REGULATIONS banning gay and bisexual men from donating blood unless they abstain from sex for a year have been condemned by parliamentarians.
Rona Mackay MSP led a debate in the Scottish Parliament calling current rules “archaic” and “discriminatory” on Tuesday, November 29 at 5pm.
Members from Labour, Tories and Greens backed Ms Mackay’s calls to drop the 12-month sexual abstention rule on men who have sex with men donating blood in Scotland.
The MSPs speaking out against the regulation included Rona Mackay, Christina McKelvie, Colin Smyth, Miles Briggs and Jamie Greene. Maureen Watt, minister for mental health, stood in for health minister Aileen Campbell MSP and defended the government’s current policy.
Administrations in the United Kingdom currently follow guidance from the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO).
Ms Mackay, the MSP for Strathkelvin and Bearsden, said: “I was proud to lead the debate into lifting this discriminatory ban for men who have sex with men donating blood in Scotland.
“This regulation unfairly targets sexual orientation of gay and bisexual men instead of sexual behaviours.
“Of course, there must be stringent donor selection criteria aimed at protecting both donors and recipients of blood transfusions, no one would ever argue otherwise, but I believe that these should not be based on sexual orientation, but on participation in high-risk behaviour.
“The debate was about equality and inclusion and for many gay men, a 12-month deferral is effectively a lifetime deferral.
“Even if we lowered the deferral period to a 3-month deferral, this is still effectively a lifetime ban on MSM couples in stable, loving relationships.
“This is not equal, or inclusive. Let’s go further, Scotland – end this inequality now.”
I will start on a happy note. Two close friends of mine who are in a same-sex marriage have just gone through the adoption process and hope to welcome their new arrival to their home in the next few months. Everyone who knows them is in no doubt that they will make fabulous parents and that their child will grow up in a household of love and safety. That indicates two things—first, that we have moved on vastly as a society from the days when it was thought that only the traditional nuclear family model would work as a framework for adoption or permanence, and secondly, that the single most important thing is that children are brought up in a safe, happy and loving home, with parents who nurture them and give them the tools to be well-rounded, decent adults.
Like everyone in the debate, I welcome the first-ever adoption week Scotland, which is taking place this week. The Scottish Government’s aim is for Scotland to be the best place in the world for children to grow up, regardless of their background or what circumstances they are born into. Make no mistake: the ideal place for children to grow up is at home with their natural parents, but as we all know for many children, and for many reasons, that is not always possible.
One of the saddest things that I experienced during my years as a children’s panel member was witnessing a mother with an addiction problem read out a letter of thanks to her toddler son’s foster mother who was sitting next to her. With tears streaming down her face, she spoke of her gratitude that someone had offered her little boy the chance of a better life—a life she knew that she could not give him. Everyone in the room could see that the child was thriving due to being nurtured in a family home. Accordingly, it is vital that there are effective, confident professionals who can support children into alternative care placements, whether that be through adoption or a permanence order.
As the minister outlined, more than 300 families have adopted children through Scotland’s adoption register, but it is sad that more than twice as many children are on the register needing a family as there are prospective adopters offering one. This month, Scotland’s adoption register has moved to an online system, which gives adopters and social workers direct involvement faster. That will reduce delays and find the best possible matches between children and families.
Deciding to adopt is a life-changing event and the decision is never taken lightly. The process can be long and sometimes stressful for prospective adopters, who are put through rigorous checks and stringent suitability tests. That is simply because we have to get it right for every child. The Scottish Government is constantly striving to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the adoption and permanence order process, including through the introduction of adopter-led matching this year, as has been mentioned.
We are providing hands-on, expert support to local authorities to help children achieve permanence through the permanence and care excellence programme. PACE brings together local authority agencies and professionals, the children’s hearings system and health services to improve and to speed up processes.
Scottish Adoption has this year been awarded top marks across the board by the Care Inspectorate. That is just one of the many valued agencies and voluntary groups that support people through the adoption process.
A fitting way to conclude would be to listen to the experience of one adoptive parent:
“With the support of Scottish Adoption we have been able to parent our child therapeutically, to help him develop from an anxious, frightened child, to a loving, caring, funny and charming young man.
He is still only very young, but thanks to the support we have received, we now realise that we, as parents, have what it takes to support him on his journey to greatness.
Adoption has been far more challenging than we ever could have realised when sitting in the room at that first information meeting, but by far, the best thing that we have ever done in our lives.”
That is proof—if it were ever needed—that the rewards outweigh any challenges and that loving and nurturing a child, whether biological or not, is beyond compare.
I am happy to support the motion and the Labour amendment.
I am pleased to be able to speak in the debate and I thank my colleague Gillian Martin for bringing it to the chamber. As she articulately outlined, flexible working is fundamental to Scotland’s economy and is the key to helping our society flourish at every level. It is also the key to establishing a healthy work-life balance for families.
That is why I am delighted that the Scottish Government, whose transformative changes to childcare are due to be trialled in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and the Scottish Borders early next year, recognises that a free, high-quality and flexible childcare system helps children, parents and families the length and breadth of the country.
Of course, flexible childcare ties in with flexible working. For parents it means making it easier to juggle their time between working and looking after the children, and it means that they no longer have to turn down a job offer because they cannot meet the 9-to-5 timetable. We have come a long way from the days of my mother’s generation, when women had to give up work when they had a baby.
We only have to look to our Scandinavian neighbours for examples: Sweden, like Denmark and the Netherlands, has adopted a policy to improve the work-life balance for its citizens. The Swedish Government has taken the initiative to reduce the work-life conflict, experienced mostly by women, by promoting men’s participation in housework and the upbringing of children. Parental leave is structured so that it encourages men to stay at home more with their newborn babies, as Gillian Martin and Liam Kerr mentioned in their speeches. It is no coincidence that the Danes have just been voted the happiest nation on the planet due to their progressive work-life balance employment structure, and who does not envy the wonderful Spanish tradition of siesta time? Those are examples of flexible working practices at their best.
The Scottish economy is one that is adapting to a modern world, as Gillian Martin outlined. Advances in technology have made it possible for us to work anywhere at any time. With a laptop, tablet, or phone we can access the files at work and pick up from where we left off. It has been proved beyond all doubt that giving employees the option of flexible hours is hugely beneficial, both to employees and to the employers. For employers it means a happier staff who can work in the hours when they feel most motivated, instead of sitting in front of a desk when they are tired and cannot focus. For businesses, it means a more efficient workforce that increases overall productivity.
I recently spoke at a chamber of commerce meeting and was asked by one member what financial help he would get from the Scottish Government to enable him to pay the living wage, about which I had just been talking. I had to be diplomatic in my answer and explain about the expansion of the small business bonus scheme and so on, but I really wanted to ask him why he thought it was acceptable to call himself a businessman and pay less than the living wage to his employees.
Like the living wage, flexible working is about respecting employees and trusting them to give 100 per cent to the job without having to compromise their family life. In short, flexible working motivates a happier workforce and has the result of benefiting everyone in society.
STRATHKELVIN and Bearsden’s MSP has urged her constituents to join in the final push of the SNP’s biggest ever listening exercise.
On Friday, November 18, Rona Mackay MSP appealed to people across her constituency to take part in the online survey which is due to close on November 30.
The National Survey is the Scottish National Party’s biggest ever political listening exercise, and aims to understand what the people of Scotland think of the referenda that have happened over the last two years.
So far, more than 1.6 million people have taken part.
Ms Mackay said: “I am asking the people of Strathkelvin and Bearsden to get behind the final push of the National Survey.
“It’s so important we make the people of Scotland’s voices heard as we move into the future in these turbulent political times.
“Another important aspect of the National Survey is that we are asking people who were ineligible to vote in the EU Referendum to tell us what they think as well. They could be 16-17 year olds, who are eligible to vote in Scottish elections, but not in UK elections. They could be EU nationals who have lived and worked in Scotland for years, but were turned away because of the colour of their passports.”
The survey is also available in Polish, Urdu, Punjabi, Chinese, French and Gaelic.
KIRKINTILLOCH’S shared space scheme was the subject of discussion at a recent Scottish Parliament committee meeting.
The Public Petitions Committee heard from Transport Minister Humza Yousaf as the debate about the controversial changes rages on.
Visually impaired campaigner Sandy Taylor lodged a petition with the parliament and on Thursday, November 10 the minister gave evidence on what the government can and cannot do.
Rona Mackay MSP, a supporter of the campaign against the shared space, had to declare an interest.
After the meeting, she said: “The meeting of the Public Petitions Committee where Transport Minister Humza Yousaf gave evidence on the Kirkintilloch shared space scheme at Catherine Street junction was a very productive one.
“While the Scottish Government cannot directly intervene, the Transport Minister has agreed to discuss the issue of safety and equality with East Dunbartonshire Council, and hopefully they will see sense and reinstate the crossing lights.
“Sandy Taylor is quite right to ask for sanctions against East Dunbartonshire Council until this is resolved – the shared space is a serious risk for our disabled, elderly and vulnerable citizens.”
The Police Scotland estate strategy, which was approved by the Scottish Police Authority on 24 June 2015, sets out a framework that has providing a service to local communities at its core and seeks to remodel the police estate to make it fit for the policing needs of the future. It includes a strong emphasis on sharing facilities with other public services, where possible.
The review of the police estate presents opportunities to increase collaboration with partners, share premises and join up services to communities. There are already examples of collaboration: in Cupar, the division leases and occupies a facility shared with Fife Council; in Fort William, a new shared police and ambulance station was opened in 2014; and in Aberdeen, a joint police and national health service medical practice was opened two years ago in the Ferryhill area.
The Scottish Police Authority has made it clear that local police commanders will play a leading role in deciding whether changes to the police estate are compatible with maintaining an effective local policing service. Engagement will be undertaken by local policing teams to ensure that future decisions are built on local consultation with communities and partners.
The review of the estate identified a number of police stations that, in the police’s view, do not match the police’s current requirements, which are subject to some form of consultation with communities, partners and staff. Consultation will be carried out by local police teams, to ensure that decisions are based on local needs in communities. The nature of the consultation will be determined at local level and will depend on local circumstances and the change that is being considered. Anyone who has an interest in or view on the management of the police estate should engage fully with Police Scotland. We expect a range of local interests to be taken into account before firm proposals are made on individual stations.
I suspect that I am not alone in being concerned about how the news of a review and potential changes to local policing were made public. What lessons will Police Scotland take forward in communicating the review’s process, considerations and outcomes?
As the member might be aware, Police Scotland is continuing work on its estate review and the approach has been very much led at local level. Local commanders, through their local policing teams, will be responsible for taking forward engagement, but much of that work is still at an early stage. I encourage all members who have an interest in the matter to engage with local commanders and to express their views.
Of course, Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority reflect on their approach to matters, but I emphasise to members that work is at a very early stage. They will have every opportunity to engage with local commanders when local consultation starts.
Does the cabinet secretary appreciate that because of the way in which the proposals were revealed to the public—through a freedom of information request rather than by the police or the Government—communities are concerned that local policing will suffer? When was the Scottish Government informed of the review and potential closure of 58 sites? What discussions, if any, has the Government had with Police Scotland on the matter?
As I just said, the process is still at a very early stage. Police Scotland’s review of its estate is on-going and local commanders have identified 58 sites as part of the process. Engagement in the local communities that are affected has still to take place, because the police are considering how to take it forward at local level. The process is not being driven by the Scottish Police Authority at the centre; it is being taken forward by local commanders, through their local teams.
Engagement will start when Police Scotland, at local level, has determined what approach it wants to take. For example, in some of the 58 cases, Police Scotland might be looking at relocating to a shared facility with the local authority, health board or another part of the public sector. Some of that work is still being taken forward at local command level, and once it has been completed, the police will be in a position to engage with local communities on the options. Final sign-off on the matter will be for the Scottish Police Authority.
A full engagement process will be taken forward when the police at local divisional level have arrived at the best approach for their area.
ELECTED representatives of Kirkintilloch have come together with a vow to protect Scotland’s position in the European Union.
At a public meeting on Friday, November 4 Alyn Smith MEP, Rona Mackay MSP, Stuart McDonald MP and Councillor Gillian Renwick addressed concerned citizens about Brexit.
Billed as ‘Scotland’s Place in Europe’, around 70 residents turned out to hear from the panel, which gave updates from all three parliaments.
Chaired by Councillor Renwick, the politicians made speeches before answering a series of questions from householders, including local business people.
Ms Mackay, the MSP for Strathkelvin and Bearsden, said: “Many EU nationals in my constituency are worried about their place in Scotland after the Brexit vote. I was glad some of these residents turned out at the public meeting to air their concerns to us – I provided an update about what’s going on at Holyrood in relation to Brexit.”
After the event, Mr Smith, an SNP MEP for Scotland, said: “It was great to come back to Kirkintilloch, the event was about setting out where we have come, what we’ve done since, what’s actually at stake and what’s coming up in relation to Scotland and the EU.
“It was about sharing intelligence with people about what’s going on in the European Parliament. It’s important to make sure the people know they have hard-working representatives who are at their posts and on their jobs.”
Mr McDonald, MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, said: “I hope local people found the ‘Scotland’s Place in Europe’ event useful. It was certainly beneficial to my colleagues and I, who spent a long time after speaking with concerned residents about the local impact of the UK splitting from the EU.
“Questions are just continuing to pile up now about Brexit, and I let those at the meeting know we are working incredibly hard at Westminster to get the best possible resolution for the people in our constituencies and to protect Scotland’s interests in Europe.”
THE CONTROVERSIAL American presidential election was among the many themes Rona Mackay was quizzed on at a recent high school call.
Rona visited Kirkintilloch High School on Monday November 7 and met senior pupils from modern studies classes.
The Strathkelvin and Bearsden MSP spent more than two hours answering to the pupils, on subjects from Donald Trump to Universal Credit.
Rona Mackay said: “It was a pleasure to visit Kirkintilloch High School and answer the questions of so many modern studies pupils. From knife crime, child poverty and a sugar tax, I was asked about a lot of policies and my own political beliefs.
“I would like to thank Kirkintilloch High School for inviting me a long to speak to their pupils, as young people are at the heart of my agenda in Holyrood. I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to returning to the school.”
RONA Mackay has challenged her opposition counterparts to explain why they have voted in favour of repealing an anti-sectarian law which is supported by the vast majority of people across Scotland.
Opposition MSPs voted for a Tory motion calling on the Scottish Government to repeal the Act, which has been important in tackling sectarianism, prejudice and discrimination.
Ms Mackay, an SNP MSP, has questioned why the opposition parties view this issue as a priority over education, health, jobs, the economy and protecting Scotland’s interests in Europe.
Commenting after the vote, the Strathkelvin and Bearsden MSP said: “This vote shows that the priorities of Holyrood’s opposition parties are staggeringly skewed, with opposition MSPs across in the west of Scotland believing scrapping hate crime legislation is the top issue facing the country.
“The legislation is backed by 80 per cent of the population, and it is extraordinary for opposition MSPs covering Strathkelvin and Bearsden to be rallying behind the Tories in their efforts to repeal an anti-sectarian law.
“People across Strathkelvin and Bearsden will now be asking – rightly – what on Earth the opposition are playing at. At a time when the SNP Government is focused on education, health, jobs, the economy and protecting Scotland’s place in Europe, other parties would rather see us remove legislation that tackles sectarianism, prejudice and discrimination, whilst offering no alternative in its place.
“It is time the opposition parties got their priorities in order, backed efforts to tackle sectarianism and other hate crimes, and focused on the other issues that really matter to people across my constituency.”
Rona’s Speech: Repealing OBFA does no good to tackle sectarianism in football
Rona Mackay MSP spoke at the Sectarian Behaviour and Hate Crime debate on Wednesday, November 2, defending the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012.
The Strathkelvin and Bearsden MSP said: “It sends out a clear message that we will not permit discrimination, violence, sectarianism, prejudice or hate crime in Scotland.”
The debate was brought about by Conservative MSP Douglas Ross’s motion calling the Scottish Government to repeal the 2012 act, arguing that it was poorly drafted and unworkable.
Rona said: “I want to clear up a few myths about the act. It is working and is reducing sectarianism at football. In 2016, the number of people charged with offensive behaviour from the previous year has increased by 49 per cent, which means that the amount of abusive behaviour from the previous year has increased by 49 per cent.”
Citing polling data from the independent YouGov Plc, Rona said that the 2012 act is supported by 80 per cent of the public. The act also has the support of football clubs across Scotland.
In response to the criticism that the 2012 act is badly equipped to tackle hate crime in football, Rona said: “Of course we will consider ways of improving the 2012 act’s application. We are happy to do so.
“However, to repeal the act and get rid of an additional and useful tool, which strengthens existing legislation for police and prosecutors, is not a priority for this Government.
“The Crown Office said that repeal would leave a gap in legislation, and we would be the only part of the United Kingdom that does not have such legislation.
“Douglas Ross’s motion, which asks for the repeal of the act, is regressive and negative. The motion is right to say that ‘sectarian behaviour and hate crime are a blight on society in Scotland’, but Douglas Ross’s party, like Labour, has not come up with a single solution to the problem. What is the Opposition’s alternative? Breach of the peace is simply not strong enough.”
The motion was backed by all opposition parties, including Labour, Green, and the Liberal Democrats. A vote on the issue saw the SNP defeated marginally by one vote (63 to 64).
Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP): I want to highlight the meaning of the word “justice”. The dictionary definition states that it is
“a concern for justice, peace, and genuine respect for people; fairness, equity and egalitarianism”.
Those values are precisely what the 2012 act promotes. It sends out a clear message that we will not permit discrimination, violence, sectarianism, prejudice or hate crime in Scotland.
I want to clear up a few myths about the act. It is working and is reducing sectarianism at football. In 2016, the number of people charged with offensive behaviour from the previous year has increased by 49 per cent, which means that the amount of abusive behaviour and language on our football terraces and streets has reduced by 49 per cent.
The fact is that the 2012 act is supported by the majority of the public—around 80 per cent. Those people just want to enjoy a game of football without having to experience the bile and hatred of a tiny minority of fans.
Neil Findlay: Will the member take an intervention?
Rona Mackay: I am sorry, I have too little time.
The 2012 act is also, in the main, supported by football clubs across Scotland.
The 2012 act is not confined to football. An offence is also committed if material is intended to stir up religiously motivated hatred. Sectarianism is not a matter for football in isolation, because the problem goes way beyond the football ground. The 2012 act is also designed to address online communications and hate crime.
Of course we will consider ways of improving the 2012 act’s application. We are happy to do so. However, to repeal the act and get rid of an additional and useful tool, which strengthens existing legislation for police and prosecutors, is not a priority for this Government. The Crown Office said that repeal would leave a gap in legislation, and we would be the only part of the United Kingdom that does not have such legislation. Repeal would be an entirely retrograde step. What message would it send to the next generation?
When my son was a football-mad six-year-old and wanted a football top, we bought him a Partick Thistle Football Club top so that he would not be identified with either side of the old firm. How do we explain sectarianism to a young child? We simply cannot do so, and we should not have to do so. Sectarianism has been the curse of the west of Scotland, and any steps that our Government takes to put a stop to it should be welcomed.
Douglas Ross’s motion, which asks for the repeal of the act, is regressive and negative. The motion is right to say that
“sectarian behaviour and hate crime are a blight on society in Scotland”,
but Douglas Ross’s party, like Labour, has not come up with a single solution to the problem. What is the Opposition’s alternative? Breach of the peace is simply not strong enough.
Douglas Ross: Will the member take an intervention?
The Deputy Presiding Officer: She is in her final minute.
Rona Mackay: Labour and the Tories supported the approach whole-heartedly in 2011.
To members who oppose the 2012 act, I say that we are proud that, rather than pay lip service to the problem, the SNP Government is prepared to tackle it head on and rid Scotland of a poison that has been a blight on our nation for far too long.