The Next First Minister Must Be Progressive, Now More Than Ever

We live in challenging times. Between the coronavirus pandemic, cost-of-living crisis and Brexit, things are tougher than ever for many people. For many, though, these crises are compounded with an increase in hate crime, intolerance and attempts to legislate against their rights. This is most visible in Scotland for trans people, but it is not unique to them – down in Westminster the government continues to attack the rights of immigrants, and disability hate crime statistics are also on the rise.

There have, of course, been tensions within the SNP around trans rights, and also around timescales to independence and the rhetoric used to get there. Many of those who disagreed with Nicola Sturgeon’s (and the majority of voters’) stances on these issues left to join Alex Salmond’s Alba Party in their journey to electoral obsolescence.

The majority of people in Scotland support progressive policies. We have been on a trend towards greater rights and equality for all, and it would be a tragedy for many if this was reversed. As of 2019, there had been 5,909 same-sex marriages in Scotland since the passage of the act legalising them. That’s over 10,000 individuals who have been able to have their happy-ever-after who otherwise would have been unable. Now we have a candidate who says she would never have supported the law in the first place – and, given the choice, would vote against it today.

With the increase of US-funded anti-choice crowds outside abortion clinics, buffer zones around these are an important policy that looks to be around the corner. Indeed, the most recent SNP party conference passed a resolution in favour of such. If we are to elect a party leader who halts the progress towards legislation on this matter, it will not only cause more women great distress, but will also go against party policy.

There is a great danger that we slip backwards into socially conservative thinking. In countries such as Hungary and Poland, as well as several US states, we are seeing a rollback of women’s rights as well as LGBT+ rights. Such trends are often accompanied by greater authoritarianism and damage to democratic processes. Since the SNP’s raison d’être is Scottish independence and thus the furthering of Scottish democracy, such anti-progressive trends would undoubtedly damage said cause.

On the subject of independence, it is important that we consider why we support it. While for some people the desire may be almost innate, for many who voted yes in 2014 they did so for the chance to create a better nation. If we are going to copy England with both social conservatism and economic neoliberalism, then what, exactly, is the point? If independence does not improve the lives of the people of Scotland; or indeed if things get worse, then why are we doing this?

Progressivism is the way forward. Rights should be afforded to all humans, regardless of gender, sexuality, disability, race, religion, age or any other category. If we leave any one of these groups behind, then we cannot call our society fair. As Audre Lorde once said “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” I would extend that to people of all genders and none. A better world must be better for everyone, not solely those whose behaviour is deemed sufficiently ‘moral’ by standards better left behind in the 1800s.

It is also important to note that it is not only issues of identity groups that make a candidate progressive or otherwise. A willingness to tackle climate change is vital to progressivism – after all, there will be no human rights on a dead planet. There will be no independent Scotland on a dead planet, either, which is something I urge those who believe the climate crisis can hold on just another few years to consider. Uncritical support for the fossil fuel industry is incompatible with creating a better country (or world).

This time, more than any other, is one in which we have to take a long view of events and create policies which will protect the planet we live on and ensure everyone has the rights and protections needed to live a fulfilling life. We are, in Scotland, standing at a turning point where we can continue to move forward to a fairer, independent country… or risk slipping back into an age of discrimination, planetary destruction and injustice. We must make the right choice.