Conscious that I'm pre-empting Mr Patteron's traditional Sunday Whip, I thought it might be helpful to publish just how our MSPs used their free votes yesterday in the first and last stage of this parliament's deliberations on Margo MacDonald's End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill. As regular readers will know, I've written many pieces on the proposal's progress, its stops and starts, its rhetoric and reason. One hundred and three parliamentarians voted yesterday, with the vast majority deciding to reject Margo's proposal after a debate which was often thoughtful, generous. Indeed, it was just this quality of the debate which renders the decision fundamentally problematic. If you respect my views, why should yours entirely prevail and my choices be criminalised and punished? Many parliamentarians argued that they were opposing the Bill because of the risk of undue influence, that people may go gently into that good night who do not wish it, at the behest of venal relatives or because of apprehensions about their own burdensomeness. Few of those against the Bill attempted to give some thoroughgoing justification of this paradox. As I understand the argument, it assumes something like the following form.
We should reject the idea of a monadic individual. People are socially situated. Some folk's ability to choose is likely to be more readily influenced than others. This being so, "vulnerable" categories may be more likely to be induced to end their existences precipitously than more robust fellow citizens. Therefore, in the name of "true" autonomy, truly autonomous individuals, for whom there is no question of "undue influence", should be forced to survive and suffer, or be quietly and slowly killed by advancing opiation. They certainly should not permitted to decide for themselves.
Thinking about the ways in which this reasoning was being deployed in Holyrood yesterday - and the profound contradition that cleaves it in two - I was strongly reminded of this passage in Slavoj Žižek's In Defence of Lost Causes, which I think goes a long way to explaining how so many of our tribunes were able to sustain its tenuous logic:.
"What one should bear in mind is that, while every social structure relies on certain exclusions and prohibitions, this exclusionary logic is always redoubled: not only is the subordinated Other (homosexuals, non-white races…) excluded/repressed, the excluding and repressive power itself relies on an excluded/repressed obscene content of its own (say the exercise of power that legitimizes itself as legal, tolerant, Christian…, relies on a set of publicly disavowed obscene rituals of violent humiliation of the subordinated.) More generally, we are dealing here with what one is tempted to call the ideological practice of disidentification. That is to say, one should turn around the standard notion of ideology as providing a firm identification for its subjects, constraining them to their “social roles”: what if, at a different – but no less irrevocable and structurally necessary – level, ideology is effective precisely by way of constructing a space of false disidentification, of false distance towards the actual coordinates of the subject’s social existence?" (Slavoj Žižek In Defence of Lost Causes p.203)
We disagree, you agree that I am entitled to my views, why should you make the decision for each and every one of us? Patrick Harvie noted just this inconsistency in an acute contribution yesterday which it is worth quoting almost in full.
"On the principle of autonomy, the law is of course needed because people sometimes make choices that wider society cannot tolerate, generally because of some harm inflicted on other people. Suicide used to be regarded in that way—not tolerated and not legal—but that is no longer the case. We mourn a suicide. We question ourselves, or at least we should. We question our society about the causes and contributory factors, and we try to improve wellbeing in society. I hope, however, that none of us would want to regard suicide as an offence.
For any person to take control at the end of their own life, on their own terms, may be regretted and grieved over and may be distressing and traumatic for other people, but I cannot see why it should be criminal, even if that person needs to ask for help from someone who is willing to give it in a context of care.
Many people have argued that the law must protect people against the risk that they might feel pressure to make a choice that they do not really want to make or that they would not otherwise make. That is a genuine concern, but let us remember that by rejecting the bill we would leave people in exactly that position. People who wish to make one choice would be told that they may not. They would not be allowed to ask for help; they would certainly not be given it. People who wish to make the choice would be told that they must either go abroad to do it, if they have the money and ability to do so, or must risk criminalising the friends, family or others from whom they seek help.
Does that respect anyone's autonomy? Does that protect people from the pressure that they come under to make a choice that they find intolerable and that they do not wish to make? The risk that someone could come under pressure to end their life prematurely when that is not their preference is very serious and we should not take it lightly, but nor should we take lightly the serious risk, and the reality, that people are under pressure to make the other choice when they would wish to take the option of assisted suicide.
Some people will no doubt continue to travel overseas to make the choice. My final comment is that the absence of any vociferous call for those people to be chased down and prosecuted for travelling overseas for an illegal purpose suggests to me that we do not consider those people to be criminals. We do not consider them to be people who pose a threat to others or wider society. If we did, as for travel overseas for other illegal purposes, we would prosecute them. We do not, so let us stop treating them as criminals."
I very much agree. It is at moments such of these that I lament the relative absence of liberal discourses in Scottish politics and in Scottish Nationalist politics in particular. A substantial disquisition on that is a matter for another day. For now, onto the promised data mentioned at the outset on how individual parliamentarians voted. I was also interested in who missed the vote - whether wedged in a snowdrift, deliberately avoiding placing a view on the record - or other more benign explanations. As such, I've appended a wee list of those who aren't listed as for, agin or abstaining. Without further ado, our roll call...
Margo MacDonald, Christine Grahame (SNP), Robin Harper (Green), Patrick Harvie (Green), Jamie Hepburn (SNP), Bill Kidd (SNP), Richard Lochhead (SNP), Liam McArthur (Liberal Democrat), Ian McKee (SNP), Anne McLaughlin (SNP), John Park (Labour), Jeremy Purvis (Liberal Democrat), Iain Smith (Liberal Democrat), Sandra White (SNP), Bill Wilson (SNP).
Brian Adam (SNP), Baillie Bill Aitken (Tory), Wendy Alexander (Labour), Alasdair Allan (SNP), Jackie Baillie (Labour), Richard Baker (Labour), Sarah Boyack (Labour), Rhona Brankin (Labour), Ted Brocklebank (Tory) Gavin Brown (Tory), Keith Brown (SNP), Robert Brown (Liberal Democrat), Derek Brownlee (Tory), Bill Butler (Labour), Malcolm Chisholm (Labour), Willie Coffey (SNP), Angela Constance (SNP), Cathie Craigie (Labour), Roseanna Cunningham (SNP), Nigel Don (SNP), Bob Doris (SNP), Helen Eadie (Labour), Fergus Ewing (SNP), Linda Fabiani (SNP), Patricia Ferguson (Labour), Ross Finnie (Liberal Democrat), Joe FitzPatrick (SNP), Kenny Gibson (SNP), Rob Gibson (SNP), Karen Gillon (Labour), Marlyn Glen (Labour), Trish Godman (Labour), Annabel Goldie (Tory), Rhoda Grant (Labour), Iain Gray (Labour), Hugh Henry (Labour), Fiona Hyslop (SNP), Adam Ingram (SNP), James Kelly (Labour), Andy Kerr (Labour), Johann Lamont (Labour), Marilyn Livingstone (Labour), Kenny MacAskill (SNP), Lewis Macdonald,(Labour), Ken Macintosh (Labour), Paul Martin (Labour), Tricia Marwick (SNP), Jim Mather (SNP), Michael Matheson, (SNP), Frank McAveety (Labour), Jamie McGrigor (Tory), Alison McInnes (Liberal Democrat), Christina McKelvie (SNP), David McLetchie (Tory), Michael McMahon (Labour), Stuart McMillan (SNP), Duncan McNeil (Labour), Pauline McNeill (Labour), Des McNulty (Labour), Nanette Milne (Tory), Margaret Mitchell (Tory), Alasdair Morgan (SNP), Mary Mulligan (Labour), Elaine Murray (Labour), Alex Neil (SNP), Gil Paterson (SNP), Peter Peacock (Labour), Cathy Peattie (Labour), Mike Pringle (Liberal Democrat), Mike Rumbles (Liberal Democrat), Mike Russell (SNP), Alex Salmond (SNP), Mary Scanlon (Tory), John Scott (Tory), Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat), Richard Simpson (Labour), Margaret Smith (Liberal Democrat), Nicol Stephen (Liberal Democrat), Stewart Stevenson (SNP), David Stewart (Labour), Nicola Sturgeon (SNP), Dave Thompson (SNP), Maureen Watt (SNP), David Whitton (Labour).
Jackson Carlaw (Tory), Charlie Gordon (Labour).
Claire Baker (Labour), Aileen Campbell (SNP), Bruce Crawford (SNP), Margaret Curran (Labour) Cathy Jamieson (Labour), George Foulkes (Labour), Murdo Fraser (Tory), Christopher Harvie (SNP), Alex Johnstone (Tory), John Lamont (Tory), Stewart Maxwell (SNP), Tom McCabe (Labour), John Farquhar Munro (Liberal Democrat), Hugh O'Donnell (Liberal Democrat), Shona Robison (SNP), Shirley-Anne Somerville (SNP), Jamie Stone (Liberal Democrat), John Swinney (SNP), Jim Tolson (Liberal Democrat), Andrew Welsh (SNP), Karen Whitefield (Labour), Elaine Smith (Labour), John Wilson (SNP), Jim Hume (Liberal Democrat), Jack McConnell (Labour).