HIV is for life, not just World Aids Day

An HIV and health activist explains why he won't be wearing a red ribbon today.

It's that time of year again. In the past week I've been asked to flash my red pants for Aids awareness (I don't wear any); buy a fundraising red ribbon cupcake (I bake my own); and take part in a world-record-breaking HIV testing event in Soho (I had a test last month).

I'll put bets on who will have the glitziest red ribbon brooch on X Factor on Saturday (Gary); I'll guarantee (once again) that every well-meaning HIV exhibition where I work and study won't show images of gay men (apart from the stock holding-hands-taken-from-behind photo); and it'll be a sure-fire thing that a celebratory C-lister (probably white; probably straight; probably a woman) with a new single to sell will be the voice of HIV -- but just for today...

Please excuse my cynicism: it's World Aids Day again.

Despite the good news stories -- and, for once in the 30-year history of HIV, there are many -- once the red ribbons are packed away for another year (and there will be many more years), it will be business as usual. Business as usual for the millions of people throughout the world without access to HIV treatments; business as usual for the millions of people with no access to ways of preventing HIV or being tested for it; business as usual for the people with HIV, or at risk of acquiring it, who will continue to face stigma and discrimination; and business as usual for the millions of activists, educators, health workers and policy-makers around the world -- many of whom are living with HIV themselves -- for whom every day is "world Aids day".

Behind the fundraising events, the cake bake-offs and the world-record attempts lies the reality of many people with HIV or at risk of it. Despite the astonishing break-through in "new science" in the past two years, international funding for HIV treatment and prevention looks set to plummet as the Global Fund cuts funding for life-saving HIV treatment across Africa.

In the UK, new research from Sigma Research shows that Africans living with HIV face isolation and rely heavily on professional support services: the very health and social-care services that are at the forefront of cutbacks and budget constraints.

And data released this week from the Health Protection Agency shows that HIV diagnoses in gay and bisexual men in the UK are at the highest levels ever. Although some of the increase can be ascribed to recent drives to promote HIV testing (another of those good news stories), these data follow several years of cuts in local NHS funding to HIV prevention programmes for gay men. Last year the pan-London HIV prevention programme for gay men saw cuts of 20 per cent.

So, once again this year I won't be wearing a red ribbon (and I acknowledge that for many other they serve as a symbol of remembrance), flashing my undies nor marking World Aids Day. Instead, I'll be joining the millions of others around the world who research, lobby, campaign and educate around HIV. It'll be a day like any other day: business as usual.

Will Nutland is a doctoral student researching the acceptability of pre-exposure HIV prophylaxis among gay men in London. He used to be head of health promotion at Terrence Higgins Trust

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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.