Thursday, June 14, 2007

SNP abolish graduate endowment fee

I must admit I’ve been pleasantly surprised by some of the new SNP government’s policies. One of the most important has got to be the scrapping of the “graduate endowment” charge. Although tuition fees were meant to have been abolished until now Scottish students have had to pay a charge of £2,000 when they leave university. Those receiving the Disabled Students Allowance, like me, have been exempt but for everyone else it’s yet more student debt to be lumbered with and a disincentive to entering further education.

I was also pleased to hear Justice Minister Kenny McAskill saying that too many non-violent criminals are locked up and that instead we should put resources into dealing with the really dangerous criminals such as sex offenders. Of course with by far the highest prison population per capita in Europe what alternative do they have? Another positive thing has to be the cancelling of the decision to close A&E at Ayr and Monklands hospital as well as the government expressing its opposition to nuclear power.

So I’m a bit happier than I was the last time I wrote about the SNP and it's nice for a government to do something I agree with for once. But still I’m sure, like all the main parties, they’ve got their own opportunistic reasons for doing what they have. The question is whether or not the Scottish Executive can move on from taking a few populist measures and show they’re really serious about changing Scotland for the better. It’s not good enough to drop key policies like an independence referendum or, for that matter, the pledge to wipe out existing student debts.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Calls for campaign to target men who buy sex

I was reading in the Sunday Herald that anti-prostitution campaigner Jan Macleod has called on the Scottish Executive to establish a publicity campaign aimed at the men who buy sex now that doing so will, for the first time in Scotland, be a crime. Such an approach could, in my view, help change public attitudes and make clear, in a society where women's bodies are increasingly being seen as any other commodity, that the actions of these men are unacceptable as well as showing who's to blame for the existence of prostitution in the first place. But, as pointed out by the Scottish Coalition Against Sexual Exploitation, misogynistic attitudes among men towards sex begin at an early stage and far more attention needs to be paid, in school sex education classes, to the promotion of egalitarian relationships. Sexuality has to be portrayed not as something which is all about one person's enjoyment but instead as an expression of people's mutual love and respect for each other.

Going back to the recent change the Scottish Executive made in regards to prostitution laws it was certainly welcome but still the priorities are all wrong in that both prostituted women and the so-called “clients” who use money to buy control over their bodies will be held equally responsible for the existence of this vile industry. Sweden offers an alternative approach, one which the Norwegian government is also likely to implement and which the SSP had in its manifesto for the May election. That is to bring in and enforce real penalties against the “clients” while decriminalising prostitutes and giving them help to leave the industry which enslaves them. In Sweden trafficking has been almost completely eradicated and prostitution drastically reduced since the law was introduced in 1999 - so while an end to patriarchy and capitalism will likely be the only way we can fully eradicate the sex industry there is a lot which could be done by the government if the will was there.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Same old anti-abortion crap

Today I was again reminded of the extent of the hostility shown towards abortion rights by many in our society – both at a personal level and from letters in the newspapers. The letters were in response to yet more of the same old sexist pronouncements made by Cardinal Keith O'Brien several days ago. Mr O'Brien himself has compared abortion in Scotland to “two Dunblane massacres a day” – as if a woman deciding to exercise her control over a certain part of her body is somehow equivalent to a psychopathic serial killer gunning down children. This is a truly sickening statement and one which serves to severely devalue the pain and horror of Scotland's worst ever act of mass murder.

Recent news which the church didn't hesitate to comment on is that the number of abortions in Scotland over the last year has risen from 12,603 to 13,081. So what? Why do media outlets like the BBC even bother to mention the fact that another 500 women decided to have an abortion? Of course we remain a deeply misogynistic, deeply patriarchal, society and so you could say it's hardly surprising that such attitudes remain. Yet I still have difficulty comprehending just how twisted the logic of some of the people who oppose abortion really is. Do those who constantly rant about women being personally responsible really believe that men have no role in regards to the pregnancy?

The question is not, as some people suggest, whether or not we should allow the bigoted Mr O'Brien to express his views. It is whether or not he's talking shite and if we believe so then let's make our opinions loud and clear. Let's denounce the insane hypocrisy of an organisation which calls abortion “anti-child, anti-women and anti-person” yet did nothing to prevent the systematic sexual abuse of children at the hands of its own priests.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Brown congratulates Salmond

So Gordon Brown has waited a full 29 days after Scotland elected its new parliament to congratulate Alex Salmond for his nomination as First Minister. Childish maybe but then should we really care about the petty disputes between two of the same old establishment politicians who have done, and will do, nothing to challenge those who hold all the power and wealth in our society?

Let's take a look at the programme Salmond and the SNP have announced:

  • Scrap trams and put more money into improving roads

  • Cut business rates

  • End supermarket offers on alcohol

  • Abandon bridge tolls

  • Stop building nuclear power stations

Some good, some bad, but what of their own policies have they decided to keep silent on? Well an independence referendum seems to be the most glaring as is scrapping the council tax, two of their most radical policies and the ones which would do the most to benefit ordinary people in Scotland. Most in the SNP may support them but Salmond isn't going to try to push anything through if he doesn't think he'll get it passed in parliament which is likely to mean a lot of disappointed SNP voters at the time of the next election.

And there's all the other things they could do (but won't) if they were serious about building a better society. Things like free school meals, free public transport and taxing those who deserve to be taxed. As always we're not going to get what we want from this government and while the end of the SSP's presence in parliament was a disappointment the fight against inequality and injustice continues, on the streets, in the communities and in the workplace.