The evening of Tuesday 30th May, just over a week before the General Election, Inclusion Scotland, and a coalition of other equalities organisations, hosted a hustings where party representatives could address equalities issues, chaired by Juliette Swann of Amnesty International.
The organisations belonging to this coalition all work to overcome discrimination and exclusion for marginalised and underrepresented groups; they include, as well as Inclusion Scotland, BEMIS, Engender, Stonewall Scotland, and others, and were joined by the British Deaf Association. For this General Election, the group are calling collectively for a commitment to maintain the Equality Act 2010 and implement it in full, as soon as possible; maintain the Human Rights Act 1998 and our membership of the European Convention on Human Right, the Council of Europe and the United Nations Human Rights Conventions.
The party representatives first gave their opening statements:
- Tristan Gray, the Scottish Liberal Democrat candidate for Edinburgh East, said that he’s proud to be part of a party that prioritises equality of opportunity, and that nobody should be held back or pushed forwards by their circumstances. These values have led the Liberal Democrats to bring about all-women shortlists to ensure their top seats in Scotland are competed by women candidates, as well as for them to champion equal marriage legislation in the last parliament. The Liberal Democrats would champion “real equality of opportunity, world-class education and the best healthcare the world has to offer” – regardless of the constitutional situation with Brexit and Scottish independence.
- Cllr Lezley Cameron, a Labour councillor in Edinburgh, began by listing the legislation the Labour Party has brought forward to make the country more equal: the Equal Pay Act, the Sex Discrimination Act, the Equality Act, and SureStart. But under the Conservatives, progress is being rolled back for women, disabled people, LGBT people and BME communities. A Labour Government would enhance the powers of the Human Rights Commission to make it truly independent; sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into UK Law; make terminal illness a protected characteristic under the Equality Act; give British Sign Language (BSL) full recognition as a recognised language. Labour has commissioned a diversity report on their own party; they would have an equal pay audit requirement on large employers to address the pay gap for Black and Asian workers; would reform the Gender Recognition Act and the Equality Act; bring the law on LGBT crimes into hate crimes based on race and faith; train teachers and health and social care professionals on issues faced by LGBT students and make sex education LGBT inclusive; have a 50% woman cabinet; have a gender audit for all policy and legislation for its impact on women; ensure women have access to safe legal abortion; and appoint a violence against women commissioner.
- Adam McVey, an SNP councillor and the new SNP group leader at Edinburgh City Council, began by stating that Labour’s agenda as set out by Lezley was one that the SNP agrees with. In the local council elections for Edinburgh, out of 27 SNP candidates, 1 in 10 of them were LGBTI, 2 were disabled, and they fielded the only BME candidate in the entire city. As a white man over 3o in politics, Adam expressed that he is now contributing to the problem rather than the solution, but is trying to reconcile himself with his feminist views. He is proud that the SNP put a bill about violence against women and girls in the statute book. He stated he would keep his comments focused predominantly on Edinburgh due to the short notice and because he’s an Edinburgh councillor and the leader of the SNP in the city. We shouldn’t just think from our own perspective about how we engage with the city around us, public services, and benefit tax system, we should think about how this will affect everyone – disabled people who find it hard to get around, people being hammered by benefit changes, women who have to fill in a form to prove they’ve been raped. Conservative policies are an attack on women, an attack on disabled people, and an attack on the poor. Adam asked how the Tories can justify the attack on almost every minority group that exists in this country; how they can justify action to take away the Human Rights Legislation without saying what they are going to replace it with.
- Maggie Chapman, co-convener of the Scottish Greens, said that the Greens have worked hard to promote equality, campaigned with communities against austerity and proposed policies such as a citizen’s income, higher taxes for the wealthiest in society and other ideas to tackle inequality, but this has been difficult given wave after wave of attacks from Westminster. Since the election of a Tory government in 2010, austerity has greatly exacerbated inequalities in our society with year upon year of cuts targeting women, disabled people, and the worse off and vulnerable in our society. Austerity and attacks against immigrant communities amounts to economic violence to these groups, which has been devastating to individuals and society more generally. Greens are firmly committed to ending the attack on social security, and want to retain the Equality, Human Rights Act and membership of the Council of Europe and UN as these provide vital safeguards for members of our society. The first piece of Green legislation in the UK was the Scottish Prejudice Act which allows against crimes of hate if as a motivating factor. Greens want to repeal the family cap and rape clause; want an end to policies like Prevent that lead to poor treatment of young people and people of colour and people whose faith makes them a target. Greens will always stand with communities and individuals facing discrimination, will work to promote equality in our places of work and learning, in the structures of our politics and our wider democracy and will seek to work with other politicians who share these aims.
- Max Mitchell, a Conservative councillor in Edinburgh, apologised that he had less than an hour to revise. Brexit is happening, all of our human rights will be maintained, but May had already said she wants to make the current rights in the EU into UK law and strengthen them beyond that. It was a Conservative and Lib Dem coalition that brought in the Marriage Equality Act. It was an SNP Government with its Named Persons Policy that infringed the European Court of Human Rights, not a Conservative Government.
The party representatives then responded to questions from the audience on the topics of the family cap and rape clause, homelessness, equal pay, foreign aid, zero hour contracts, representation of women and disabled people in politics, and housing for disabled people.
You can find the full video of the debate below, and a transcript here: