Looking Ahead to the Scottish Government’s Draft Budget 2018-19: Making the Most of Equalities and Human Rights Levers – 6 February 2018
As a member of the Equalities and Human Rights Committee, I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate. I thank my fellow committee members, the committee clerks and all the witnesses who gave evidence to the committee.
The budget process is the Government’s single most important act each parliamentary year. It should be fully transparent. It should be possible to trace the process from its inputs through to its outputs—its real impact on people’s lives—because that is the only way that we can measure the effectiveness of the drivers that the Government should be using to tackle inequality.
Taking a human rights approach is key to making the budget process fairer. We should do more to ensure that human rights are at the heart of our political debate. I would like them to be at the forefront of all politicians’ minds when they devise budgets and formulate legislation. If we wish to have a society that is caring, diverse, inclusive of all and more equal, we must prioritise human rights during the scrutiny of our budget.
A critical driver in tackling inequality is the embedding of equality impact assessments in all the work that is done by national and local government. Despite the United Kingdom being a signatory to a range of United Nations human rights treaties, consideration of human rights issues is not at the forefront of the Scottish budget process.
The following example was highlighted by Chris Oswald of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. He told the committee that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to which the UK is a signatory, outlines a commitment to independent living for all persons with disabilities.
However, that commitment to independent living for disabled people is not reflected in the Scottish Government’s housing and transport budget allocations and policies, despite those being two key areas where there are significant barriers to disabled people’s active inclusion and participation in Scottish society.
A human rights approach should be fundamental to everything that we do. If we get the process of adopting a human rights approach to the budget correct, we will protect the most vulnerable people in our society, and doing that will benefit us all.
The importance of a more equal society must not be underestimated. A more equal society is happier and more trusting. The European countries that are ranked as the happiest in the world happiness survey are consistently those that have the lowest levels of inequality. For example, Denmark has been ranked as the world’s happiest country for three of the past five years.
I appreciate that no country provides a perfect example of the implementation of human rights or the adoption of a human rights approach, but Denmark provides an illuminating example of the benefits of a more equal society.
Denmark is one of the most egalitarian and trusting societies in the world, and the level of its population’s trust in its Government, politicians and fellow citizens ranks among the highest in the world.
I reiterate my support for the Equalities and Human Rights Committee’s call for discussions on human rights in the Scottish Government’s budget to be expedited.
Adopting an approach to the Scottish budget that is based on human rights and equality is vital, because that would go some way towards reducing inequality in Scotland by protecting our most vulnerable citizens and, in doing so, helping to a create a more equal, happier and more trusting Scotland.
Encouraging Cyber-Resilience Among Young People – 6 February 2018
I, too, thank Gillian Martin for bringing the debate to the chamber so that we can discuss the very important issue of cyber-resilience.
The internet has been one of the greatest inventions in our history. It connects the world in many ways and offers many opportunities to all our citizens and their communities. The benefits of being online are far reaching. However, as with all things, there are many disadvantages. Despite the opportunities of the internet, there are risks that can affect almost everyone, but especially young and vulnerable people.
Children and young people today connect with each other in a wide range of ways that were not available to any generation before. Therefore, we need to encourage open conversations with young people about the dangers of the internet and social media.
Too many children and young people are being exposed to bullying and pressures online, resulting in quite serious implications for mental health and social stigma. Raising awareness of the career consequences and the legal implications is a positive step that should deter perpetrators from bullying and trolling online.
The damaging and shocking increase in the number of sexual offences committed by young people shows that we need a connected approach among Government, schools, parents, charities, youth organisations and—most important—social network companies in order to tackle the scourge of the sharing of private and intimate details between young people and of so-called sexting. The digi, aye? campaign by Young Scot is a fine example of a programme that warns young people about the dangers of the internet and promotes safety and resilience when dealing with peers online.
The Equalities and Human Rights Committee produced the report “It is not Cool to be Cruel: Prejudice-based bullying and harassment of children and young people” in July last year.
During our evidence sessions, we heard from young people and youth organisations that more and more young people, especially girls, are being subjected to sexual harassment online. I encourage everyone in the chamber and everyone who listens to the debate to read that report. I guarantee that you will be shocked to hear about the wide-ranging harassment that young people are facing online, and not just in our schools.
As a society, we need to be far more proactive in encouraging young people to become more cyber-resilient and to have open conversations about cyber-bullying or harassment when they have been subjected to it. We all have a role to play in ensuring that our young people are safe and that they can enjoy the real benefits that the internet can bring.
Debates such as the one that we are having tonight are an important step in raising awareness. I close by once again thanking Gillian Martin for bringing the debate to the chamber.
Stage Three: Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Bill – 30 January 2018.
As my colleague Monica Lennon said in her opening remarks, the Scottish Labour Party fully supports the bill.
During the stage 1 debate, members from across the chamber recognised that there was a need to amend the bill, and I am glad that that need for change was recognised at stage 2. At stage 1, I highlighted the need for the definition of a woman in the bill to be amended to include a person who has the protected characteristic of gender reassignment who is living as a woman.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the cabinet secretary and Scottish Government officials for their willingness to engage constructively at stage 2 with the Equality and Human Rights Committee in order to amend and improve the bill. I am particularly grateful to the cabinet secretary for supporting my amendment to ensure that the bill is inclusive of all women, including trans women who do not possess a gender recognition certificate.
I would also like to take the opportunity to thank the Equality Network, Stonewall and the Scottish trans alliance for bringing the issue to my attention.
The vital importance of ensuring that the bill is inclusive of trans women is highlighted by the research that Stonewall published last week, which highlights that more than half of trans people have hidden their identity at work for fear of discrimination.
In addition, I would like to thank my colleagues on the Equalities and Human Rights Committee for the important role that they played in scrutinising the bill and strengthening it at stage 2 through their amendments.
The importance of the bill cannot be overstated: it is one important step towards achieving gender parity. It will act as a comprehensive, effective and robust lever to promote gender parity on public boards. Voluntary measures to promote gender parity on public boards have closed the gap somewhat, but the bill will introduce a duty to ensure by 2020 that women make up 50 per cent of non-executive board members. In the centenary year of the extension of the franchise to some women—I repeat that only women over 30 years old were given the vote—the bill highlights that, despite the gradual and hard-fought-for improvements over the past one-hundred years, women in Scotland still have to fight for equal representation.
The bill is not simply about having token women in the room or around the meeting table: it is about real and tangible equal representation. Furthermore, it is about equal representation for decision making, authority and power.
The fight for gender equality endures. In Scotland today, men continue to hold the power in decision making and to dominate public life, and men continue to be the majority in our boardrooms, in our Parliament and on our public boards.
The bill will empower women by promoting through 50:50 gender representation the redistribution of decision-making authority on our public boards.
I welcome the Scottish Government’s amendment to the bill at stage two, which requires Scottish ministers to report on the operation of the eventual act to the Scottish Parliament. That level of parliamentary scrutiny is essential, given the role that is played by Government ministers in making appointments to public boards. The ability of Parliament to question Government ministers is good for the bill, for Parliament and for democracy as it promotes greater accountability and transparency in decision making.
I reiterate my support for the Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Bill, which will ensure gender parity on public boards by 2020.
We must remember the importance of representative public boards, because when women are seen to succeed, more women engage and participate in the public sphere.
I believe that the promotion of 50:50 gender representation on public boards can signal a symbolic shift in all areas of society to empower more women to become engaged in public life in Scotland and to hold positions that have decision-making authority.
Stage One: Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Repeal) (Scotland) Bill – 25 January 2018.
I am pleased to speak in favour of James Kelly’s bill to repeal the flawed and illiberal Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012, which is a piece of legislation that was forced through by the SNP Government and was the first act of the Scottish Parliament to gather absolutely no support from Opposition parties.
It is clear that a wholly joined-up approach that includes schools, colleges, football clubs, leisure clubs and law enforcement, starting in early years education, is key to being proactive in tackling sectarianism.
Let me be clear at the outset. I take a zero-tolerance approach to all forms of sectarian or offensive behaviour. I have been a victim of sectarian abuse on more than one occasion, none of which was in the context of a football match. The most vitriolic of those episodes ended in court because of the laws that were already in place prior to the 2012 act.
My son and I were subjected to vile and sectarian language and racial abuse outside my own home. The individual concerned was charged with both racially aggravated breach of the peace and aggravated sectarian breach of the peace. On both charges, the individual was found guilty and given a substantial fine.
Those same laws will be used to tackle offensive and sectarian behaviour occurring at football matches, just as they would have been without the 2012 act. That was confirmed by Police Scotland during the Justice Committee’s evidence sessions, when Assistant Chief Constable Higgins said that someone singing an offensive song would be
“charged with breach of the peace or a section 38 offence”
The Law Society of Scotland said: “We are of the view that the common-law crime of breach of the peace, section 38 and a number of statutory aggravations are in place and continue to be, and that offensive behaviour at football matches could be dealt with under pre-2012 legislation.”
Professor Fiona Leverick echoed that point.
It is therefore clear that there will be no gap in the law, as is being claimed by the Scottish Government and SNP MSPs. The targeting of football fans is unjust and illiberal. The fact that the 2012 act has damaged relations between fans and police was a predominant theme that emerged from the evidence sessions with fans’ groups and from written evidence.
Paul Goodwin highlighted the “horrific public relations” around the act. As we can all recall, the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill was rushed, and the Scottish Government, using its majority, forced it through Parliament.
As Stewart Regan of the Scottish Football Association points out, there is no similar summit called for each year after T in the Park, despite the high level of disorder and offensive and criminal behaviour of festival goers. No other sport or cultural event has gained the watchful eye of the Scottish Government in this manner.
Professor Leverick informed the committee that: “nowhere else has specifically football-related criminal offences.”
No other legislature anywhere else has passed a specific piece of legislation that is similar to this act. That was made clear to us throughout our evidence sessions.
Repealing the act will allow the police to monitor football matches in the same manner as any other sporting event, using the exact same laws.
I have great sympathy with Stonewall Scotland and other equality and religious groups who express concern that repeal could send the wrong message. To tackle that, we must be more supportive of programmes and campaigns that encourage diversity and respect in football and at all cultural events.
As a member of the Equalities and Human Rights Committee, I would like to see a more inclusive approach taken by clubs, supporters groups and fans towards generating a more welcoming and family-orientated atmosphere in our sporting grounds.
Tackling offensive and sectarian behaviour must continue through education. Educating people is a proactive measure, not a reactive measure, as this act is.
Developing the Young Workforce: Review of Progress at the Midpoint of the Seven-Year Programme – 11 January 2018.
I welcome the opportunity to close the debate for Scottish Labour and to voice my support not only for our amendment, but for the Government motion and the other amendments that have been lodged.
Ensuring that our economy works for young people should be a priority for our Government and our education system. Unfortunately, in today’s world, the odds are ever increasing against young people, what with the high cost of living, rising student debt and precarious work opportunities.
That is why Scottish Labour’s amendment seeks to remove employment on zero-hours contracts from official Government statistics on positive destinations for young people. By amending the motion today, we look to all members across the chamber to work with the Government to change the methodology for school leavers, so that zero-hours contracts are not viewed as a positive destination.
The Government’s developing the young workforce strategy must be about developing young people in and out of employment, and zero-hours contracts will not support the ambition of that strategy. We call on members to back our position that the estimated 71,000 Scots who are on zero-hours contracts deserve better—especially the estimated 25,000 young exploited Scots—and that the methodology for school leavers should be corrected.
Today’s debate has been constructive and consensual. There has been recognition across the chamber that although progress has been made, more needs to be done. Speeches by Elaine Smith, Johann Lamont, James Dornan and Ivan McKee touched on modern apprenticeships, zero-hours contracts, STEM subjects, gender segregation and the issues of young carers and young parents. I want to comment on some of those areas, particularly in relation to gender.
James Dornan mentioned the briefing from Action for Children. I, too, want to touch on some of the comments that it contains. Although the organisation welcomes the progress that has been made, it also focuses some remarks on the practical and personal barriers that young people face.
The briefing highlights the lack of knowledge and understanding of CVs and the interview process, and suggests ways in which young people can be helped to manage stress, anxiety and demoralisation. Action for Children works with schools and is keen to expand on that work. It also works with minority ethnic women to help them to overcome the barriers that they face. I will talk in a bit more detail about black and minority ethnic young people later.
Elaine Smith made the very important point about the costs that young people face when they are on placement.
Gillian Martin made the point about encouraging young people into enterprise and business. That was not an area that I had considered before, and the point was very well made.
Oliver Mundell and Emma Harper highlighted the specific issues that young people in rural areas face, and the measures that should be taken to help them.
The overall figure on modern apprenticeships paints a positive picture. However, when the statistics are looked at in greater detail, we can see that a volume of work still has to be done to ensure that female, disabled and BME people find and maintain apprenticeships. With regard to apprenticeships and gender, it is clear that more can and should be done to end the segregation of roles in the workplace.
Young people—male and female—should not be grouped in certain industries. We need a far more inclusive approach in order to end that segregation.
Skills Development Scotland aims to reduce the number of industries that are dominated by more than 75 per cent of one gender. However, the majority of apprenticeship sectors are male dominated: only hairdressing and social services are dominated by females.
The statistics for the second quarter of the current financial year show that only 1.5 per cent of construction apprenticeships were held by females. The actual number is 52 females out of 3,285 modern apprenticeship starts.
The same statistics, which were released by SDS, show that there is a gulf in respect of the opportunities for female, disabled and care-experienced apprentices to start apprenticeships at levels 4 and 5, and at level 8.
Only 30 per cent of female modern apprentices started that modern apprenticeship qualification and, when the figure is broken down, we can see that only 4.4 per cent of all female modern apprenticeships are taking on the qualification, compared with 5.5 per cent of all male modern apprentices.
Only 3.3 per cent of disabled modern apprentices started the highest level, compared with 6 per cent for those not self-classifying as disabled. The figure for BME apprentices is 3.7 per cent.
It is easy to stand here and say that young people are our future. They are, and we as politicians have a responsibility to ensure that we do what we can to support and help them as they move into the world of work. Undoubtedly, progress has been made.
However, we need to work together to ensure that that progress is not halted and that a positive destination becomes just that.