Our Take On The Week – Week 35

It’s GRA All the Way

The SNP/Green coalition and its priorities became clearer this week.  GRA reform was top of the agenda with the government identifying it as a priority in its legislation programme. This was followed by the Marion Millar case on Tuesday, which ‘coincided’ with an announcement that the sex question on the Scottish Census was going to be a self-id question. Then we had the release of the reform consultation on Thursday, the same day that women were demonstrating outside Holyrood against the reforms. Timing is everything.

Marion Miller’s case was adjourned to October due to her being presented with the charges just 10 minutes prior to the case being called.  It is shaping up as a battle not only over women’s rights but over freedom of speech. The turnout was big, noisy and determined. The announcement from the National Records of Scotland on the census question on the same day felt calculated. Given the case against the ONS which was brought successfully in England on the same question in their census, what is the government hoping to achieve by doing this?

Again on Thursday outside Holyrood, hundreds of women demonstrated against the amendment of the Gender Reform Act. Elected members seemed to get a sudden case of uncharacteristic shyness; only a few brave souls ventured out, Neale Hanvey amongst them. Hopefully, the demo might encourage some to be a little braver in future.

The gender reform consultation went public on Thursday – well, some of it anyway. There was a big focus on the organisations that had contributed (215), and very little on the 16K individual responses the consultation had received. Vague was the name of the game and the paper was an interpretative summary of the responses, without actually showing the workings. The takeaways were that 4 in 10 of the (mostly trans) organisations didn’t support self-ID and 1 in 10 were ambivalent. ‘Many’ (the consultation’s word)) of the individuals’ objections to self-ID were based on concerns re women’s and girls’ rights. Worryingly, some wanted the age of gender ID to be reduced to age 12 on legal capacity grounds. And no talk about child safeguarding or medicalisation.

Shona Robison signalled the government’s intention to press ahead.  She claims that women’s and girls’ rights as they currently stand under the Equality Act will be preserved.  Women will be holding her and the government to this promise.

The Demographics of Independence

So there was a paper out on independence. Nope, not from the government, from Common Weal  – ‘The Demographics of Independence’ authored by the excellent Craig Dalzell. It’s full of useful and sometimes alarming information on the demographics of yes and no voters. On the plus side, support for independence has risen rapidly amongst new Scots and those from other parts of the UK. On the negative side, support for independence has dropped amongst native-born Scots and in particular amongst young females.

One interesting fact was the high level of support for independence amongst Labour voters. The paper had measured it at 22%. At the actual referendum, they thought it was as high as 40%. The staunchest independence supporters according to this paper are the C2DEs or working classes.  If Labour ever wanted to recover from the slump it is in, a canny leader could do worse than reverse the party’s policy on hostility to independence to one of neutrality or even support. It would probably also help to stop leaning right on policy. For that matter, that’s a reminder every party of independence could do with. 

Oh and Craig Dalzell is doing an event for us on the 9th of Sept at 7 pm on climate change. Do come along. The link to book is here: https://www.isp.scot/isp-on-climate-change/  

It’s not easy being Green

There’s been talk of late about clean energy in the form of ‘blue hydrogen’ to power, but scientists are finding that its use in homes and industry could be up to 20% worse for the climate than using natural gas, because of the emissions produced while extracting it.

Electric vehicles also have their difficulties. George Kerevan pointed out in a recent article in the National that what is overlooked in the rush to electrification is that electric cars need rechargeable lithium batteries. To be rechargeable they must contain the extremely rare element cobalt, 70% of the world’s supply being found in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Large mining companies control much of the trade, but ‘informal’ mining by people using their bare hands provides up to a quarter of the world supply, apparently entering the supply chain illicitly under the noses of the big corporations.  It is informally acknowledged, it is deadly and the West benefits.

Big Mining’s exploitation of resources brings little benefit to the DRC or the local people, who exist in poverty as collateral damage. No Western government will insist on better conditions for Congolese workers. 

It is something all parties including ISP must address as part of our response to the climate emergency. It’s not easy being green, but we have to be prepared to do difficulty. The flip side of this coin is that we have an opportunity to build a new manufacturing infrastructure that has fair and just outcomes for all if we build carefully and ethically.

Poverty

Also this week, another set of grim poverty statistics highlight that nothing has changed for the poor.  According to the National Records of Scotland, the death rate in Scotland’s most deprived areas is double that of the most affluent.  Chief culprits were the predictable drugs, alcohol and poor diet, with the addition of Covid.

Kate Forbes rightly laments the lack of all the economic powers Scotland would have on independence, but during the last parliament, Scotland found itself unable to take over PIP payments from the UK government and handed it back to them for the foreseeable.  Intrusive, degrading, unfair and often illegal denial of payments to some of the most vulnerable will continue while those in charge of the UK live on inherited wealth and privilege. 

Heritage

Finally this week, MSPs rejected calls for more planning protections for Scotland’s battlefields, including the right to restrict housebuilding.  The petitions committee believed existing rights to be sufficient, despite acknowledging that repeated applications caused an onerous burden on local communities to keep opposing plans.  It was not progressed for examination by the committee.  The only thing promised was to write to the government urging greater protection from repeated applications by builders.  It is frankly incredible that inclusion on the mandatory Inventory of national battlefields still offers no specific protection from development.

Americans would baulk at building on the Gettysburg battlefield. Imagine if the Belgians built on Waterloo battlefield. They are both rightly regarded as national monuments and war graves. Yet the continued existence of Scotland’s battlefields is dependent on a few dogged local campaigners with the whole planning system weighted against them. It’s time Scotland took a hold of its heritage at a national level, instead of contracting it out. For if we do not value our heritage and history, no one else will.

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