A Great Moment for Scotland and Equality: Now Let’s Get Serious About It

Gerry Hassan

Sunday Mail, January 4th 2015

As the clocks this week marked Hogmanay, Scotland’s first ever same sex marriage ceremonies took place.

Each of the couples had their own unique and personal histories and backstories. Many had lived through times less enlightened and more repressive where people often had to hide their love, feelings and identities from family, friends and work colleagues.

On that momentous night, at the Bell and Felix bistro in Glasgow’s Southside I had the honour of being amongst those who saw Gerrie and Susan Douglas-Scott’s public declaration of their love and commitment as they got married when the clock hit midnight.

With two other same sex couples marrying, surrounded by a small band of families and friends, witnessed by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Green Party co-convener Patrick Harvie, people were aware this was history in the making.

It wasn’t always like this. Not so long ago the words ‘homosexuality’ and ‘gay’ met with the wrath of Scotland’s religious, moral and political conservatives -with many others experiencing a sense of nervousness and embarrassment if such topics arose, desperately wanting to change the subject.

It was only in 1980 that male homosexuality was decriminalised here – thirteen years after England and Wales. Then at the advent of the Scottish Parliament there was the Clause 28/Section 2A episode.

All across Scotland, in the first of these important ceremonies, couples reflected on this and the progress that has been made. There was also an awareness of wider change – that this is part of a story of Scotland and ‘fairness’, ‘a better nation’ and the importance of ‘social justice’.

These are positive, affirming sentiments, yet if Scotland is really serious about its progressive credentials and wants to be true to these terms then we will have to go further than the landmark change of equal marriage.

Scotland for all its pretensions isn’t a land of equality and fairness. Instead, it is scarred by poverty and inequality. A few choice facts underline this. More than one in five of our children live in poverty. Lots of families and children live in hunger, reliant on food banks and handouts. And in the past year 900,000 sanctions were taken out against people with the state withdrawing or cutting what are already minimal benefit payments.

Then in education and health Scottish working class communities are massively disenfranchised and marginalised. Two years ago figures showed that only 220 of our children from the poorest areas got the grades to give them the opportunity to go to university.

Some of these stem from Westminster policies, which for example has responsibility for welfare. But others such as education and health have been the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament since it was established.

So let’s have cheer in 2015 for the progress we have made for Gerrie and Susan and for many, many others. This didn’t happen easily or by accident. Thousands of brave campaigners for lesbian and gay rights over decades made the case for equality and opposing discrimination. They stood up to nervous politicians of a previous era in the SNP, Labour, Lib Dems and Tories who openly supported inequality, or more often than not, just weren’t prepared to do anything about it.

This is a moment and time to celebrate, affirm and to recognise the progress Scotland has made in a relatively short time. And to pause and reflect on what this says and means.

Political and social change is never easy, and requires boldness, bravery and never accepting that the status quo is permanent and cannot be changed. It involves leadership, choosing when to put your head above the parapet, and building alliances and networks of support.

If we are to get serious about the values of fairness, equality and social justice, we have to take a long hard and honest look at ourselves, and consciously move beyond the sometimes comforting, superficial rhetoric that many of us choose to believe.

If we want to be the Scotland we really and truly aspire to be, then we have to have some difficult conversations. How do we become a fairer nation when four more years of bitter austerity will blow a cold wind through our public services? How do we stop blaming everything that is wrong on Westminster? And when do we grow up and reflect that some our most shaming inequalities are aided by home grown decisions made by Scottish institutions and professional groups?

Modern day Scotland lets down too many of its most vulnerable, disadvantaged citizens. Let’s not pretend otherwise and let’s not trick ourselves into believing that all our limitations are the fault of others, and all our virtues our own.

In the aftermath of the independence referendum, let’s have the courage and conviction that matches the passion and idealism of the likes of Gerrie and Susan, and do something serious to address and change our nation.