranks 104 out of 179 on the Press Freedom Index (2011-2012). It is even less surprising that the hypocritical and opportunist Assange did not refer to Palacio- who is currently in Miami and seeking American asylum- or any other persecuted Ecuadorian journalist in his speech.

While I want to see Assange packed off to Sweden, and as much as I think his apologists are nothing but fruitcakes, the British authorities could have handled the situation better. Invoking the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act in such a way- especially before Assange was officially granted asylum- has proven to be unwise. It has played straight into Assangist and Ecuadorian hands and has allowed them to play the imperial card against Britain. Authorities surely would have known that any use of the Act would involve lengthy legal proceedings before entering the embassy. Ultimately, they misjudged the Ecuadorians as I am assuming they did not expect the contents of that letter to be made public so quickly. There is also a gaping hole in the British legal system that I have yet seen an online writer address: why was Assange given a two-week grace period after his final court appearance? The entire crisis could have been avoided if the extradition proceedings had commenced immediately.

This saga will likely drag on for some time because there is not much room for negotiation. The British will arrest him if he wanders outside. The Swedish will not rule out further extradition. While the drama plays out- at the large expense of the British taxpayer- Assange hides behind a quasi-dictatorship that dares to lecture us on human rights and free speech. Unfortunately, there is plenty of precedent to suggest Assange could be in the embassy for the long haul.

Staunch republicanism is doomed to failure; republicans should advocate monarchical reform.

There have been two constants in the Queen’s life since she ascended the throne: her family, and the support of her loyal subjects. The Diamond Jubilee celebrations were an enthusiastic endorsement of the Royal Family, which solidified its constitutional position for the foreseeable future. An Ipsos MORI poll published at the end of May suggests support for the monarchy is at an all time high; that is the uncomfortable fact that republicans- including myself- find hard to stomach. They (I say ‘they’, not ‘we’, as I’m not involved in the republican movement) simply cannot understand why the monarchy is so popular.

As a result, they often appear pompous and smug when dealing with this republican kryptonite. Poly Toynbee summed up republican arrogance in her Jubilee article: the fickle public don’t have a clue! The people Toynbee and others look down on make up 80 per cent of the British population. This fatal assumption- that anyone pro-monarchy is an idiot- is ignorance personified because the opposite is closer to the truth; republicans have never been smart enough to articulate their vision. Or rather, their textbook anti-monarchy arguments have failed to resonate with the British people.

The republican case must be entirely reworked. For a start, the charge of unaccountability levelled at the Royal Family must be dropped. Republicans must accept the public do not care the Queen is unelected. Nor is there an appetite for a referendum to ‘settle the issue’. It cannot be justified- at least for the time being- spending considerable public money on a referendum with a foregone conclusion.

Usually tied to this is the argument that monarchy is unnecessary nowadays. This is the main reason why I personally describe myself as a republican. Our democracy took root centuries ago so I believe our monarchy is outdated by the same length of time. But this argument has a flaw: it implies that all monarchies are the same. This is, of course, not true. Our Queen’s symbolic and apolitical status pales in comparison to the absolute power of the Saudi King. This argument will not satisfy the Royal-friendly public.

Neither will the lazy argument that the Royals are freeloaders. Royals are British diplomats and collectively rake up thousands of public appearances and official engagements each year. The Queen alone notched up 444 (57 abroad) in 2010- not too bad for a woman in her 80s. Their commitments to charities are also outstanding. Prince Charles is patron of 400 organisations and personally set up 18 of his 20 Prince’s Charities, which raise over £120 million each year. Successive generations have served in the British Army. Princes William and Harry’s services are ongoing, while their father and grandfather also served for years. Royals often have ‘real’ jobs because, contrary to popular belief, not all of them receive public money. For example, the Duchess of Kent is a musician who has taught in primary schools. The Royals generally have a strong work ethic and that cannot be seriously denied.

Likewise, there is no valid economic case against the monarchy. It cost £38.2 million in 2009-10, working out at only 62p per person. Considering the financial return the monarchy generates through tourism promotion, charity work and the economic boosts delivered by weddings and Jubilees, this is a bargain.

There are certainly some luxurious aspects of a Royal lifestyle but that does not mean life is easy. The Queen cannot, for instance, perform the everyday task of going to the corner shop for a morning paper. Instead, she spends almost every moment of her life under armed guard. It is not an exaggeration to say she is a prisoner in her own home; travelling from A to B requires careful and precise planning. She is under continual surveillance from the press who scrutinise her every move, word and facial expression. There is enormous pressure on her to perform the way the public ‘expects’ her to perform. This is a job she inherited, not chose, so I dare say there are times she wishes she had a normal life.

For republicanism to progress, all of these tiresome arguments must be discarded. Republicans should instead campaign for monarchical reform, a cause much more likely to find sympathy with the public.

There are many avenues of reform that should be advocated. Firstly, the monarchy should be stripped of the few political powers it possesses. Secondly, the monarchy should cease being strictly hereditary. When King George VI died, his wife- better known as the Queen Mother- lost her title as Queen. Likewise, Camilla and Kate will lose the title if their husbands die first. This is because they are not on the line of hereditary succession. They should retain the title unless they voluntarily abdicate. Thirdly, and related to this point, the recent sex equalisation reforms should be built on. Female Royals not on the family bloodline- Camilla and Kate- can become Queen but males- Prince Philip- cannot become King. Kings are historically viewed as superior so males not on the bloodline do not receive the title. If William and Kate’s firstborn is a girl, her future husband should be titled ‘King’. Finally, there should be a degree of symbolic reform; for example, the abolition of the compulsory oath of allegiance in Parliament. MPs represent the British people, not the Queen. They should not pledge their loyalty to our unelected Head of State if they do not want to.

Staunch republicanism is unhelpful and doomed to failure. As a democrat first and republican second, I accept the public’s wish to retain the monarchy. The republican movement must do the same and find ways of consolidating monarchist and republican views. This means campaigning for reforms that are more likely to find favour with the public. If the republican message does not change, the movement will continue to consign itself to irrelevance.

Syria shames the amoral anti-war movement.

Several news stories have interested Stop the War- the self-appointed leaders of Britain’s anti-war movement- over the past two weeks. There was Tony Blair’s ‘return’ to domestic politics at a Labour Party fundraiser; Stop the War vowed to block the re-emergence of this ‘war criminal’. There was the announcement that the long-awaited Chilcot report will not be released until next year; Stop the War gave a rambling anti-Blair response.  There was a series of bomb attacks in Iraq which left over 100 people dead; Stop the War blamed Blair, rather than the perpetrators. And there are daily reports on the escalating Syrian crisis, including credible claims that the Assad regime could use chemical weapons on its own people. Unsurprisingly, Stop the War continues to condemn the mere thought of intervention.

These responses from Stop the War highlight the unpleasant features of the entire anti-war movement: hypocrisy, double standards, the inability to debate, an immunity to reason, and amorality.

But it is also very seductive, particularly to younger people. I was once fervently anti-war so I understand why people are attracted to the likes of Tony Benn and George Galloway.  It is unfortunate that great, eloquent critics of the movement do not command the same levels of attention. Nick Cohen has written an excellent book on the movement but he does not arouse the same interest as the loveable Benn. The late Christopher Hitchens was a fantastic polemicist but so is the more well-known Galloway. It is a sure bet that many people are passively anti-war simply because the opposing message has not been properly articulated to them.

This has enabled the movement to operate without proper scrutiny. It has slandered our former Prime Minister as a war criminal to such an extent that it is now arguably commonplace to think it is true. The Iraq War’s legality can indeed be contested but Stop the War decided long ago there is no need for debate; it was undeniably illegal and Blair is akin to Charles Taylor and Slobodan Milošević. Thank god they are here to keep us in the know!

The anti-war movement has no right to use the terms ‘illegal’ and ‘war criminal’ because it has no respect for the law. If every lawyer on the planet concluded the Iraq War was 100 per cent legal, Stop the War would dismiss them. The War would still be ‘illegal’, Blair would still be a ‘war criminal’ and the movement would continue making his life difficult.

It might not respect the law but the movement is quick to praise legal experts who think (or thought) the Iraq War was illegal, such as Sir Michael Wood, Jack Straw’s former chief legal advisor. It is, however, equally quick to condemn those who take the opposite view. The Hutton Report was dismissed as a whitewash. The Butler Review was cherry picked for evidence that fitted the anti-war agenda. The countless other inquiries were responded to in similar fashion. Stop the War is on alert to reject the upcoming Chilcot Report but will not hesitate to pinch passages that prove Blair’s ‘guilt’.

My gripe with the movement is not the anti-war stance but its lack of objectivity. As we have seen from the responses to the Iraq inquiries, the movement fails to properly engage with contrary evidence. It is so attached to the anti-war mantra that all opposing views are deemed irrelevant.

It chooses instead to exploit the deaths of Iraqis to paint Blair as a mass murderer. Stop the War has exonerated the perpetrators of the latest Iraqi atrocity and has left the blame at Blair’s doorstep. All terrorist attacks against civilians have been excused as a just and reasonable response to the US-led invasion. Unsurprisingly, it has overlooked the fact that terrorist groups used the invasion as an opportunity to launch a sectarian war.

I have probably given the impression that I am an avid Blair supporter but I am certainly not a ‘Blairite’. I disagree with many of his policies, particularly his post-9/11 assault on civil liberties. While I believe he deserves credit for confronting Saddam Hussein, he has had dubious relationships with other brutal dictators. He publicly praised Hosni Mubarak, who was subsequently jailed for life for overseeing the murders of democracy protesters. He offered a ‘hand of partnership’ to Colonel Gaddafi while in office and stayed in touch with him after leaving Downing Street (Gaddafi even referred to him as a ‘good friend’). More recently, he has been working closely with, and advising,  the hardline Kazakhstan regime.

Blair’s foreign policy double standards would be a legitimate area for Stop the War to exploit but, naturally, it is guilty of the same thing. It defended the President of Iran from the charge of anti-Semitism but fell silent when he publicly denied the Holocaust. It rightly condemns atrocities committed by Israel but is silent on Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli civilians.

Stop the War falls silent whenever the facts on the ground do not comply with the anti-war agenda. During last year’s ‘illegal’ (that’s right: an UN-backed no-fly zone was illegal!) Libyan crisis, it was more concerned with NATO’s involvement than with Gaddafi’s crimes- including his threat of a genocide in Benghazi. The intervention was instead portrayed as an ‘imperial’ invasion to re-establish western dominance in the region. The use of British weapons by Gaddafi’s forces was inexplicably used as a reason to oppose the intervention and, predictably, their use was the fault of Britain, not Gaddafi. Most shamefully of all, Libya’s post-intervention problems, such as the lynching of black men, have been implicitly blamed on NATO.

The movement has reacted in similar fashion to the Syrian uprising. According to the UN, over 10,000 people have died since the uprisings, many of whom have been killed in orchestrated massacres by pro-government forces . There is broad international agreement that a stand- however small- must be taken against Assad’s regime. But the movement’s anti-West convictions are so deep-rooted that it cannot, even for a moment, entertain the notion that some form of intervention would be in good faith. Admittedly, there are some anti-war writers who have objectively (or have been objective as much as they possibly can be) made a case against intervention. Such anti-war writers, however, appear to be in short supply as almost all of the Syria pieces on Stop the War’s website are laced with textbook anti-West diatribe.

But what all anti-war writers have in common- whether objective or not- is an inability to recognise that the West could make a positive difference in Syria. It has been over a year since the uprising began and the world has watched thousands die as the atrocities pile up. The ‘leave it to the Syrians’ approach has failed but the movement has nothing else to say.

It is the Syrian crisis that truly shames the amoral Stop the War and the broader anti-war movement. There is a humanitarian emergency that the international community could relieve but the movement would prefer to leave civilians to their fate.  Like with Iraq, like with Libya, it is interested primarily in its own anti-West agenda. The humanitarian emergency- whether stubborn anti-war supporters can admit it or not- is being used to advance this agenda. Anyone who takes exception is dismissed as wicked, evil, imperialist, or a war criminal.

It is unfortunate that this movement has not been exposed for what it really is. If only Benn or Galloway would change his mind…

(Note: To be clear, I am not necessarily calling for direct military intervention in Syria. The conflict is extremely complex but I believe any international contribution to the overthrow of Assad would be morally justified. As to the type of contribution, I shall leave that to the experts.)

Be on the right side of history: back Equal Marriage.

I recently read If It Takes All Summer, an autobiographical account of the fight against segregation in 1960s America. The author, Dan R. Warren, retells his struggle against the racist Ancient City Gun Club and deep-rooted prejudices of White residents in St Augustine, Florida. Warren, a state attorney at the time, fought bravely alongside civil rights activists to bring (a degree of) equality to Black citizens. Despite fierce opposition- often from political and law enforcement figures- the campaign succeeded.

This chapter of history would seem absurd nowadays had it not been so tragic. The western world has transformed over the past 50 years and racism now rots in the gutter where only lowlifes lay. We now thankfully teach children to treat others equally, regardless of sex, race and religion. The civil rights movement could read like a moral fairytale to today’s young: a group of people who were picked on for something they cannot help.

This fairytale is unfortunately being recreated in twenty first century Scotland. The plot may be less extreme but the theme remains unaltered: a group of people are being picked on for something they cannot help. I am talking  about the equal marriage debacle. I am not equating the equal marriage campaign and the civil rights movement. The hardships of twenty first century same-sex couples in Scotland pale in comparison to those of segregated African Americans. I am merely drawing a parallel between two stories, each with a quest for equality at their hearts.

The Scottish Government will soon decide if same-sex couples will be given the right to marry. Recent polling suggests almost two thirds of Scots support equal marriage so it will be fairly straightforward to introduce.

But there are those who balk at equal marriage. These people are the Ancient City Gun Club of this fairytale; in fact, they have a club too! Scotland For Marriage shamelessly spreads the falsehoods that same-sex couples are not fit for marriage and parenthood. The more prominent members- the religious leaders- promote their agenda from the pulpit. It is one thing to stage an anti-gay protest or sign a petition; it is quite different to use a respected public platform to preach intolerance.

That is exactly what Cardinal Keith O’Brien- the ring leader of the anti-gay brigade- has been doing this past year. The leader of Scotland’s Catholic Church has ‘declared war on gay marriage’ and has even likened it to the reintroduction of slavery. I do not particularly enjoy attacking the Catholic Church. I am from a Catholic family and may one day marry into my girlfriend’s even bigger Catholic family. No doubt there are some who are using this fiasco as an excuse to attack Catholics. Fortunately, the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey has shown that most Catholics support equal marriage. The clergy and laity now sing off different social hymn sheets and have done for some time. In twenty first century Scotland, Catholics do not take deceitful advice on sex and relationships from celibate bigots like O’Brien.

Other faith leaders have also waded into the debate. The Church of Scotland opposes equal marriage, as does St George’s Tron Church (who actually split from the Church of Scotland for not being anti-gay enough). Glasgow Imams urged Muslims to boycott May’s local elections if anti-gay candidates were not standing in their wards. Their spokesman, Bashir Maan, even claimed equal marriage was a ‘threat to civilisation’. The Scotland For Marriage website lists even more sects that back their campaign. I have yet to see polls of these faith groups but I would like to think they support equal marriage as much as Catholics.

Progressive faith groups, such as the Quakers and Liberal Judaism, are the Warrens of this fairytale. Their rejection of religious bigotry puts to shame the leaders of the larger denominations.

All other equal marriage supporters have done themselves proud. The petitions, protests and mock weddings have all made the Equal Marriage campaign successful. Credit must also be given to the First Minister for publicly backing equal marriage despite the backlash from within his own ranks. The Prime Minister faces similar difficulty so I can only hope his party does not cause him too much trouble and embarrassment.

The determination of campaigners has culminated in a set of reasonable proposals for same-sex marriage. Places of worship will have the option, rather than an obligation, to conduct these ceremonies. O’Brien, Maan and their fellow conservatives would be free to ignore this minor extension of equality. Instead, they will continue their crusade after equal marriage is introduced, thereby undermining the authority and independence of other faith groups. O’Brien and Maan believe think religion is under attack; the irony is that they themselves are the aggressors.

Scotland’s equal marriage campaign is but a small part of the global struggle for LGBT rights and in 50 years time, future generations will look back on that struggle the same way we look back on the fight against racism. Most of Scotland is already converted but too many are still lined up behind O’Brien and Maan. I can only hope, for their own sakes, they change their minds. History will be no kinder to homophobia than it is to racism.

Like all other fairytales, the good guys will win. Make sure you are one of them.

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