by Lee Robb, Vice Convener, City of Stirling SNP
Nobody can claim that Richard Leonard has had an easy time of it since he was elected Leader of the Scottish Labour Party. From ill-informed speeches on the public nature of agencies like Scottish Water to woeful contributions at First Minister’s Questions, it’s clear that the fortunes of Labour in Scotland are not set to improve any time soon.
However, since Mr Leonard finally got around to assembling his own frontbench team at Holyrood, he has come under fire for one appointment in particular: an anti-gay marriage campaigner as Scottish Labour’s spokesperson on inequality.
Elaine Smith MSP spent much of her time in 2013 warning the country that gay people getting married would cause unforeseen “problems for society overall.” At the time, she also predicted the arrival of legal polygamy which, according to her calculations, would come as a direct result of same-sex couples entering into civil marriages.
As if this weren’t enough to make clear Smith’s views on same-sex relationships, she offered yet more to her ‘I’m not homophobic, but…’ tirade by criticising the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill for not providing “freedom of speech” protections to people who would otherwise discriminate against gay couples.
It is therefore alarming that a person with such strong views against equal rights for gay people is now the chief policymaker on equality for Scottish Labour.
It would, however, be wrong to suggest that opponents of same-sex marriage should be prevented from having influential roles in our politics. Indeed, a small number of SNP MSPs voted against the legislation at the time (which passed overwhelmingly by 105 votes to 18), some of whom serve on the Cabinet to this day. But for Elaine Smith to be appointed to this specific role – as Labour’s defender of equal rights – itself tells a gloomy story about a Labour Party that has lost its way and a Leader who doesn’t quite understand what he’s doing.
During the 2017 snap-General Election, candidates up and down Scotland were contacted by the Equality Network and encouraged to sign up to a pledge to defend and improve rights for LGBT+ people here at home and abroad. Every single SNP candidate signed the pledge, but only a pitiful handful of Scottish Tories did so. Indeed, our own Tory MP here in Stirling has been hounded by members of the public for an explanation as to why he had refused to sign the commitment to LGBT+ people.
Shortly after his narrow win in this constituency, it was revealed by The Herald that Stirling’s Tory MP’s former role as an Area Seventy and as a Stake President within the Mormon Church saw young gay men outed against their will. Harrowing testimonies include families being ruined, threats of ex-communication and personal details of these men being made public by the church.
Of course, Stirling’s Tory MP sits on the Westminster green benches of a party in government that is propped up by the DUP – the mainstream Northern Irish party that is proud of its track record in opposition to equal rights for gay people. Home from home, you might think.
After scraping his 148 majority here in June last year and being elected as Stirling’s MP, Scottish Tory Leader (and openly gay woman) Ruth Davidson tweeted her joy: “So proud of him. He’ll make an excellent MP.”
Well, Ruth, we’re yet to see it.
If anything, the state of both the Tory and Labour houses on LGBT+ equality should tell us that milestones in equal rights can’t be won and then forgotten. We always have to fight to keep them, win the arguments, and inspire those around us that there’s a better way to do politics.
Only very recently, Scotland topped a human rights association league table as the best country in Europe for LGBT+ equality. Now into a brand new year, let’s all vow to keep our title.
MPs who signed Equality Network LGBT+ pledge: https://www.equality-network.org/lgbtipledge/scotlands-new-mps-june-2017/
Herald coverage relating to Stephen Kerr and the Mormon Church treatment of gay members: http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/15354879.Gays___39_outed__39__when_new_Tory_MP_was_key_figure_in_Mormon_church/
Elaine Smith MSP opposition to gay marriage: https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/www.scotsman.com/news/politics/polygamy-could-follow-gay-marriage-warns-msp-1-3116121/amp