Thursday 10 December 2015

BBC letting the bad guys take over Dodge (or SSE Arena*)

I've come home to the news that the BBC journalist Andy West has been suspended because of his comments that he's ashamed of his employers fail to admit their error in giving Tyson Fury a platform on SPOTY. Seeing the coverage that the story has been getting on the BBC over recent days actually rebroadcasting his views unedited and as spoken I feel that Andy West is not the only person to be ashamed.

The BBC brand themselves as Your BBC meaning that it really is "Our BBC". It would appear that in the case of this incident it applies providing you aren't gay or a woman. It must not be forgotten that Fury's comments that he is repeating are both homophobic and misogynistic.

The hosts of SPOTY include Sue Barker, Gabby Logan and Clare Balding. Three strong women who have succeeded in the macho world of sport reporting. The later of course is also married to her same-sex partner. If a gay journalist is ashamed, and Clive Myrie calls him a dickhead live on air how much must these three women (as well as fellow nominee Jessica Ennis-Hill) feel uncomfortable sharing the studio with Fury in 10 days time. Is it right that the BBC allow these women to take part in a live event with a man whose words are clearly set to provoke, who remains unrepentant and continues to accentuate the anguish his initial comments passed with every time he is asked for comment.

The BBC continue to dig a hole for themselves over this issue. Sadly it might well bury the corporation if they are not careful.

*The SSE Arena in Belfast is the venue that will be hosting the BBC Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) awards on 20th December.

Saturday 5 December 2015

How about we integrate ourselves?

Today in Belfast of all places there was a small protest of about 40 unionists protestants loyalists idiots. The protest was against the arrival of refugees. They has a banner which read "Ulster says no to refugees" followed by "charity begins at home" there was another banner saying "Muslims don't integrate they want to dominate"

The same should be said for integration starting at home. After all their were marching in a city that still has 47 peace walls because the people seem incapable of integrating. And that is merely with people of the same race, mainly following the same religious book and with generations of ancestors all born on the same island often more integrated than the current generation.

As for domination when you consider the make up the protesters who probably would fully support the DUP using petitions of concern to block LGBT equality, abortion. Yeah these are the dominant ones and non-integrators. If they really want to integrate in Northern Ireland they should look nearer at home and look at the divisions that some of their opinions and outlook causes.

Thursday 22 October 2015

Dear DUP, Please read my email before responding

The following is the latest email I sent to all my MLAs ahead of the Equal Marriage debate in Stormont on 2 November:

Dear Steven Agnew, Leslie Cree, Stephen Farry, Alex Easton, Peter Weirand Gordon Dunne,

I understand that yet again on the 2 November this year the Assembly will be debating the issue of equal marriage.
I also know that from previous votes some of my MLAs have signed a petition of concern about this issue.
Therefore I would like to volunteer my expertise in this issue as one of the drafters of the Liberal Democrat policy on the issue first for the Scottish Party, then the Federal Party that became the backbone of the legislation that now exists in the rest of the UK to be able to address those concerns.
If you have any concerns on this issue I know that due to lack of time busy serving you constituents on committees, in the chamber and elsewhere you may not have specialised knowledge of the issues at hand.
Therefore as someone who started looking into this particular issue back in 2001 before Civil Partnerships even came in and has advised several leading politicians on this issue I would be happy to address whatever concerns you may have before you sign yet another one ahead of this vote on 2 November.
I do not hear back about specific concerns that my MLAs have on this matter I will be informing the Spectator that as far as I'm aware there are no pressing concerns that would warrant such a petition.
I look forward to hearing from you and am prepared to meet any of you to discuss your concerns more fully between now and 2 November.
Yours sincerely,
Stephen Glenn

Therefore I do not think that the response I got (which is being replicated across Social Media from almost every DUP MLA) goes anyway to answering the specifics. Here is that response.

Thank you for your e mail. I would however indicate that the position of the DUP has not changed on this issue, and we will be voting against the motion. 
Yours sincerely,
Peter Weir MLA

Clearly the fact that there are concerns that the DUP are not prepared to table a petition of concern about, but not prepared to listen to the concerns of those of us who have opposing concerns about the hive mentality that appears to exist in their number opposing not just the rest of the UK but the rest of the island of Ireland. The DUP are running scared but they are not the Borg, because their resistance will be futile.

Wednesday 23 September 2015

Reflections on conference from afar

I may not have been in Bournemouth (starting a new job after months of subsidence living) for this Autumn's Liberal Democrat conference. But the bits I saw on TV before heading to work have been encouraging.

On the night after the General Election I wrote:

"I know our party will come back strong again because the essence of what we believe in does bring about fairness and opportunity for everyone. It may be a few election cycles, a few years or even a few months before voters realise this. David Cameron and his unfettered Conservatives could well be the ideal recruiter of people to the Liberal Democrat's way of thinking."

Little did I, nor anyone else envision just what sort of shape that becoming strong again would be. I listened to many of those new members stepping up unto the platform making liberal contributions from the stage in debates. I've seen many of them filling the hall for every session. Although as a constitutional geek I'm sad to yet again have missed a successful  move to next business, I'll be pencilling in 2031 as a conference to remain in the hall at all times.

A few days after the General Election I went on to write:

"Our fight back is important because our core values are important to the general public. I believe they will soon realise this as the Tories start to dismantle freedoms, undo fairness and take people for granted. The very people that Liberal Democrats feel should not be enslaved by ignorance, poverty or conformity."

Therefore the reflection that these two thoughts have become two of the key thoughts of the party, two of the key themes of the leader's speech this afternoon, shows what it means to be liberal to the core. These are the instinctive motives that we wanted to express in our darkest hour in early May. It is what this conference was about and many of the motions reflected our ideals, many of the speeches showed this was deeply felt.

The time is right to stand up and be liberal. There are many out there who are shocked by the attitudes of David Cameron and the swings and roundabouts of the Labour party depending on the nature of the leader. Yet the Liberal Democrats no matter who is in charge are a voice of the people, because the people who make our decision on policy are not those in the Westminster bubble but the people from Cornwall to the Northern Isles, from the Wash to Cardigan Bay and all points in between.

See you all in York in Spring.

Wednesday 2 September 2015

Lost for (foreign) words at University of Ulster decision

As many of you will know I'm not gifted in languages, not that this doesn't stop me trying to learn some. The one I found easiest out of all the ones I have settled down to try and learn was Spanish. However, I do not that I am at a comparative disadvantage to those who do possess language skills. This is something that really struck home when I worked in a multi-lingual call centre environment, where people were able to take calls fluently in their second, third or even fourth languages.

Therefore the news that the University of Ulster has deemed it wise that as part of their cuts will include the modern language school at the Coleraine campus seems to me the most backward and ill-thought out of the consequences of their reduced budget.

We are constantly hearing that Northern Ireland needs to reach out for inward investment. But by reducing the number of spaces for modern language courses in Northern Ireland, leaving only the Queen's language school offering degrees, will lead to a skills exodus as Northern Ireland's language scholars will go elsewhere to either do a straight language course or one combined with business or other courses. Most of these students of course will never return, or maybe not return straight away meaning that where our business opportunity need people with language skills to bring in that foreign investment we will be falling behind.

The economic knock back of losing the language school at Coleraine is something that will impact on Northern Ireland. So while the current intake of language students there will be the last before the school is wound down we need action to make Northern Ireland remain attractive to investors from wherever utilising all the skills, especially those of language that we are required to be active in some of those markets where Spanish, German, French, Chinese or whatever are advantageous.

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.

Sunday 7 June 2015

LGBT* in Ukip and Pride

There is a lot of hot debate going on at the moment about the decision of Pride London to reject LGBT* in UKIP application to march as a group this month in the parade. The Board of Pride London are citing "secuirty issues" as the reason for this rejection, something Peter Tatchell calls a "cop-out" which seems somewhat ironic as the same man had called for UKIP's exclusion mere days earlier.

Tatchell himself is appearing confused in his stance to LGBT* in Ukip's participation and I suspect that London Prides talk of direct action against the parade if they allowed the Ukip group to take part have led to similar confusion within LGBTory, LGBT Labour, LGBT+ Lib Dems and LGBTIQ Greens from taking an official position are they are not aware of the facts that Pride are stating are the security issues. With rumours of BME or immigrant groups threatening the action it is uncertain where the facts lie.

Therefore this is my personal opinion and not in any other capacity.

I think LGBT* within UKIP should be allowed to march in the London Pride Parade.

As for security fears when Pride first started out there were always security fears. In Eastern Europe and Africa there still are when a Pride march takes place. So in that that essence Peter Tatchell is right, it is a cop-out.

However, unlike Tatchell and others I do not think we should tar the LGBT+ representative group within any political party or organisation with the expressed view of the majority within that organisation. After all we have faith groups that are working hard within their groups who oppose same-sex marriage, actively campaign against it and all LGBT+ equality measures. These were all reason that Tatchell noted in his reasons to ban LGBT* within UKIP from marching.

I'm not sure when the predecessors of LGBTory, TORCHE (Tory Campaign for Homosexual Equality) or CGHE (Conservative Group for Homosexual Equality) first marched in London Pride but I suspect that it was probably during the time that the party policy was in favour of Section 28 and opposed to civil unions for LGBT people and other LGBT equality measures that are now in place. There were probably also concerns of how others within LGBT+ circles would react to the Conservatives marching in their midst at that time.

I would be ashamed if the security measures were a smokescreen from the Board of London Pride to give in the bullying tactics of some within the LGBT community to petition against the inclusion of LGBT* within UKIP from participating, and that includes high profile opponents to their participation like Tatchell. I would also be ashamed if any LGBT group threatens the safety of Pride because other LGBT people and supportive friends are participating because they disagree with the certain aspects of the politics of the group then shame on them.

I would love there to be an LGBT unionist presence at a Belfast Pride soon. Currently all three of the unionist parties in Northern Ireland with MLAs DUP, UUP and TUV have fair from exemplary LGBT voting records but there are unionist party members and supporters who are LGBT are lobbying those MLAs to change just as LGBT* within UKIP are doing to those politicians and candidates in their own party who are far from LGBT supportive and even overtly anti-LGBT. The LGBT and Pride community should be supporting such groups seeking change not excluding them from our parade.

Saturday 6 June 2015

Who's debating this merger except the Independent?

Today the Independent have a comment piece about the reignited debate of a Labour/Lib Dem merger. But where is this debate/

Firstly as a party member for 27 years I am not aware there ever was a debate of a merger, there was talk of a centre left coalition with Labour ahead of 1997, but coalition is not merger, it is two parties with somewhat similar outlooks working together after contesting seats on their own accord to be an effective majority (like what ended up happening from 2010-15).

Secondly as a someone active in quite a lot of internal forums both with activists and candidates (something I have been in the last three elections) I have heard no buzz about a merger with Labour, even from my fellow social liberals. Instead the talk is all about returning to our own identity now that we are out of coalition, standing up for Liberal values not trying to position ourselves as being able to work with Labour or Conservatves simply for the sake of coalition but to stand up of Liberals first and foremost.

With 25% of the party membership coming to us after the general election we are growing fast, and those new and enthusiastic members are welcome and have come to us because of what we are, they haven't joined Labour. This is just like those of us who are social liberal who remained in the party since entering coalition did not run off and join them either (though I admit that some did).

We owe it to the 17,000 new Liberal Democrats as well as the 44,000 who remained with us to stand up for our liberal values as laid our in the preamble to our constitution. These are liberal values and how we express them in practice is down to conference. We are Liberal Democrats, not Labour, not Conservatives be prepares to hear us roar again.

Friday 5 June 2015

Death of a War Poet: Walter Lyon 8 May 1915

I apologise that during the General Election I missed three centenaries of war poets. These will now appear on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday Friday of this week.

Walter Scott Stuart Lyon was one of five sons of Walter and Isabella Lyon of Tantallon Lodge, North Berwick. He was born on 1 October 1886. He went to Haileybury, before going up to Balliol College, Oxford to study classics.

He volunteered for the 9th Battallion Royal Scots before the war being appointed as a second Lieutenant on 14 December 1909, while at the same time undergoing his law training in Edinburgh. He graduated in law in 1912 and was admitted as a Scottish Advocated later in the same year on Lieutenant on 17th December in the same year.

At the outbreak of war he was appointed staff-captain to the Lothian Brigade but rejoined his battalion in early 1915. In February 1915 Lieutenant Lyon found himself in the terraces near Glencose Wood, Ypres. After this first experience in the line he wrote two poems Easter at Ypres and Lines Written in a Fire Trench. A couple of weeks after this during the fiercest fighting of the second battle of Ypres he wrote two more On a Grave in a Trench and I Tracked a Dead Man Down a Trench.

On 23rd April 1915 he was mentioned in dispatches by Major John Ewing:

"C Company had come to a halt behind a hedge which was so thickly girt with barbed wire that men could not break through without great labour. Noticing this, Lieutenant Lyon very cooly stood up and, taking out his wire-cutters, began to make gaps. Machine-guns played with him, but withouy any sign of haste he proceeded with his task, never stopping until he had the rendered the hedge penetrable."

In May he was located in dugouts in Potijze Woods near the Menin Road about 200 yards from the firing line. On the 8th May the shelling was so fierce that trees were uprooted and tops sliced by shrapnel. Many men died in the onslaught and like Lyon many had not known grave.

A book of his poems Easter at Ypres 1915 and other poems was published in 1916 a mixture of poems he had written before the war plus the four mentioned here and others from the war period.

Of his brothers two of the others were killed in the war and a third died while a student at Haileybury.

I tracked a dead man down a trench

I tracked a dead man down a trench,
I knew not he was dead.&nbsp
They told me he had gone that way,
And there his foot-marks led.
The trench was long and close and curved,
It seemed without an end;
And as I threaded each new bay

I thought to see my friend.
At last I saw his back. He crouched
As still as still could be,
And when I called his name aloud
He did not answer me.

The floor-way of the trench was wet
Where he was crouching dead;
The water of the pool was brown,
And round him it was red.

I stole up softly where he stayed
With head hung down all slack,
And on his shoulders laid my hands
And drew him gently back.

And then, as I had guessed, I saw
His head, and how the crown -
I saw then why he crouched so still,
And why his head hung down.

Walter Scott Stuart Lyon 1 October 1886 North Berwick, East Lothian, Scotland  - 8 May 1915 Potijze Woods, Near Ypres, Belgium

Wednesday 3 June 2015

Proud to be supporting Tim Farron for leader

On the evening after the long night of the sgian dubhs I had the clarity to write about how Liberal Democrats can take the offensive on to 2020. I therefore admit that I was already looking for the general to lead us into the sound of gunfire that was still resounding in the ears of all our candidates, activists and supporters (as some used more that merely sgian dubhs).

The fact of course was that that blog post on the Friday after polling day got picked up by BBC Tees (indeed I have now been on twice since polling day) to talk about the Lib Dem Fight Back before it was really a hashtag.

Therefore on the Monday after the General Election I found myself being interviewed by Neil Green about what was happening in our party. The surge in membership, the attitude in the party and who might be the candidates in a leadership contest. Then he asked the question, who would I be supporting.

The answer was one I probably was aware of how I'd respond on that Friday. It certainly was by the following day as I'd sent an email to Tim Farron urging him to stand and also promising my support. The afternoon as I listened to the tributes in the commons I became more and more certain that I was right.

Yesterday on BBC Tees I had to talk about Charles Kennedy, so I know the emotions that those who spoke in the commons felt as they spoke, even more so those who addressed their comments to young Donald in the gallery. But I also talked about the highlights of Charles's leadership which led me to think of all the stuff he had done for the party before the big Iraq rally. The grounding was already in place ahead of the 2001 election and working towards 2005. I was ready to stand up above the parapet and be a candidate for our party before Iraq became an issue because of the passion that Charles showed for liberalism.

Therefore I know what we need know as we face the fight back, the rebuilding, the march towards the gunfire to say we ain't dead. We need someone able to enthuse that passion for liberal values, able to communicate with the established activists who are hurting, the new ones full or enthusiasm and the general public who we want to vote for us in council and devolved elections before we get to 2020.

Both Norman and Tim are Liberals to the heart, but I believe that Tim stands head and shoulders above as the one who can reach out to the voters to ensure them our values are the same as in 2010, 2005 or 2001. He is also the one who has been engaging with many of us who are stalwarts of the party who have been hurting and it seems engaging with the new members who now are over 25% of the members.

I'm backing Tim to be the leader to kick start carry on the Lib Dem fight back. I'm convinced that as I pound the streets, tap the keys and face the public or journalists that he'll be speaking the liberalism that will inspire, encourage and spark voters to turn to us again. Something that will be enhanced by the troops he is respecting, inspiring and walking alongside every step of the way.

I can't wait until I have the ballot in my hand, to give that promised support to Tim.

Death of a War Poet: Rupert Brooke 23 April 1915

I apologise that during the General Election I missed three centenaries of war poets. These will now appear on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of this week.

Rupert Brooke is one of the best known of the English War Poets, not just amongst those who died but also those who survived.

He was born in Rugby on the 3rd August 1887 the second of Rugby School schoolmaster William Parker Brooke. He travelled Europe and wrote a thesis John Webster and the Elizabethan Drama which earned him a place at King's College, Cambridge to read Classics. While up at Cambridge he became a member of the Cambridge Apostles, was elected President of the Cambridge University Fabian Society and formed the Marlowe Society drama club.

He made friends with the Bloomsbury group of writers some admired his talent, others his boyish good looks, which had allegedly prompted the Irish poet W.B. Yeats to describe him as the "handsomest young man in England". But he was also part of other literary groups the Georgian Poets and the Dymock Group. He also spent some time from 1910 until the outbreak of war renting rooms in the Old Vicarage, Grantchester (now the home of Jeffrey Archer).

He published his first volume of poetry Poems in 1911. Along with his friend Edward Marsh the following year he compiled an anthology Georgian Poetry 1911-12. Marsh was to draw another friend Winston Churchill to the literary talent of his friend Brooke. Just before he died his final volume of poems in his lifetime 1914, and Other Poems (1915) was published. It was based on his five sonnets Peace, Safety, The Dead, The Dead, The Soldier which formed his rally cry to the nation.

In 1912 he suffered what a Harley Street doctor described as a "severe mental breakdown", following three serious relationship breakdowns in the previous five years with the actress Cathleen Nesbitt, his engagement to Noël Olivier and Katherine Laird Cox. But he was widely travelled having spent time in Munich in 1911 to improve his German, and two further visits before the outbreak of war. But he also travelled to USA, Canada and the South Pacific for a year from May 1913. His stay in Tahiti produced some of his best poetry as well as allegedly a daughter with a local woman Taatamata.

Shortly after his return from his trip War was declared, Brooke used his friendship with Churchill to be granted a commission into a new unit of the Royal Naval Division an amphibious unit. He took part in the Antwerp Expedition in October 1914. In February 1915 he set sail with the British Mediterranean Expeditionary Froce bound for Gallipoli. However, Brooke developed sepsis from an infected mosquito bite. He died at 4:46pm on St George's Day, 23 April 1915, which of course is also Shakespeare's birthday on a hospital ship moored in a bay of the Greek Island of Skyros in the Aegean Sea. The expeditionary force had orders to set sail immediately so the Cambridge classics graduate was buried in an olive grove on the island at 11pm.

At his graveside were his close friend William Denis Browne the composer, pianist and music critic (who would die on 4 June at Gallipoli),  fellow poet Patrick Shaw-Stewart (who will feature later in this series) and the Prime Minister's son Arthur Asquith who would be wounded out of action having his leg amputate in January 1918 after being wounded on 17 December 1917 with the rank of Brigadier-General.

His younger brother 2nd Lt. William Alfred Cotterill Brooke of the 8th Battalion London Regiment (Post Office Rifles) was to be killed in action near Le Rutoire Farm, France on 14th June 1915, he had only joined his Battalion in France on 25 May.

Rupert Chawner Brooke 3 Aug 1887 Rugby, Warwickshire, England - 23 Apr 1915 Skyros, GreeceSee also: The other poets who died in the war.

Rather than quote his 1914 poems here are two more that sum up the war. The second a fragment was written in the final week of his life.

The Funeral of Youth: Threnody

The day that YOUTH had died,
There came to his grave-side,
In decent mourning, from the country's ends,
Those scatter'd friends
Who had lived the boon companions of his prime,
And laughed with him and sung with him and wasted,
In feast and wine and many-crown'd carouse,
The days and nights and dawnings of the time
When YOUTH kept open house,
Nor left untasted
Aught of his high emprise and ventures dear,
No quest of his unshar'd --
All these, with loitering feet and sad head bar'd,
Followed their old friend's bier.
FOLLY went first,
With muffled bells and coxcomb still revers'd;
And after trod the bearers, hat in hand --
LAUGHTER, most hoarse, and Captain PRIDE with tanned
And martial face all grim, and fussy JOY,
Who had to catch a train, and LUST, poor, snivelling boy;
These bore the dear departed.
Behind them, broken-hearted,
Came GRIEF, so noisy a widow, that all said,
"Had he but wed
Her elder sister SORROW, in her stead!"
And by her, trying to soothe her all the time,
The fatherless children, COLOUR, TUNE, and RHYME
(The sweet lad RHYME), ran all-uncomprehending.
Then, at the way's sad ending,
Round the raw grave they stay'd. Old WISDOM read,
In mumbling tone, the Service for the Dead.
There stood ROMANCE,
The furrowing tears had mark'd her rouged cheek;
Poor old CONCEIT, his wonder unassuaged;
And shabby, ill-dress'd GENEROSITY;
And ARGUMENT, too full of woe to speak;
PASSION, grown portly, something middle-aged;
And FRIENDSHIP -- not a minute older, she;
IMPATIENCE, ever taking out his watch;
FAITH, who was deaf, and had to lean, to catch
Old WISDOM's endless drone.
BEAUTY was there,
Pale in her black; dry-eyed; she stood alone.
Poor maz'd IMAGINATION; FANCY wild;
ARDOUR, the sunlight on his greying hair;
CONTENTMENT, who had known YOUTH as a child
And never seen him since. And SPRING came too,
Dancing over the tombs, and brought him flowers --
She did not stay for long.
And TRUTH, and GRACE, and all the merry crew,
The laughing WINDS and RIVERS, and lithe HOURS;
And HOPE, the dewy-eyed; and sorrowing SONG; --
Yes, with much woe and mourning general,
At dead YOUTH's funeral,
Even these were met once more together, all,
Who erst the fair and living YOUTH did know;
All, except only LOVE. LOVE had died long ago.


I strayed about the deck, an hour, to-night
Under a cloudy moonless sky; and peeped
In at the windows, watched my friends at table,
Or playing cards, or standing in the doorway,
Or coming out into the darkness. Still

No one could see me.

                                     I would have thought of them
-Heedless, within a week of battle - in pity,
Pride in their strength and in the weight and firmness
And link'd beauty of bodies, and pity that
This gay machine of splendour 'ld soon be broken,
Thought little of, pashed, scattered ...

                                                          Only, always,

I could but see them - against the lamplights - pass
Like coloured shadows, thinner than filmy glass,
Slight bubble, fainter than the wave's faint light,
That broke to phosphorus out in the night,
Perishing things and strange ghosts - soon to die
To other ghosts - this one, or that, or I.

Tuesday 2 June 2015

Death of a War Poet: Louis Pergaud 8 April 1915

I apologise that during the General Election I missed three centenaries of war poets. These will now appear on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of this week.

Louis Pergaud was born on the 22 January 1882 in Belmont, in the Doubs department, of the Franche-Compte Region of France. His father was a school master, and Louis excelled at school earning scholarships which enabled him to continue at school completing his studies at the École Normale in Besançon.

He married his first wife in 1903 after completing a year of military service and resumed teaching as Durnes which he had done for a year before carrying out his year in the 35th Infantry. In 1905 he transferred to Landresse and took his wife with him, but he left both in 1907 and headed to Paris. Here he joined fellow poet, long-time friend and inspiration Leon Deubel hoping to achieve his literary dream.

Before he had left for Paris he had published the first of his two collections of poetry, L'Aube was published in 1904. A second collection L'Herbe d'Anvil followed in 1908. In 1910 his first selection of short stories De Goupil à Margot was published, a second collection La Revanche du Corbeau followed the following year.

However, it was his first novel La Guerre des boutons (1912) in which a play war between small boys in two neighbouring villages, in which the losers have their bottons removed as trophies before being sent home, is the most reflective of the years to come. It becomes more sinister as time goes by and the distinction of play and real violence between the boys becomes more blurred. He published a second novel Le Roman de Miraut in 1913.

At the outbreak of war in 1914 the pacifist writer was conscripted into the French army having been placed on the active reserve list following his national service 12 years before. Thus he was involved in the Battle of Lorraine during the German invasion of his homeland France and subsequently on the Western Front. On the 7th April 1915 his regiment attacked German lines near Fresnes-en-Woëvre, Lorraine. He was shot and wounded and fell on barbed wire becoming trapped. Several hours later German soldiers rescued him and other surviving wounded and he was transported to a field hospital behind the German lines. The morning after he was wounded and rescued a French artillery barrage destroyed the hospital killing Pergaud and others.

His novel La Guerre des boutons remains on the French High School Curriculum, has been filmed five times four of them French (1936, 1962, 2011 twice) and once Irish (1994) with the villages revisited as Ballydowse and Carrickdowse. The French versions make it against the backdrop of the Algerian War in 1936 and one of the 2011 versions in occupied France during WWII.

Louis Pergaud 22 January 1882 Belmont, Doubs, France - 8 April 1915 near Fresnes-en-Woëvre, Lorraine, FranceSee also: The other poets who died in the war.

Charles Kennedy 1959 - 2015

Just over 10 years ago on the 4th May 2005 I was standing in the ground of the Presontonfield House Hotel in Edinburgh in my suit and tie, just inside a fenced off area it was nearing 6:30pm. I wasn't alone so were all the other Liberal Democrat candidates in the Lothian region, although Marilyn McLaren the candidate for Edinburgh South was the sole one of us not wearing a tie.

Charles surrounded by those 2005 MPs
The reason was we were waiting for the leader of the party to finish his eve of poll press engagements before he, his wife Sarah and newly born son Donald boarded a helicopter to fly to Inverness ready for polling day the following day. We were saying amongst ourselves that as we walked the family to the helicopter that we should try our best not to look like that scene from Reservoir Dogs.
Sadly at about 7:15am the following morning I learnt from one of our supporters outside a polling station that her husband thought that is what we looked like anyway. Something I then had to explain to Fiona Hyslop MSP who was standing beside me at the time. But by the end of that day we had news MPs Tim Farron in Westmorland and Lonsdale, Mark Williams in Ceredigion and Greg Mulholland in Leeds North West; also Nick Clegg had taken over in Sheffield Hallam from Richard Allen. In other words half of the current parliamentary party was first elected into that total of 62 MPs ten years ago.

Me and Charles from 2005
When I joined the party in 1988 Charles had already been an MP for five years for the former sear of Ross, Cromarty and Skye. He had in 1983 been the shock winner for the SDP against the Conservative Hamish Gray who had held the seat of Ross and Cromarty since 1970, by 1,704 votes. The majority of the seat had been the former Conservatives with only a part of Russell Johnston's seat of Inverness coming into it. He became the baby of the house upon his election and never completed the PhD he was studying for at the time at Indiana University on a Fulbright Scholarship.

From 1997-2005 it would become Ross, Skye and Inverness West, before then becoming the seat of Ross, Skye and Lochaber which he was to hold through 7 Parliaments before losing it to Ian Blackford of the SNP earlier this month.

In the run up to the 2005 election he had led the party's opposition to the war in Iraq, challenging Tony Blair on his dodgy dossier numerous times during PMQs

From 1991-94 he served as President of the Liberal Democrats, before in 1999 taking over as leader when Paddy Ashdown stepped down. He led us through the 2001 and 2005 elections  but there was growing speculation that he had an alcohol problem from missing key speeches in the commons to looking considerably sweaty and confused at other speeches and public appearances. It came to a hear in early January 2006 when ITN told him they were going to report that he had been receiving treatment for alcoholism. On the Saturday evening a letter was circulating around his MPs calling for him to resign immediately and my initial support of the man and his problem led me to write this when I returned home in the small hours. Though this didn't stop BBC Scotland calling me on the Sunday morning to see if I would speak in support of Charles the following morning, but that was superseded by news that he himself would be holding a press conference. It was there that he announced his resignation and that, unlike he had said earlier in the week, he would not be seeking the support of the party in the leadership election he had called.

He returned to the back benches and apparently was the lone voice in the Parliamentary meeting in 2010 that voted against entering the Coalition. But made appearances on game shows including both as a regular guest and occasional guest host on Have I Got News for You.

It was already going to seem strange not seeing him on the Green Benches for the first time in my political life, but now that I will not even ever run into him around party conference or any other political event seems to be the cruellest, most final outcome from the collapse of Liberal Democrat support in last month's election.

My thoughts and prayers are with his young son Donald, who has lost his father and grandfather in the space of two months, as well as his and my wider Liberal Democrat family who have lost someone we all respected for the way he grew the strength of the party in those 7 years he was leader.

To conclude here he is at Lib Dem Conference two years ago on the subject of Europe, a speech where he was back at his best as I and many others who witnessed this in the hall agreed. We'll also like Duncan Brack did in the chair ignore the red light indicating his time was up.

Charles Peter Kennedy 25 November 1959 - 1 Jun 2015

Sunday 31 May 2015

Why I and most LGBT activists are opposed to a NI referendum on marriage equality #MarRef

There is a petition going around demanding that, like the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland should have a referendum to bring about marriage equality.

I and the majority of LGBT+ groups in Northern Ireland are opposed to the idea, which was first muted by Sinn Féin in the run up the the referendum in the republic and here are the reasons why.

1. There is not need for a referendum to bring about marriage equality in any part of the UK. In the Republic of Ireland there had to be a constitution change to recognise marriage equality. The only way to do so, based on that constitution, was to hold a referendum. In Scotland a simply Bill was required in Holyrood and for England and Wales a Bill before Westminster was enough to bring about such change. Such a bill would still need to be brought before the Northern Ireland Assembly to bring about any change.

2. A referendum is not legally binding in the UK.  A referendum does not necessarily have legal binding on UK legislators to bring about change. Admittedly often they do bring about the change or endorse the decision of the referendum but there actually is nothing to prevent the legislative body with responsibility. Indeed if such a referendum were to come about in Northern Ireland there is nothing to prevent a petition of concern being used, by let's say the DUP, the prevent subsequent legislation coming into effect.

3. Public debate is not as mature on this issue in NI as the RoI. Despite legalising homosexuality later than the North the Republic of Ireland is at a far more mature level of debate on this issue than the North. Yes there are some stupid and ridiculous comments made by some of those opposed in the Republic, but the level of the political debate between the politicians, even those who disagreed with their parties stance, was far more civil and factually based than the largest party in Northern Ireland has shown again the recent election and aftermath to be able to carry on over issues of LGBT equality.

4. Both the two biggest parties are viewing LGBT equality as a political football. I'm sorry to say this but since it was first mooted that NI should have equal marriage Sinn Féin's support has become as much of a political football as the DUP's opposition to it has. This is no more evident than the poor timing of the last debate in Stormont and the call for this referendum now. Most LGBT activists were certain that the time to strike next in Stormont to seek marriage equality should have been after the referendum result in the Republic was known. But Sinn Féin decided that the 28th April (ie during the short campaign for Westminster) was the time to put the motion before the Assembly for the fourth time. This timing was poor and could only have come from a party that did not consider Westminster elections to be important. Most LGBT activists with party affiliation outside Sinn Féin were too busy with the election to lobby MLAs and get into a big campaign on this occasion. While the DUP have in the past picked on Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams saying that equality is a Torjan Horse by which to beat the DUP I would say that recent actions overlooking the views of the LGBT community shows they do not really understand the nature of this equality.

The DUP meanwhile use their opposition to LGBT equality as a means to shore up their core vote, although having lost Antrim South to a pro-marriage equality Unionist and seen the Alliance vote pick up a great deal of the UUP vote in East Belfast it would appear it is a tactic that only has limited appeal.

5. Should a socially conservative majority have a say on minority rights? In the Northern Ireland Act we actually have a statutory requirement for the public bodies to allow equality of opportunity for various groups, this includes marital status and sexual orientation. Would such a referendum actually fit within the statutory obligations of our public bodies? I do not feel it does. Even though recent opinion polls are showing that there is now a majority in favour of supporting marriage equality here, there is a danger that the most socially conservative part of the UK could be ground down in a particularly heated campaign to vote no on the day. Also many LGBT people already know the sort of vitriol that some politicians or campaigners already direct towards us when our rights aren't the focus of a campaign, we can only envision it getting ugly if they were the sole focus. Also if the social conservatives were to squeak a narrow majority, it would set back any hope of reform for 10-20 years, when we are only trailing a couple of years behind the rest of the UK and Ireland at present. People's rights for equality should not be placed in the hands who have privilege to determine the extension of those rights.

Thursday 28 May 2015

Thank you Mr Dodds for the encouragement

Yesterday in the House of Commons debate on the Queen's Speech Nigel Dodds said:

"He is certainly proof that if we work at and fight for an issue that we believe in, we will get there in the end, especially if the cause is right."

Now the comment was directed at Sir William Cash and in relation to the EU referendum that has been promised in Queen's speech, but as an LGBT campaigner in Northern Ireland I take this as encouragement. Because also later when responding to his colleague Sammy Wilson he said:

"My hon. Friend raises an important issue, which is one of those that arise out of the Belfast agreement. As he knows, equality provisions under section 75..."

Although he did continue "work against giving our armed forces veterans the same status as those in the rest of the United Kingdom." the fact is that a DUP MP has acknowledged the Northern Ireland Act/Belfast Agreement and knows about section 75 is something.

But back to that first comment in relation to William Cash. The wave of rightness is on the side of those supporting Equal Marriage. Yesterday Greenland became the latest state to legislate for it in a unanimous vote. Since the referendum result in Ireland was announced Austrialian Prime Minister Tonny Abbott said he wouldn't stand in the way of a conscience vote. Also Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is about to fast-track the civil union legislation that has been stalled for a number of months.

Only Germany of the list of Western countries that Peter Lynas listed on Nolan as not having marriage equality the other day has not announced any plans to move forward on this issue since the referendum. Although there have been calls from the opposition Green/Alliance 90 leader Katrin Göring-Eckardt for Germany to move on this, Angela Merkel is remaining adamant it is not the goal of her CDU/CSU party (the only one in Germany opposed) in this Government.

Therefore the LGBT community should take encouragement that even Nigel Dodds that "if we work at and fight for an issue that we believe in, we will get there in the end".

Sunday 24 May 2015

Presbyterian Church in Ireland seek to redefine victimhood

I am saddened to read the statement of the PCI in light of the decision made by over 62% of those who voted in Marriage Referendum in Ireland. So much so that I feel it needs a few comments from me.

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland has issued the following statement on the result of the Marriage Referendum.
Commenting on the result the Very Rev. Dr. Norman Hamilton, Convener of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s Council for Church in Society said, "We are deeply disappointed and saddened that the Constitution will no longer reflect the historic – and Christian – view of marriage that it is exclusively between one man and one woman; the position the Presbyterian Church in Ireland upholds and maintains. The Constitution of Ireland only came into effect on 29 December 1937. On the 17th June 1996 the referendum on the 15th Amendment allowed for Divorce in that constitution and indeed "Divorce does not prevent you from getting married in the Presbyterian Church" - Getting Married in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland
"The issue before voters was an intensely emotive one and to express the historic view of marriage during the referendum campaign often brought hostility and rejection yes and indeed some of the comments from Very. Rev. Dr. Norman Hamilton appear to have not been following the Pastoral Guidelines on Same Sex Attraction. We hope that those who continue to uphold this view will not be marginalised or demeaned. We would also encourage all Christians to love their neighbours – as the Bible calls us to do – particularly those with whom we might disagree and if demeaned, to turn the other cheek, for Jesus' sake. Wow! In recent days I have received a number of comments from "Christians" that demean me, as have straight friends who have supported the cause. I called on Christian groups to stand up against these so called Christians pouring oil on the flames with their words and have heard nothing from that end, this line appears to ignore the demeaning that has been going on from the side of the Churches in recent days and it is bit late to call on loving of neighbours, without clearer instruction,
"While the result is a significant change for Irish Society, as a Church we will continue to reach out to all people, whatever their situation, as all are equally welcome. I have written previously that currently my past experiences over this very issue have made me feel less than welcome. If anyone from the PCI wants to actually enable a safe space to talk about these things with Presbyterians who are LGBT I would welcome that action point being followed through from the pastoral guidelines and would be willing to contribute.
"Whilst reaffirming our understanding of marriage as exclusively between one man and one woman, we pray for wisdom for the Government and urge it to consult faith groups over the coming months as it formulates the necessary subsequent legislation." I trust that the Irish Government will do the same as those of Scotland, England and Wales and leave the option for Faith Groups to come to their own decision on whether they carry out same sex marriages. While the PCI may currently be that way minded other faith groups should have the same freedom of religious expression that they themselves want. Because here is the thing LGBT groups are not trying to force churches to marry them, they want them to choose to marry them, but they only want the barriers to be taken down to allow civil marriage and truly welcoming faith groups to carry them out.

42 is a number I like #MarRef

When Roscommon - South Leitrim voted no to the Irish referendum on marriage equality I was a little upset that it wouldn't be unanimous. However, I was not too concerned as this was only by a margin of 1,029 votes and barely nibbled into the overall trend of the votes that were being announced.

I had to leave for a Eurovision party before the three Cork county seats declared, but in the end this left Roscommon - South Leitrim as the sole red mark on the map. The other forty-two constituencies had all by either a small (only 33 votes in Donegal South West) to a large (27,959 in Dublin South) margin voted yes. Overall  1,201,607 people voted Yes/Tá to 734,300 voting No/Níl 62.1% to 37.9%.

But as a gay Irish and British Douglas Adams fan I was most chuffed by the result of this question:

How many of the Irish constituencies voted Yes to marriage equality?


Yes the interconnectiveness of all things would have delighted Douglas with that result.

But the other question is where does that leave Northern Ireland, which is now the largest region of the British Isles that does not have equal marriage in any shape of form allowing people of the same-sex to marry?

Firstly I turn to the Northern Ireland Act, which recognises that the people of Northern Ireland can identify as British or Irish or both. This is key now to moving forward. Then I also note that

Section 75 and Schedule 9 to the Northern Ireland Act 1998 came into force on the 01 January 2000 and placed a statutory obligation on public authorities in carrying out their various functions relating to Northern Ireland, to have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity –
  • between persons of different religious belief, political opinion, racial group, age, marital status or sexual orientation;
  • between men and women generally;
  • between persons with a disability and persons without; and
  • between persons with dependants and persons without.
In addition, without prejudice to this obligation, Public Authorities are also required to have regard to the desirability of promoting good relations between persons of different religious belief, political opinion, and racial group.
Bearing in mind that people can identify as Irish or British in order to promote equality of opportunity for those LGBT people who identify as either or both they must also have the same promotion of equality for their marriages as anyone else. We cannot carry on not recognising all GB or RoI marriages and downgrading them as civil partnerships, that is not promoting equality of opportunity on marital status, nor sexual orientation.

If unionism do not live up to their statutory obligations on this now there is legal case to take this higher to the UK Supreme Court or Europe.

Thursday 14 May 2015

Manning the barricades

Picture credit via Richard Morris
Apparently now it is not enough to merely obey the law to be tolerated by the Tories.

Speaking at the National Security Council today David Cameron said:

"For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens 'as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone'. 
"It's often meant we have stood neutral between different values. And that's helped foster a narrative of extremism and grievance."

Now my values are different from those of Tories and I have no doubt I will have grievances with them as they set about their own agenda. Indeed I already have over the Human Rights Act, snooper's charter and our role in Europe.

I like living in a passively tolerant society. It allows me to be a gay man for a start, what goes on behind my closed bedroom door is my own concern. Of course the Tories want to do away with that an keep my internet browsing history. As any fan of Avenue Q  knows the internet is really, really great...for porn. So  by keeping our internet browser history the Government would know that we find really, really great on t'Internet. So maybe what I get up to in my bedroom (or anyone else's bedroom) or other rooms for that matter may not be quite so much my own business as I would expect in a tolerant society.

We are celebrating the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta aka Magna Carta Libertatum (Great Charter of the Liberties). The Tories seem to want to celebrate by taking away more of our liberties.

Tuesday 12 May 2015

All for coalitions but not campaigning for one

As someone who believes we should have a proportional voting system it makes sense that I am in favour of coalitions. These are the most likely outcome after all if the votes cast more closely reflect the number of seats won in any multi-party system.

However, what I hope I never end up doing again is campaigning for a coalition and to be part of one. In 2010 the Liberal Democrats stood on our liberal values, we stood on our ideals, we stood on the policies that had been decided democratically by conference. The people liked what they saw and gave us a higher percentage of the vote than at any point since the merger.

This time we spent it seems the Liberal Democrats spent more time angling for a coalition and not selling our good liberal policies.

We didn't sell our justice and prison reform policies which had a radical focus on cutting re-offending, only giving custodial sentences to the most dangerous prisoners and reinstating local accountability through police and justice boards instead of elected PPCs.

We did often mention our radical take on mental health being treated the same as physical health. But this got lost in our calling out one other party for not providing costs to match our £8bn a year commitment to the NHS and the other for failing to even promise this. We were leading on health and we should have been shouting it from the rooftops.

We had as always green issues at the heart of our manifesto with out five green laws. Laws that didn't restrict business from aiding the economic recovery but had radical ideas for housing, for infrastructure, our countryside and so much more.

Our call for greater civil liberties, an online Bill of Rights and media "first amendment" and protection the Human Rights Act all got lost in the scrum. All things that are vital to every person. But not just what we would do but why we consider such things important.

We and the nation lost some of the strongest voices on LGB & T rights. Julian Huppert got the issue of the spousal veto and need for humanists to be be treated equally with other faiths in respect to marriage (just as they can in Scotland). Lynne Featherstone who got marriage equality unto the agenda at all.

The Fightback that the Liberal Democrats are already getting involved in, has to place our values to the forefront. What we want to do in Government, what values we have that would direct how we act if given the chance to serve, how we would make society fairer and the economy stronger. If others want to copy our ideas there is no shame in that, they have done for years anyway and even take credit for things that only we were prepared to do.

But we need to shout about what we want to do. We also need stand up against the things we would never do. We will stand on our record, stand on our believes, stand on our values.

But one thing we must do is we must stand at Liberal Democrats first and foremost not as someone else's lapdog.