Sunday 28 February 2016

I'll nae be hasting back to Scotland

Eight days after the 2010 General Election I took the momentous decision to no longer solely seek election in Linlithgow and threw my hat into the ring for a winnable seat for the 2011 Scottish elections.

In the end within weeks of the General Election then I was back on doorsteps of party members seeking their nomination for the seat of Edinburgh Central. Although I didn't win that selection losing out to the excellent Alex Cole-Hamilton I put the experience down as a learning one for the next time I contested a winnable seat.

Of course life between then and 2015 didn't go as intended and I had every intention of not even seeking selection for 2015 until I was approached to stand in a seat that had yet to select a candidate in the early part of last year.My experience as a candidate and running the referendum campaign was utilised through various media to try, in vain, to stem the tsunami that overcame us.

In the hours after the 2015 as I travelled back to Northern Ireland I wrote I would be looking to secure a full time job in either England, Scotland or Wales, to be part of the Lib Dem Fightback. Little did I envision that within a year as I was starting to look elsewhere for a move into a new full time job that I might as well remove Scotland where I have spent the majority of this millennium out of the reckoning.

The reason of course is that Scottish conference decided at the weekend that the chance of them returning their first gay man as an MP was considerably reduced when they voted that the top five target seats would be selected using All Women Short Lists (AWS)I hope that at least one of those five selects an LGT or BAME or disabled candidate as those minorities at least have a higher chance of selection. But if the Scottish Liberal Democrats can only manage to get to 50% of the 2010 number of MPs the chances of any gay man like myself getting elected if low and we would have to compete against men, women and everyone else for the lesser mortals.

Don't get me wrong when I said I was prepared to get back into the fray I meant all the hard work of going around the constituency week in week out. I did plenty of that, mainly on my own, in Linlithgow and East Falkirk between 2005 and 2010 enough that many still thought I was the candidate not only ahead of 2011 but also 2015. But it is making it harder for me to contemplate what may well be a two election cycle to get one of the targets from 6 down into a winning position.

I know that only AWS or all disability lists are legal, but to make all five of the most winnable AWS does not bring about equality of the situation if successful it brings a different imbalance that would have to be addressed against incumbency factors for 2025 and beyond.

I'll be watching to see what is decided by Federal Conference decide in York next month and then how the regions decide to implement those proposed powers to see if it is worth me even considering seeking work to try and work a seat. However, if too many of them do follow the lead of Scotland and make their top five targets AWS it may well be that instead of looking beyond my result in Sedgefield, I bow out of standing for election.

It is a pity that it may come to that, it is not what I envisioned after 40 hours without sleep from polling day morning, to mulling over the aftermath in May.

Monday 15 February 2016

LGBT+ equality in the world today

Apparently I should no longer campaign for LGBT+ equality elsewhere in the world. Apparently somebody who I have considered a friend for years considers that me using my white privilege to campaign for LGBT+ rights in Africa, or the Caribbean, or India and Pakistan is silencing BME LGBT+ voices.

Now I know there are occasions when it seems strange for white people to stand up for BME people, times it looks like they are doing it for point scoring, but rarely have I heard that argument aimed towards LGBT+ activists. Some of us myself included have lived though the time when it became legal for us to act upon our sexuality. The "colonial" laws that still exist in places like India, Uganda or Zimbabwe and others were still in place in Scotland and Northern Ireland in the early 1980s, despite being lifted in England and Wales in the 1967.

My privilege includes the bullying and beatings I got through my school career, when teachers were unable to do anything to stop it. Those beatings were homophobic in nature. My privilege involves having church people jump to conclusions and consider me unclean. My privilege includes the largest party in Northern Ireland spouting all sorts of unfounded claims against LGBT+ people and many on Radio and TV talk shows in Northern Ireland allowed to call us perverts, abominations and such like on a weekly basis.

Without straight allies there would not have been the progress on LGBT+ rights in this nation as we are a minority. The same goes for the abolition of slavery without some of those privileged white people realising that their privilege wasn't the best way forward and the same applies to the end of colonialism.

Now I do recognise that there is still a lot to be done in the area of racial diversity, just as there is in sexual orientation diversity. I fully support calls for those campaigning for intersectionality to be at the heart of activism. But if you stifle any activism because it fails to be fully representative of that intersectionality you will fail to do anything, achieve any goals or raise any concerns with the powers that be wherever they are.

What we need is activism and voices, yes ideally those voices should be as reflective as possible. But if people from any group say that the activism of another group does not reflect them even if the issue they raise is relevant to them we stifle progress. Without that activism, however imperfect, we sometimes find that the voices we want to come forward don't feel secure, don't feel support and don't feel heard in the wider picture.

Recently we lost a great Liberal Eric, Lord Avebury. He stood up for LGBT rights while happily married to women, breast feeding rights while not being a woman, was recognised by secularists and Muslims despite being a Buddhist. He inherited an hereditary title but stood up for the common man.  His voice achieved things for minorities he was not part of, because he spoke up, because of his activism.

Sunday 14 February 2016

Since last Valentine's Day

Well it is Valentine's Day once more, it takes me back to a thought I had back during the 2015 General Election. In the run up or aftermath of the 2005 and 2010 elections a long term relationship I had enjoyed came to an end because of my incessant campaigning, that wasn't the case leading up to 2015. The reason was because for the first election cycle in a while (especially when I was a candidate) there was no long term relationship.

Of course as many people are aware since 2010 I have been working hard on letting everybody marry their Valentine, that is especially true here in Northern Ireland. Since last Valentine's Day we have actually had a vote in the Assembly where a majority supported that right, only for the DUP to bring it to nothing with a petition of concern.

Now I'm not saying that the DUP are denying me the chance to find love over the last five years, indeed there have been three possibilities who really could have be the other half of a serious relationship. But for one reason or another none of those worked out. But one thing I have been working on consistently since the General election is to ensure that marriage equality exists across the whole of the UK. I always knew that the last hurdle would be here in the part that I was born. There is still work to be done to ensure that the change that the public and now the majority of our law makers are behind comes to fruition. However, the light has started to appear at the end of that tunnel and we feel we will soon be able to reach out and grasp what many thought was impossible.

So I hope that by Valentines Day next year it will be possible for same sex couples in Northern Ireland to at least start to plan their marriages not somewhere else in the UK, or somewhere elsewhere else in Ireland but here at home.

Tuesday 2 February 2016

When the DUP quote Peter Thatchell...

Peter Thatchell[s comment piece in the Guardian has suddenly started to appear in DUP politicians time lines. When this starts to happen you know that something is seriously wrong with what he has said.

It is not so much the fact that he has changed his opinion on the Ashers case. Nor that his comments on that case are based on a lack of knowledge the various laws that the judge made judgement on and indeed gloss over the depths of the evidence that were cited in the judicial review.

No what the DUP are picking up on is the points that Thatchell is making about political discrimination and freedom of expression. They are turning these into the appearance that their views are the victim of political discrimination and that they are facing a limit on their freedom of expression. Both issues that negate the fact that only their MLAs have to step forward together to prevent political movement of any kind and indeed was used to block the last vote on marriage equality when a majority were in favour.

What Peter Thatchell fails toe recognise in his comment piece about Northern Ireland is the level of comments that LGBT+ people in Northern Ireland can be the equivalent to what the rest of the UK heard in the mid 80s. These comments are almost repeated daily on our radios, certainly regularly within our hearing, and often from people who are family friends or even members of our families (nuclear or extended).

Some of the ideas that some people in Northern Ireland have about LGBT+ people should be unlawful, the fact that some of those ideas have oil heaped on their flames by the party that is now quoting Thatchell should be worrying. They are jumping on the fact that a gay rights campaigner thinks they should be allowed to espouse their ideas, to ignore the ideas of those seeking equality. That they will use his comments to protect people against discrimination as as means to allow homophobes to be able to avoid promoting ideas with which they disagree. In so doing he has given a rally cry for the DUP's call to bring in a conscience clause to protect businesses. I know this was not his intention but less than 24 hours in that is what is happening.

So in conclusion I'd like to thank Peter Thatchell for putting LGBT+ equality in Northern back a little this week by not thinking of the implication that stating those views in the way that he did will have to the fight for equality in Northern Ireland.