Gay voters go red or yellow -- but never blue

Anti-gay comments by a Conservative candidate in Ayrshire, Philip Lardner, are just the latest stage in the peeling away of the Tories’ gay-friendly façade.

For the LGBT community, the case against voting Tory continues to solidify -- it increasingly seems that, beneath their new, shiny, rainbow-coloured surface, much of the party consists of the Thatcherite homophobes of old.

To paraphrase that old smoothie Loyd Grossman, let's take a look at the evidence: the weird alliance with far-right European homophobes including Michal Kaminsky; the shadow home secretary Chris Grayling agreeing that B&B owners should have the right to bar gay couples; Cameron's major gaffe in an interview in March with Gay Times, in which he seemed to say MPs should be allowed to vote against laws that uphold homosexuality as a human right; the shadow defence minister Julian Lewis saying he was against equalising the age of consent, as gay sex carries a high risk of Aids; the defection of two senior members of the Conservative gay group LGBTory to Labour; Cameron's anti-gay voting record . . . Who would live in a House like this? David Cameron, it's over to you . . .

The latest sorry chapter in the Tories' big gay unravelling came yesterday, as first reported by Pink News, when the Scottish Conservative candidate for North Ayrshire and Arran, Philip Lardner, said that he thought homosexuality was wrong and he -- like the Stagecoach boss Brian Souter ten years ago -- supported parents and teachers who opposed the teaching of gay equality.

On Lardner's website, he states clearly that "homosexuality is not normal" (yawn) and goes on:

The promotion of homosexuality by public bodies (as per Clause 28/section 2a in Scotland) was correctly outlawed by Mrs Thatcher's government. Toleration and understanding is one thing, but state promotion of homosexuality is quite another.

Christians (and most of the population) believe homosexuality to be somewhere between "unfortunate" and simply "wrong" and they should not be penalised for politely saying so -- good manners count, too, of course.

The current "law" is wrong and must be overturned in the interests of freedom as well as Christian values.

Cameron said he moved to sack Lardner "within minutes", but the damage had already been done. He has doubtless reformed the Conservatives' stance on gay issues to a great extent and exorcised much of the latent homophobia from senior levels of the party -- welcoming several openly gay MPs -- but there is no escaping the existence of the prejudiced (and often evangelical Christian) right-wing faction within the party at grass-roots level. It's for that reason that the vast majority of LGBT voters still want to steer well clear of them.

As my colleague George Eaton reported on Monday, support for the Tories among gay voters has collapsed to roughly 9 per cent, down from 39 per cent in June 2009, and justifiably so. The defected former head of LGBTory, Anastasia Beaumont-Bott, described the Conservatives' gay policy as "an elaborate deception":

It feels like there is a different message for every audience. I think we should think about what Mr Cameron's Conservatives stand for . . . A leopard does not change its spots.

Should we be surprised? This is, after all, the party that gave us rabid bigots (there, I said it!) such as Norman Tebbit, who recently made some characteristically compassionate comments about persecuted African homosexuals, and the battleaxe gay-rights opponent Janet Young; that introduced the punitive anti-gay legislation Section 28, and fought bitterly against its repeal, as well as voting against proposals to lower the age of consent.

When leader of the Tories, William Hague, we shouldn't forget, ordered every Tory MP to vote against the repeal of Section 28 in 1999 and viciously expelled Shaun Woodward from the party for daring not to do so (wisely, he crossed the carpet to Labour). Hague recently defended Grayling's B&B comments.

Since 1997, Labour, by constrast, has repealed Section 28; lowered the gay age of consent, first to 18 and then to 16; introduced same-sex civil partnerships; legalised adoption by gay couples; equalised the Sexual Offences Act; made homophobic abuse a hate crime; and given a commitment to work for LGBT rights at an international level. In short, if you'll excuse the neologism, Labour <hearts> the gays.

And how about the Lib Dems? Popularity for them among gay voters has soared, as a joint result of the Tories' blunders and the televised leaders' debates. With an LGBT eqality body, DELGA, that's an official part of the party, their policy on gay rights looks impressive, including tackling bullying in schools, getting tough on hate crime, increasing LGBT representation in parliament, ending the deportation of persecuted gay people to their home countries (something Jacqui Smith was slated for doing), and campaigning for "marriage without borders" -- "for marriages and civil partnerships to be available in the UK to people regardless of gender, and for same-sex partnerships to be recognised throughout Europe and internationally". The last is something Nick Clegg has personally endorsed.

Thomas Calvocoressi is Chief Sub (Digital) at the New Statesman and writes about visual arts for the magazine.

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Winning Scottish independence will be even harder than before - but it may be the only choice

Independence campaigners will have to find answers on borders, currency and more. 

The Brexit mutiny has taken not just the UK economy and its relationship with Europe into uncharted waters. it has also imperilled the union between Scotland and England. From Sir John Major to the First Minister, both Unionists and Nationalists had warned of it. The outcome, though, has made this certain. The Leave vote in England and Wales contrasted with an overwhelming Remain vote north of the border.

That every region in Scotland voted to stay In was quite remarkable. Historically, fishing and industrial communities have blamed the European Union for their woes. That antagonism was probably reflected in lower turnout - an abstention rather than a rejection. 

The talk now is of a second referendum on independence. This is understandable given the current mood. Opinion polls in the Sunday Times and Sunday Post showed a Yes vote now at 52 per cent and 59 per cent respectively. Moreover, anecdotal evidence suggests even arch No vote campaigners, from JK Rowling to the Daily Record, are considering the option.

The First Minister was therefore correct to say that a second referendum is now “back on the table”. Her core supporters expects no less. However, as with the economy and Europe, the constitutional relationship between Scotland and England is now in uncharted seas. Potential support for independence may be higher, but the challenges are arguably bigger than before. The difficulties are practical, political and geographic.

Of course the Little Englanders likely to take the helm may choose a velvet divorce. However, given their desire for the return of the Glories of Britannia that’s improbable. They’re as likely to wish to see Caledonia depart, as cede Gibraltar to Spain, even though that territory voted even more overwhelmingly In.

Ticking the legal boxes

Practically, there’s the obstacle of obtaining a legal and binding referendum. The past vote was based on the Edinburgh Agreement and legislation in Westminster and Holyrood. The First Minister has indicated the democratic arguments of the rights of the Scots. However, that’s unlikely to hold much sway. A right-wing centralist Spanish government has been willing to face down demands for autonomy in Catalonia. Would the newly-emboldened Great Britain be any different?

There are no doubt ways in which democratic public support can be sought. The Scottish Government may win backing in Holyrood from the Greens. However, consent for such action would need to be obtained from the Presiding Officer and the Lord Advocate, both of whom have a key role in legislation. These office holders have changed since the first referendum, where they were both more sympathetic and the legal basis clearer. 

Getting the EU on side

The political hurdles are, also, greater this time than before. Previously the arguments were over how and when Scotland could join the EU, although all accepted ultimately she could remain or become a member. This time the demand is that Scotland should remain and the rest of the UK can depart. But will that be possible? The political earthquake that erupted south of the Border has set tectonic plates shifting, not just in the British isles but across the European continent. The fear that a Brexit would empower dark forces in the EU may come to pass. Will the EU that the UK is about to leave be there for an independent Scotland to join? We cannot know, whatever European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker may be saying at the moment. The First Minister is right to start engaging with Europe directly. But events such as elections in France and the Netherlands are outwith her control. 

Moreover, currency was the Achilles heel in the last referendum, and hasn’t yet been addressed. George Osborne was adamant in his rejection of a currency union. The options this time round, whether a separate Scottish currency or joining the euro, have yet to be properly explored. A worsened financial situation in the 27 remaining EU members hampers the latter and the former remains politically problematic. 

The problem of borders

Geography is also an obstacle  that will be even harder to address now than before. Scotland can change its constitution, but it cannot alter its location on a shared island. In 2014, the independence argument was simply about changing the political union. Other unions, whether monarchy or social, would remain untouched. The island would remain seamless, without border posts. An independent Scotland, whether in or out of the EU, would almost certainly have to face these issues. That is a significant change from before, and the effect on public opinion unknown.

The risk that's worth it

Ultimately, the bar for a Yes vote may be higher, but the Scots may still be prepared to jump it. As with Ireland in 1920, facing any risk may be better than remaining in the British realm. Boris Johnson as Prime Minister would certainly encourage that. 

David Cameron's lack of sensitivity after the independence referendum fuelled the Scottish National Party surge. But perhaps this time, the new Government will be magnanimous towards Scotland and move to federalism. The Nordic Union offers an example to be explored. Left-wing commentators have called for a progressive alliance to remove the Tories and offer a multi-option referendum on Scotland’s constitution. But that is dependent on SNP and Labour being prepared to work together, and win the debate in England and Wales.

So, Indy Ref The Sequel is on the table. It won’t be the same as the first, and it will be more challenging. But, if there is no plausible alternative, Scots may consider it the only option.

Kenny MacAskill served as a Scottish National MSP between 2007 and 2016, and as Cabinet Secretary for Justice between 2007 and 2014.