Friday, 6 September 2013

Equality Network debate

My opening remarks to last night's Equality Network debate on Scotland's Future:

I’m pleased to be here among people on both sides of the debate who I’ve known and worked alongside for decades, and I am proud to call them friends. If we disagree on independence, so what? It’s not the most important thing in the world. 
Human rights - including LGBT rights - matter more. War and peace matter more. Education and health matter more.
In those terms I’m confident that there are many more things we agree on than disagree on in this room. I think that’s worth bearing in mind. 

My view of the independence question is simple - I’m looking for the best outcome for the most people. 
I have nothing ideological in me about the union; no sense of nationalism for the UK. My politics is not based on geography, it’s based on the values of fairness, equality and social justice. 
And it’s simply my judgement that we get the best outcome for the most people through Scotland staying in the UK. 

I believe that partly because I believe in the redistribution of wealth as a principle, and Scotland staying in the UK enables that to happen to a far more significant extent than if we were separated. 
I believe it also because I care about people across the UK, and I know that within the UK we can do a lot more for them than just set examples. 
Some people say the UK can’t be reformed and we need to give up and start afresh. I fundamentally oppose that sort of defeatism. I want a progressive, inclusive and fair society for everyone in the UK, not just those of us north of Berwick. 
But I don’t think we should be sitting back and waiting for it, and moaning when it doesn’t come - I think we should be out fighting for it. All the gains we’ve made as an LGBT community have come from fighting, not sitting back. Progress is not inevitable, but it is achievable.

Social justice has always been achieved by bringing people together in common cause, not dividing them. That’s never more true than in this community. 
When we defeated Pat Robertson in his attempt to buy into Scotland’s banking sector, it was an alliance of LGBT groups, women’s groups, church groups and political groups that beat him. It was by coming together that we achieved that. 
And I think unity, rather than division, has been key to many of the victories we’ve had as a community.

There is an argument that a socially progressive Scotland could be an example to the rest of the UK come independence. In my opinion, devolution is a far better place from which to influence the rest of the UK on LGBT equality. 
The actions of foreign countries have a much weaker influence on us than the actions of parts of our own country. 
And within the UK the influence can go two ways, as witnessed by the distinct whiff of one-upmanship when England and Wales passed equal marriage before we did. The reality is that nothing like the same sort of influence happened when our closest neighbours the Scandic countries did it. Devolution is a far better platform for setting examples.

Much of the debate so far has been about reinforcing the apparent political differences between Scotland and the rest of the UK. 
The truth is all democracies have areas where different views prevail - that would be the case in an independent Scotland as it is in the UK. The central belt overrides everywhere else. 
If we were to divide up the UK along political lines, we wouldn’t be splitting at the England/Scotland border. We’d be drawing a line from Wales to Hull, or thereabouts.
In any case, there’s a name for redrawing boundaries because you don’t like election results - gerrymandering.

This vote is about where national power lies; nothing else. We must not pretend it is about policies - that’s what elections are for. 
Independence would create a new island of self-interest in the world. And a new island of self-interest creates competition not co-operation. Competition to attract multinationals with tax breaks. Competition which favours corporate interests over the interests of people. 
I don’t want that. I want to be part of a reforming movement which aims to improve the whole of the UK. I want us to continue to work together for social and economic justice and for LGBT equality. And I think we can do so, better, together.