From Criminality to Equality

I think this is one of the moments in the debates on marriage where there’s more wisdom to be heard in one speech made well than in acres of newsprint trying to analyse the vote in the House of Commons last night.

Here’s David Lammy giving it his all.

Let me speak frankly.

“Separate but equal” is a fraud.

“Separate but equal” is the language that tried to push Rosa Parks to the back of the bus.

“Separate but equal” is the motif that determined that black and white could not possibly drink from the same water fountain, eat at the same table or use the same toilets.

“Separate but equal” are the words that justified sending black children to different schools from their white peers – schools that would fail them and condemn them to a life of poverty.

It is an excerpt from the phrasebook of the segregationists and the racists.

It is the same statement, the same ideas and the same delusion that we borrowed in this country to say that women could vote – but not until they were 30.

It is the same naivety that gave made my dad a citizen in 1956 but refused to condemn the landlords that proclaimed “no blacks, no Irish, no dogs”.

It entrenched who we were, who our friends could be and what our lives could become.

This was not “Separate but equal” but “Separate AND discriminated”,

“Separate AND oppressed”.

“Separate AND browbeaten”.

“Separate AND subjugated”.

Separate is NOT equal, so let us be rid of it.

Because as long as there is one rule for us and another for them, we allow the barriers to acceptance to stand unchallenged.

As long as our statute books suggest that the love between two men or two women is unworthy of being recognised through marriage, we allow the rot of homophobia to fester.

And then again at the end:

The Jesus I know was born a refugee, illegitimate, with a death warrant on his name in a barn among animals. He would stand up for minorities. That is why it is right for people of religious convictions to stand up for this bill.

There’s a longer version of the speech (which he would have given if he had been given more time) on his website.

Equal Marriage Parliamentary Reception

Had a great time at the Equal Marriage reception at the Scottish Parliament last night. A brilliant mixture of lots of good speakers, lots of great people and wedding cake.

There was a great opening speech from Rae Cahill of the Scottish Youth Parliament. Then, very much enjoyed hearing Rabbi Mark Solomon of the Edinburgh Liberal Jewish Community. Great and very moving speeches also from a couple who are caught in the bind of being required to divorce before one of them can legally be recognised in a changed gender, even though they wish to remain married.

Half time entertainment from the Edinburgh Gay Men’s Chorus and then it was on to some rousing stuff from MSPs from all the Scottish Political parties.

The clear message was that this isn’t an issue of party politics, it is an issue of consensus politics. Scotland has moved to a point where a majority of people believe that the law needs to be changed to allow gay couples to wed on the same basis as straight couples.

That majority runs through the membership of political parties and is apparent in the membership of Scotland’s main churches. It is an idea whose time has come and last night’s reception was a hugely encouraging step along the journey to equality.

Was great to meet up with MSPs, congregation members, fellow bloggers (including Caron Lindsay – yay!) and all manner of people of goodwill from all over Scotland. The place was packed out and people were in high spirits. One of those events when you can smell that change is on it’s way.

Huge respect to the Equality Network for bringing it all off and getting the press release together showing that all the opposition party leaders in the Parliament are now on board. (The SNP can’t comment as the Executive is still in a consultation process, though Alex Salmond’s support is on record too).

The Prime Minister’s Speech I’d like to Hear

Parliament is being recalled tomorrow to discuss the English Riots that have been unfolding in that last few days. Here is the speech I would like David Cameron to make.
Mr Speaker. The streets of this country are in uproar and people live in fear for their lives and property. Parliament has been recalled because people rightly look to us for leadership. I have come to this house today to make a personal statement and then to hear the views of others. I look for a constructive debate and as it begins I commit myself, as I believe we must all do, to eschew knee-jerk reaction and short term political gain. We must seek to mend what is broken and that is likely to take time, commitment and money – resources which lie within our common gift. The well-being of us all depends upon peace in our streets.

I begin by acknowledging that I know what it is to share in the excitement of lawless behaviour when young. My membership of the Bullingdon club whilst at University is well documented and a period of my life which I look back on with shame and regret. Of course, I came from a background where the distruction wrought by that club could be paid for from the immense priviledge that my friends and I had been received in life. My revulsion at my youthful association with a lawless (if immensely rich) gang leads me now to a determination to fight back at all gang cultures wherever they are found. Gang membership provides a narrative to youth – the task for us today is to outline a narrative for the nation that will capture the imagination of the country.

We will be able to do that only when we have acknowledged all that is wrong. A few MPs have stolen from the common purse and are perceived as having been treated lightly by the law. Our Metropolitan police force is accused of longstanding and deep-seated corruption at the top. Senior officers are believed to have taken bribes. This disrupts fundamentally the morale of the overwhelmingly vast number of decent police officers and undermines the ability of those aiming to police by consent the streets of our cities. Our newspapers are likewise tarnished by those who have engaged in lawless behaviour for the simple motive of making a fast buck. People rightly ask whether there is any difference between those in high office who break the law for financial gain and self interest and those who ransack shops for trainers, MP3 players and cigarettes. The truth is, Mr Speaker, I don’t believe there is much difference at all. We have been weighed in the balance of modern life and are found wanting.

Who is there left with the authority to speak the truth and establish the common good? People are asking who will restore our common life? That task must begin with us today.

Parliament has been recalled so that different members can give their views. Parliament should note the following principles which I would like to establish for this debate. I will then hear the views of others and where appropriate work with Honourable Members on a cross-party basis to implement the best ideas for dealing with the immediate crisis that we face.

Firstly we must learn again that the wellbeing of us all is enhanced by the prosperity of the many and not the few. There is no point in being rich and living in a street that is not safe to walk down.

Secondly we must look again at the question of access to education. I benefited from a free education, as did most Honourable Members of this house. We must face the possibility that by removing a pathway to eduction for those from the most challenging backgrounds we condemn people to remain within an underclass with no way out. We may well have got the decision on student fees entirely wrong.

Thirdly we must use the same technology that gives people the freedom to organise on the streets, to police the streets and keep citizens safe. (I will be meeting today with mobile phone companies to establish whether it is possible for them to provide the police, under current legislation, with a real-time recordable map of mobile phone use in areas, and only those areas, that have been declared as zones of major public disorder).

Fourthly, we must celebrate the tens of thousands of young people from all backgrounds who make us proud to be British and proud of their achievements.

Fifthly, I am glad to have received the prompt resignation of the Home Secretary this morning. She was right in saying that she simply was unable to retain her post whilst the streets of the capital were ablaze. I have invited Mr Kenneth Clark to take up this important post and am delighted that he has accepted this task and expect support from all sides of the house for him, the police, the courts and all who work in the prison and probation systems.

Sixthly, those who advocate the use of more violent methods of policing are speaking from their fears rather than their wisdom. We do not need a greater escalation of violence in our streets. My revulsion at seeing 11 year olds rioting and looting would be far eclipsed by the sight of police officers beating 11 year olds on our streets or the army shooting at the them.

Finally we must look again on a cross-party basis at the way in which we will face the difficult economic times that we currently face. We must live within our means and not extend further this country’s debt. At a time when money is short, we must each of us face the fact that this means less disposable income. We must establish a new economic narrative which seeks the common good and not only individual financial gain. Such uncontested craving for individual gain has brought us to this point where our institutions are corrupted and our streets are not safe. We are coming too late to the realisation that the country needs a more just and progressive economic system rather than a system whereby the great financial institutions face little penalty for gambling away the pensions of the country and taxation is based on how little we can justify as payment for paltry public services. There is change in the air and the challenge I offer the House today is the challenge to win the battle for hearts and minds in the struggle for fair and just taxation and not merely the lowest common denominator taxes which have been at the heart of our political debates for decades.

Mr Speaker – those keeping peace on the streets need the support of every member of this house and every citizen of this country. I now need the same support as I seek to lead the country in a new direction.

Change begins today.

Change begins here in parliament.

Change begins with me.

On the election tomorrow

We’ve a Scottish parliamentary election tomorrow. My good wishes to all candidates – I know what it feels like to be a parliamentary candidate. You enter into this strange other worldliness where nothing else matters.  The focus narrows and all you know about is the task in hand and the team that are hopefully working their socks off around you. It is intense, it’s physical, you meet more people than you can remember and you have to speak coherently in public at odd times of day. Its all a bit like putting on Holy Week.

I was a Liberal Democrat candidate in 2005 in a Westminster election and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I learned a lot and was surrounded by great people who, bemused as I think they were by my day job, taught me more about mission and outreach than anyone ever did during my priestly formation.

I don’t campaign any more – when I came to Glasgow I realised that this job was a choice which ruled that out, at least for a time. I needed to concentrate on the task at hand and that was a good choice though I know that it did disappoint some folk and I can’t say it wasn’t made without sometimes wondering what might have been had I taken another path. It was widely known when I came here in the congregation what I’d been up to, so I’ve never felt as coy about talking about my own politics as some clergy do.

Not surprisingly, I feel for Liberal Democrat candidates this time around. People will have been working intensely hard, campaigning for years for a seat which a year ago might have seemed almost with their grasp, only for everything to fall apart as national disappointments about the current national Conservative – Lib Dem coalition have reached fever pitch. People feel betrayed by the Liberal Democrats over the tuition fees debacle and tomorrow is very likely to be payback time.

The last year has shown that the Liberal Democrats were barely ready for government. We might have guessed that by the run of silly gay sex scandals of a while ago in the Westminster parliamentary party and the lack of any really well developed economic policy. The disappointment is terrible, particularly for those who were looking for (and were promised) something different and have found politics to be business as usual but with an added dose of ideological right-wing cuts being rolled out in the name of conquering the all too real economic challenge.

“So,” people say to me, “how will you vote now?”

Well, I’m as disappointed as anyone else in the year that is past. So, I’ve made it my business to read the manifestos of the parties and made my decision based on them.  (If you want a quick shortcut, the Scottish Vote Compass will give you a quick quiz and then tell you which party you are nearest to).

So, who am I supporting now?

Having looked at everything that is on offer, I’ll be supporting the Liberal Democrats. It’s not a vote in support of the Coalition – I’m no more supportive of that than I was on day one. Its because I’m still a liberal at heart and policywise, that’s the party that I’m closest to. I didn’t become a Lib Dem because of Nick Clegg nor any personality. I didn’t become a Lib Dem because of success – indeed the idea of Lib Dems in government when I joined was, well, pretty unthinkable. I became a Liberal Democrat because of policy. Indeed, when I did apply to be a candidate, it was policy which carried me though – that and a humdinger of a mock speech, which I’ve still got knocking around somewhere.

So its clear where my vote goes – it goes with what I believe in not with the failures of individuals. And there are going to need to be people around to carry the liberal vision when this current Orange-Book liberalism which is in the ascendency at the moment, collapses in the face of its own contradictions.

Well, it’s clear where it goes on the Regional List ballot paper tomorrow.

The constituency vote is another game altogether.