Adam Frew analyses why the SNP have got themselves into a mess over same-sex marriage.
Anti-homophobic campaign denounced as Nazi propaganda, asking MSPs to support gay and lesbian people deemed ‘Rubbish’, and a motion put before the Scottish Parliament stating that no person or organisation can be forced to approve of same-sex marriage. All this from a political party which has taken a million pounds in donations from the homophobic businessman that bankrolled the campaign against the repeal of Section 28. So why is First Minister Alex Salmond so quiet? Answer: It’s his own Scottish National Party espousing the vitriol.
Last month, New York became the latest state in the US to introduce marriage equality. Same-sex marriage is now legal in 19 countries and jurisdictions around the world, with a further two dozen countries exercising some form of civil partnerships. Here in Scotland, the debate around same-sex marriage has begun, with the first opening salvos of homophobic rhetoric fired from some rather surprising quarters.
The SNP, whose election victory this year brought them majority control of the Scottish Parliament, have pledged to hold a consultation on same-sex marriage later this year in fulfilment of a muted election promise. But it seems initial opposition has come from the ranks of the SNP itself, with a motion put before Parliament by MSP John Mason, and supported by fellow SNP MSPs Bill Walker, Dave Thomson and Richard Lyle, stating that “no person or organisation should be forced to be involved or to approve of same-sex marriage”.
Mason defended his motion, saying that he wanted to stop the debate flowing in one direction. However, more controversy emerged when co-signatory Bill Walker likened anti-homophobia literature to Nazi propaganda. Walker, who received an email sent to all MSPs asking them to support gay and lesbian Scots sent a single word reply back to equalities campaigner Jeff Duncan: “Rubbish”. The MSP later went on to say of the campaign logo, which featured the word ‘homophobia’ scored out as “quite intimidating actually because … it reminded me of the pre-war Nazi-type stuff banning things.” These bizarre and shocking comments demonstrate complete contempt for the thousands of people exterminated by the Nazis for their sexual orientation. However, as grotesque these words are, they should not be unexpected.
The SNP has a long and contradictory history with gay rights and homophobia. Traditionally, the SNP has adopted a largely liberal and progressive stance on gay rights, with their voting record showing fairly consistent support. However, it was the endorsement of Brian Souter’s kinghood that stood in stark contrast to this modest commitment to equality. Souter, the millionaire businessman who bankrolled the campaign against the repeal of Section 28 in Scotland, donated £500,000 to the SNP at both the 2007 and 2011 elections (See Jenny Morrison’s article on Souter’s Knighthood).
The question many gay rights campaigners are asking now is why does the SNP has such a conflicting relationship with the LGBT community?
To understand this, we must look at the deeper contradictions of the Scottish National Party, whose ultimate goal remains independence. The SNP has successfully modelled itself as a moderate social-democratic party, adopting small, but progressive, policies that have proved highly popular. The abolition of prescription charges, bridge tolls, tuition fees, the removal of private finance from the NHS, as well as opposing Trident and the war on Iraq have catapulted the SNP into majority rule in Parliament. But the issue of gay rights has come as a more difficult issue for the SNP to reconcile.
It was far easier for the SNP to oppose the Iraq war given the massive public opposition to it. Likewise, publicly opposing racism and islamophobia is not seen as a vote-losing principal, this was shown in November 2009 when Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon joined a march against the fascist Scottish Defence League in Glasgow. The SNP have chosen to take the neutral stance of supporting the current civil liberties afforded to gay and lesbian people, with First Minister, Alex Salmond dodging the question of his support for gay marriage in a recent interview.
Same-sex marriage has the SNP worried, however. Although a recent poll by the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey in 2010 showed that 61% of the public now support same-sex marriage, compared to 41% support in 2002, the issue still has the potential to divide the party. On one hand they have the a small majority of the public generally in favour of same-sex marriage; on the other they have a large minority of religious people and socially conservative voters who back the party, but oppose marriage equality. Throw into the mix a homophobic businessman who is one of the party’s principal donors, and it is easy to see why the First Minister has remained largely silent on the issue.
The SNP’s whole purpose of being is the independence of Scotland. Those in its ranks range from social-democrats to free-marketeers, some with strong religious beliefs, others with none. Up until now the SNP have managed to appear as a coherent force, with mildly progressive popular policies that few can argue with. The issue of marriage equality is far more divisive for the party, and will test this alliance of social backgrounds in a way we may not have seen before. Maintaining the image of an all-Scotland party that represents every walk of life in Scotland is crucial for the SNP’s hopes of securing victory in the forthcoming independence referendum.
The SNP leadership does not wish to take sides in this argument; they know that this issue will alienate at least one side. But socialists must make the principled argument for marriage equality, it is the progressive side of the argument that the SNP should be pushed to adopt in the upcoming debate. We must work with all the progressive elements inside the SNP, whilst at the same time exposing the bigotry and homophobia of the John Masons and Bill Walkers of the Scottish National Party.
From the International Socialist Group site
Adam Frew is a renewable energy design engineer, a Radical Independence activist and a member of the International Socialist Group based in the South side of Glasgow