Thursday, 6 August 2015

Religious and civil liberty for all

The above was the message on several of the placards and banners outside Belfast Court House this morning being brandied about by supporters of Pastor McConnell.

I was tempted, seeing I was wearing my Rainbow badge to ask if this meant that Pastor McConnell would be supporting my civil right to marry another man, Or go further and even my religious right, if we wanted to, for that marriage to take place within a faith group that would be supportive.

However, I suspect the answer would be no, although I didn't get up the guts to ask it. After all, even though there was press present I don't think being one gay man amongst a throng of 20 protesters would go down too well.

if my suspicion is right, this would mean that the other placardscondemning Sharia law merely mean they don't want one type of religious law to have an impact on civil liberties but they are quite happy for their view of religious law to carry on impacting on mine.

Interestingly when I did cross the road at the cross the protesters were almost causing a complete obstruction of the safe egress off the crossing, which I believe could be a criminal offence under the Highways Act.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Dear Cathy Newman, your interview was a sin against journalism

Forgive me for having better things to do on a Friday evening, especially in a week I have spent many hours playing competitive bowls, that to watch Channel 4 News and your interview of my new party leader Tim Farron. But I finally got around to it this morning and have some comments to make.

Firstly, Tim Farron's views on abortion are ones that a number of us can take. I've known a number of single women who became accidentally pregnant at inopportune times in the their lives and with men who were inappropriate or unable to become the father figure to the child they were carrying. I believe the decision of those women as to what they should do under those circumstances is entirely up to them.

On one occasion  I was actually asked by the mother of one of the young women in my church youth group what advise she should give her daughter who had found herself pregnant. I probably shocked that mother by saying that whatever that daughter decided to keep the child, or to give it up for adoption or to abort it so she could get on with the life plan she had, the most important thing was that her mother supported her in her decision. That is a liberal answer and one that Tim was alluding to.

From personal experience I have faced the dilemma of a girlfriend being late. While we waited to see if she was just a little late before buying a testing kit we discussed the possibilities. Both of us were of the opinion that no matter what the circumstances we at that time were in we would work around the fact that there was another mouth to be fed in our lives. That was our personal opinion, our personal decision after considering the various options together. As a Christian when faced with that decision the option of abortion was considered.

As for challenging Tim on whether he believes homosexuality sexual practise is a sin or not shows a clear misunderstanding of:

a) what the liberal party is about
b) that all Christians are the same

Tim was quite right to point out that the Liberal Democrats believe is religious freedom for everyone. That means that there are Christians, Humanists, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Pagans, Atheists, Shintoists and whatever living tooth by jowl within the Liberal Democrats. Indeed our party policy on same sex marriage didn't single out any particular religion but gave all faith groups and humanists the right to self-determine their own position on whether to carry out same-sex marriages or not. That is how the Liberal Democrats deal with religious diversity and diversity of the population as a whole.

As one of the many LGBT+ people within the party who also has a faith I can account for the fact that not every member of a faith group within the party is diametrically opposed to same-sex relationships, those who are in them and those who are sexually active. Tim and I have had a number of rather frank discussions about this in the past, not as accusational and finger pointedly as your brief exchange yesterday. Yes Tim absented himself from the vote on the third reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill but he was present and voted for the second reading, as well as its subsequent divorce and annulment provisions and extension to armed forces personnel serving overseas.

Unlike many of those who have used language in the past (if not so much these days) that homosexuality is a sin who voted against it at every stage here is a man who has actually voted for and actually spoken in Parliament and asked questions positively about LGBT rights. Unlike many of those he actually takes part in debate around the issues that he publicly expresses concern or lack of understanding over, as someone blocked by many Northern Irish politicians for asking much simpler questions that the ones I have bombarded Tim with down the years this is a true reflection of how he views LGBT+ people.

Cathy there is one final thing you should be aware of, there were a number of prominent LGBT+ members of the party who were supporting Tim just as there were supporting Norman. People who were instrumental in getting the party and then Government to accept same-sex marriage. If these people had in anyway felt that Tim's faith in anyway hindered him from representing them as leader that would have been news. But the LGBT+ members of our party were as split as other sectors based on the individuals and what they could do for the party and not based on faith, LGBT friendliness or other criteria. We were looking at the person who could lead our party, represent liberty and freedom for all and help promote the ethos of who we are as Liberal Democrats.

We have been demonised by Labour, the Conservatives and the press (yourself included Cathy) for years while in coalition. The result in my opinion is a far more marginalising government than that of the past five years, one that is not supporting those who need it most, but actually making their lives tougher. David Cameron claims to have a faith yet does not seem to take Jesus' command to feed the hungry, cloth the naked and care for those less fortunate than yourself at face value. Maybe you should challenge him on that, Tim at least does care about social housing, the poor who have to attend food banks and are hit by the bedroom tax. Maybe you only have a limited view of what those of faith are all about, but they are a broad spectrum too, just like the Liberal Democrats.

Considering the interview started out asking the leader of the Liberal Democrats about the news that our troops had been involved in bombing raids in Syria all that liberal stuff was lost by Ms Newman's personal agenda on these other issues.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Why EVEL is not the West Lothian answer?

Being somewhat associated with West Lothian and having stood in the race to replace the poser of the West Lothian Question. Tam Dalyell, I have on occassion written about said question and the potential answers. David Cameron's latest take on this is English Votes for English Laws (EVEL) at Westminster.

Now the problem posed by the West Lothian Question was that devolution would allow certain aspects of law to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament (and of course the Welsh and Northern Irish Assemblies) while their MPs were still able to vote on issues at Westminster affecting people in England but that the English MPs would not have the same say on some of these issues in the devolved powers as they legislators there and not the MPs would have the say. The issue was that devolution was bringing up two types of MPs some who could vote on things that wouldn't directly affect their constituents and others who might find they couldn't bring about change for their constituents if the block who didn't have any direct impact in their area voted against was enough with their English colleagues to block it.

Devolution had in effect brought in two tiers of MPs some were backed up by colleagues (occasionally themselves) who would vote on devolved issues, others who were responsible for all decisions. But EVEL does exactly the same in creating two tiers of MPs, only this time the cut off is less well defined. What exactly is an English Law. In truth as things currently stand only a cost neutral law is truly only English as anything with spending or tax ramifications has because of the Barnett formula got a knock on effect to budgets in the devolved powers.

The result of trying to introduce EVEL in the fall out from the Scottish referendum is a knee jerk reaction to the ;promise of more powers for Scotland (and indeed Wales and Northern Ireland). It ignores however the fundamental difference that devolution has brought to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that is denied to the people of England. Certain aspects of their governance are now decided as a local level below that of Westminster and above that of local authorities. The demands of the North East would not be the same as those in the South West. Yet only London and some other cities with elected mayors seem to have any more control over their own affairs than previously.

Having a elected Mayority is not the sole model for greater devolution, but this appears to be the only one that the Conservatives want to contemplate alongside EVEL, but of course it is not the position used in the three nations with devolution. The First Minister in all three of them is not a directly elected President (the possible exception may have been the 2007 SNP list description "Alex Salmond for First Minister" without mentioning the party name) but are the leader of the largest party. Somehow the conservatives have decided that the American style Mayor led system is better than the European model of Federal Government for the regions.

The only true answer to the West Lothian Question is a more Federal Model of governance as the difference in roles would therefore not exist in the National Government. So until those in Westminster realise that we'll be stuck with the evil of difference that plans like evil or directly elected mayors can inflict unto voters.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Ten years a blog

It is hard to believe that ten years ago today I first sat at my laptop and wrote a blog post.

Back then I was in the post first time general election candidate daze, but was already thinking about how I could do more to get myself recognised and my views heard ahead of the next election at some point before 2010. Back then the blog title was Stephen's Linlithgow Journal as back then anything I thought I would stand for as a Liberal Democrat candidate had the word Linlithgow in the title. Of course when it came to be going for selection in 2010 for the Edinburgh Central seat I didn't want to see five years of thoughts lost to the general public, so I changed the URL and the title to the current title.

Little did I realise that across the blog I would have over 1 million page views back then I was just looking for a way to reach out to the 70,000 or so voters who lived in the catchment area that I thought I would be reaching out to for a number of years. Of course I also didn't realise that circumstance would cause me to move three times within 4 years from the area that I had come to consider home back then in 2005.

Of course another thing that really impacted on my blog was the sudden death of Robin Cook in the summer of 2005. My blog up until that point had a limited readership, but then I became the go to blog (not just Liberal Democrat) for the ensuing by election. To suddenly go from 10-20 readers a day to upwards of 500 on certain days of course made me change the way I went about my blogging. It moved from being largely about local issues, though they would still exist, into a more national outlook on things. Sadly of course with such a high profile death at the start of my decade of blogging there was of course the leader of my Party then Charles Kennedy's also sudden death at the other end of these first 10 years.

My blogging diversified down the years and I realised that I was almost blogging as much about sport as politics, indeed at some points of the year more so. So I set up a secondary blog that focused on the sport, Stephen's Sporting Almanac but of course as soon as I did that I lost a little of the mojo and stopped blogging as much on both blogs. This may also have come about from the fact that I was no longer blogging on the bus ride into work in the morning which had instilled a certain discipline into me finding something to write about, but was also down probably to a large part to the continuous search for work after the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign. Of course I took a step back then from political blogging in the same way as I had to work closely with people of other parties.

But somehow I have managed to struggle through and kept on blogging. So here we are today celebrating 10 years as a blogger. I've seen many people give up in that time, many start to greater or lesser success, others move to collaborative blogs, but I have maintained a one person blog for 10 years now. The output has not always been at the same level but I hope that every now and then a little gem comes from the tapping I do wherever and whenever the mood strikes me.

 I'm now in the post third time General Election candidate haze, and looking for how to work for the Lib Dem Fight Back after the poor showing on 7 May. Having stood a second time in Linlithgow and East Falkirk in 2010 and in Sedgefield this year. Sometime soon I expect you'll see me going for selection ahead of 2020.

Will I still be blogging in 10 years time? Who knows, but I'm not for giving up just now.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Tatchell speaks up for Northern Ireland

Peter Tatchell yesterday highlighted at Pride in London that the LGBT people in Northern Ireland are being denied the same rights and opportunities enjoyed elsewhere in the Union. He urged the people of the UK to stand in solidarity.

Here is him being interviewed about the issues.

President Obama on Friday also said that the US Supreme Court ruling ended the patchwork of equality for LGBT people in his great nation. Northern Ireland is now becoming that little patch that needs to be added to the quilt of Western equality.

Friday, 26 June 2015

I want to be proud of what we couldn't do in Government

Yes as Liberal Democrats we now have a record in Government nationally. We have to admit there are some things that as the junior partner of that Government we were unable to prevent, but there were other things that without us would not have been achieved.

However, that is our record in Government and enough people will have written or have yet to write about those achievements. What I want us as Liberal Democrats to focus on are the things from our 2010 manifesto that we were unable to achieve in Government because the conservatives would not want us to.

Why should I do that?

Simple the reason is it shows that we are our own party, not one that can be absorbed into either the Conservatives or Labour, or even fit nicely in alongside the Greens. Sure there are components of what we as Liberal Democrats stand for that all three of those parties listed can agree with and that goes for the SNP and Plaid Cymru as well, there are even elements that Euroscpetic UKIP can agree with Europhile Lib Dems over. But the raison d'être that makes Liberal Democrats tick is the thing that would infuriate any of the other parties.

It is the things that we couldn't get into a programme of Government with the Conservatives that make us not Conservative poodles. The manifesto we decided to put out for the last election was lacking in the conviction, as many radical ideas and a clear liberal agenda of those in the past. We were positioning for Government not position for liberalism.

That is what I want our party to be proud of our policies that other parties want to shy away from. Those policies that are based on need, science, making society fairer for all not one group or another. Only the Liberal Democrats can look past the demands of the richest that the Tories bow to, or the Unions that Labour still kow-tow to no matter how much they claim to have changed. We do however stand up for business and the workers. Realising that one needs the other and vice versa but that there should be opportunity for everyone to get on with their life unencumbered by too many constraints.

When looking at who to lead us forwards as a party while both candidates are truly liberals, I want the one whose prime objective is to make us liberal first and as a result give us a voice in Government, not aim for a voice in Government as the prime goal diluting our liberalism to appeal to both Tories and Labour.

In recent days I've seen too many of the Normtroopers say that they want to be led back into Government without any mention of liberalism. If that is your aim join the Tories or Labour and have an easy ride into Government. The reason I got into politics was to stand up for liberal values. Looking at what the current Government is doing on welfare, refusing to accept refugees who risk their lives from resettling here, accelerating removing the wind farm subsidy, restoring the snoopers charter and forgetting the "Northern Powerhouse" when it comes to trains shows that there needs to be a liberal voice.

That liberal voice needs to appeal to the many people who basically share our liberal values. That liberal voice needs to reach out to them so that local candidates and activists can get alongside those people on the doorsteps and harness that renewed enthusiasm for our party. That voice needs to connect to the people about the things on their hearts.

I know that voice in the one that Tim Farron can give our party and make us strong again. Strong in our values, strong in our liberalism and as a result strong in our council wards, devolved Governments and Westminster.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

March for Equality

Today the sun shone on least I assume it did from the pictures I have seen and the fact that it shone in Bangor where I was.

"Why is this significant?" you may ask. Well seeing as today thousands took part in a march for equality, seeking to bring about marriage equality in the only part of the United Kingdom, and indeed now the only small part of the island of Ireland that does not recognise same-sex marriages. So the fact that it stayed dry meant that some politicians meteorology skills are little off, despite some of them claiming that last year's soggy Belfast Pride proved the opposite.

The march was organised by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Amnesty International and the Rainbow Project. The age ranged from school children to pensioners. They were lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and straight, Catholic and Protestant or neither. The Belfast Telegraph says that 20,000 took to the streets

One of the platform speakers Northern Irish novelist Glenn Patterson said:

"We will never forsake the blue skies of Ulster for the red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet skies of the Irish Republic.
"We are going to bring them here."
So the message is that while the Presbyterian Church in Ireland boycotts the Church of Scotland for it acceptance of gay ministers and deacons in same-sex marriages, and the unionist parties continue to ignore legal UK marriages in the name of pick 'n' mix unionism, the people will continue to march, to shout out for equality and the same recognition that their fellow British or Irish citizens have.

Just as Gays and Lesbians Support the Miners 30 years ago lead to the coal unions walking at the front of London Pride, now the Unions are standing up for LGBT+ rights. While it is a shame that commercialism means that the 30th anniversary of that coming together will be in the middle not front of London Pride I have to thank the Trade Unions here in standing with the LGBT+ community here.

I was not able to be there, sadly being a gay sportsman in a summer team sport I was otherwise engaged in playing for my team in the second division of our league in a tough match against the leaders. As it came down to a handful of shots to determine who would take the three match points on top of the two each of us got for our winning rinks I'm sure my gay card won't be rescinded.