Scottish Labour leader: Independence would diminish equality in Scotland

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

“Equality will not be top of the agenda for many years if we vote for independence,” Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont has warned.

She made the remarks in response to a questionnaire submitted to Scotland’s six main political leaders by the Equality Network.

“There are important additional steps which need to be taken in equality law in Scotland, especially around gender identity,” the senior Labour MSP said.

“Under devolution, Scotland has a nimble, consultative and equality-bound Parliament ready and well placed to undertake this work. Far better it does that than get mired in decades of legislation to reinvent the myriad administrative functions required if there is a Yes vote.

“Equality will not be top of the agenda for many years if we vote for independence”, she stressed.

“We believe that a No vote delivers the critical combination of powers necessary to support and extend the protection of equality in Scotland, affording us equality powers in the Scottish Parliament – powers which are bound by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – within a United Kingdom with the strength and influence to continue to promote LGBT equality across the world.”

The Scottish Labour leader questioned talk of a Scottish constitution to enshrine LGBT rights by SNP First Minister Alex Salmond.

“The process for creating a constitution is, like many things in the Yes campaign’s plans, unclear,” Ms Lamont said.

“One thing that is clear is that the Scottish Parliament’s current requirement to be bound by the ECHR would certainly be lost, putting equality rights at risk. The best way to ensure equality is built into the foundations of the Scottish Parliament is to vote No.”

Mr Salmond has claimed that Conservative plans to possibly withdraw from the European Court and Convention of Human Rights would put protections for Scottish LGBT citizens at risk.

But Ms Lamont said the same would be true of independence.

“The Scottish Parliament is bound by the European Convention on Human Rights,” the MSP said.

“This means that any attempt to pass legislation that contravenes those rights immediately falls. This is a significant protection against the danger of a future government which is not committed to equality in Scotland, however remote that idea may seem.

“A vote to leave the UK would remove this critical protection. The devolved parliament is unquestionably better for the future of equality law in Scotland.”

Ms Lamont said Labour would introduce greater powers for the Scottish Parliament on equality if it wins the 2015 general election.

She also said independence would damage Scotland’s intentional standing.

“Independence can only mean a reduction in Scotland’s ability to influence LGBTI equality around the world.

“The UK has an unparalleled network of diplomatic, cultural, economic and political ties across the global community which have been built up over centuries. It has the economic strength and stability to play a major part in aid provision.

“A vote for independence is a vote to step away from all of this. It also sends a message of isolation rather than co-operation. If Scotland does vote for independence, our opportunities to influence LGBTI equality will be significantly reduced.”

When asked by the Equality Network: “If there is a vote for independence, will your party ensure that Scotland welcomes LGBTI people seeking asylum from their home country because of a well-founded fear of persecution on grounds of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status?”

Ms Lamont replied: “The Labour Party has a proud history of improvement of asylum processes to ensure that LGBTI people facing persecution can and do receive asylum in the UK. It is widely acknowledged that much of the asylum system needs improvement, and that too many decisions are overturned on appeal.

“Scottish Labour strongly supports further improvements to ensure that the right decision is made in the first instance, as this will prevent unnecessary delay, cost and anxiety.”

She added: “Scottish Labour would continue to support asylum for LGBTI people with a well-founded fear of persecution whether or not there is a vote for independence. But we strongly believe that a single, fair asylum system for the whole of the UK is preferable to two separate systems.

“We do not want to see border posts erected between England and Scotland.

“Separate asylum and immigration policies between an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK run the risk of making such border posts necessary.

“We should ensure asylum is fair across the UK, not create needless divisions across the UK.”