Leaders: Gay marriage decision shows political backbone
THE doubters were wrong. Many people questioned whether the Scottish Government would have the political courage to legalise gay marriage. A number of Nationalist MSPs warned their leadership about the potential for political damage if the party went down this route. There were concerns it would turn the Catholic church in Scotland against the SNP, jeopardising the Nationalists’ remarkable advance in that community after decades in which Catholics tended to favour the Labour Party at the ballot box.
There were also concerns that the SNP might risk alienating the Muslim community – another minority grouping that has over the years been successfully wooed by Nationalist leaders. To cap it all, there were fears in SNP ranks that this highly divisive issue might sour some Scots’ view of independence, just as the Yes campaign was heading towards the historic 2014 referendum.
Recently there were some indications that the fierce opposition of the Catholic Church, and the apocalyptic language used by its leader in Scotland, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, had spooked the SNP leadership. When the Scottish Cabinet last week delayed a final decision, some observers detected a wobble. Whether or not the SNP did in fact hesitate, it has now announced its intentions, and this newspaper congratulates Alex Salmond for having the political backbone to press ahead with this legislation.
In taking this step, Mr Salmond is being true to his word. In January this year, the First Minister gave the Hugo Young Lecture in London, in which he declared that an independent Scotland could be a beacon for “progressive” opinion. There was some scepticism about that statement at the time, but Mr Salmond’s actions yesterday on gay marriage will go some way to silencing those voices that questioned the SNP’s progressive credentials. Yesterday’s decision is greatly to his credit.
Of course, it is one thing to announce an intention to legislate, it is quite another to see it through on to the statute books. Opponents will use all means at their disposal to broker a compromise, putting pressure on individual MSPs. At present, equality campaigners believe that gay marriage enjoys the support of a majority of MSPs at Holyrood, but that is before the pressure from “traditional values” campaigners is applied in full, particularly on Catholic MSPs or members in constituencies with a large Catholic population. How much electoral heft the Churches actually deploy on polling day in the 21st century is a moot point, but the conservative lobby groups will use all the powers of persuasion at their disposal. Compromises will no doubt be floated – and this newspaper hopes they will be rejected.
This fight is not yet over, but yesterday’s decision is an important step towards what we hope will be a historic milestone in Scotland’s social and political history.
Britain needs a change of plan
THE debate at the heart of government about how to get Britain out of recession was laid bare yesterday. Given the unblinking determination of George Osborne to cling to the Treasury’s Plan A, it was extraordinary to hear his fellow Cabinet member Vince Cable raise the prospect of an amendment to the government’s grand economic strategy. Cable called it Plan A+ in an attempt to make it appear as nothing but a small tweak to the orthodox strategy, but he was fooling no-one.
He and his Lib Dem colleagues clearly believe it is time for a new approach from Number 11 Downing Street, and they are in good company. Labour and the SNP back the growing band of eminent economists who agree that the Treasury’s key theory – that the private sector will fill the gaps in the economy left by public spending cuts – is simply not working as it was intended. Call it Plan A+, Plan B or whatever: the country needs a new plan.
Osborne has the perfect cover for a change of direction: he can quite reasonably point to unforeseen circumstances in the crumbling eurozone as the rationale for a rethink. But still he cleaves to a plan conceived two years ago, which was accepted by
most at the time as a necessary dose of unpleasant medicine, but is increasingly being condemned as part of the malaise.
There were calls from prominent Lib Dems yesterday for Cable to replace Osborne as Chancellor. That is simply not conceivable. But Osborne should listen to him. What Britain requires is growth, and it is all too clear that austerity alone will not provide either growth or the circumstances in which growth can take root. Cable is right: Britain needs a Plan A+, and quickly.
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Tuesday 21 May 2013
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