2 January 2012

Glasgow MSPs on same-sex marriage...

A New Year! I trust you all enjoyed yourself over the Festive period, and have laid in a fine layer of suet to get you warmly through the rest of the winter. To ease us back into 2012's blogging, I thought I would start the year's scribbling endeavours with an issue which may feature prominently in the coming political year - at least if the Scottish Government proceeds expeditiously, as some predict they shall.  

The consultation on same-sex marriage having concluded, and procedural grounds for coyness having faded, I thought it would be of interest to canvass various MSPs' attitudes towards the general idea of same-sex marriage. To which end, I emailed each of MSPs before Christmas, soliciting their very general ideas on the issue. Thus far, I've received a response from three - Patrick Harvie, Ruth Davidson and Labour's Anne McTaggart. I await the epistles of Bob Doris, Drew Smith, Hanzala Malik, Humza Yousaf and Nicola Sturgeon with expectant curiosity.  While some of these characters' general views are already a matter of public record, others opinions remain, to the best of my knowledge, opaque. I note, however, that Doris, Smith, Malik and Yousaf all added their names to Patrick Harvie's motion in Holyrood, which concluded that its signatories believed...

"... that it would be both right and popular for secular and religious Scots alike to be free to reach their own view on the legal status that is right for their own relationship instead of being banned by law from having their relationships recognised on equal terms."

Since their views are likely of general interest, I thought I'd publish the MSPs' replies on here.  First up, this is what the tyro leader of the Scottish Tories had to say...

Ruth Davidson

Thank you for your recent email regarding the Equality Network’s Equal Marriage Campaign. As you are no doubt aware, the Scottish Government has just completed a consultation on this issue.

I am on public record as supporting same sex marriage, with the important proviso that there is no compulsion for religious organisations to conduct ceremonies if they do not wish to.

I intend to give my MSP group a free vote on any same-sex marriage legislation brought before parliament, as I consider it to be an issue of conscience.

Thank you once again for taking the time to write.

Yours sincerely,
Ruth Davidson

Secondly, Scottish Green co-convenor Patrick Harvie sounded a similarly supportive note, heading his response "Equal Marriage", and writing...

Patrick Harvie

Many thanks for your email. I strongly support legislation to ensure that marriage and civil partnership are available on equal terms, to same-sex and mixed-sex couples. I believe that there is likely to be a majority for this legislation in the Scottish Parliament, so long as the Government can be persuaded to introduce it. I will be making the case for a Bill in 2012, rather than a delay till 2013.

I am happy to support the right of religious bodies which wish to carry out same-sex marriage ceremonies to do so. I would also support the proposal to end the requirement on transgender people to divorce or dissolve a civil partnership in order to register their gender reassignment.

You may wish to see my full response to the Government’s consultation, which you can find here:

Kind regards,

Patrick Harvie

So far, so unequivocal.  Happily, Labour's Anne McTaggart's response is sufficiently prevaricating fully to compensate for the clarity of the other two. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Introductions are likely in order. Also a Glasgow Councillor for Drumchapel and Anniesland since 2009, McTaggart was one of Labour's unexpected 2011 intake, winning her seat in the region after Hanzala Malik and Drew Smith.  Since her election, I've heard nary a peep out of her or about her, save for rumours that Iain Gray had to prevent her from stumbling into the folly of employing Steven Purcell as a parliamentary aide. In a form-reply apparently composed entirely with the expectation that folk writing to her are (a) religious and (b) primarily concerned about their pastors, ministers and men of god being forced to sanctify same-sex relationships, McTaggart responded...

Anne McTaggart

Dear Sir/Madam,

Subject: Same Sex Marriage

Thank you for your letter regarding the Scottish Government’s consultation on civil marriage for couples of the same sex and to change civil partnerships to allow for religious ceremonies with the agreement of the religious body.

I very much respect the views expressed by Archbishop Conti and others. It is important to note however that the Scottish Government’s proposal for same sex marriage currently under consideration refers to civil marriage only and not religious marriage. I strongly believe it is for religious organisations to decide on the criteria by which they carry out marriage and any other ceremonies according to their own faith and beliefs.

Religious ceremonies are at the discretion of the faith groups which carry them out. This is true for all couples and I do not envisage, nor would I support the removal of this discretion.

As you may be aware the 2010 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey found that 61% of respondents support equal civil marriage, compared to 41% in 2002 and I am mindful that there are a wide range of views amongst people of religious faith as well as those of none.

I am also mindful that equal civil marriage is available in a number of other countries including Canada, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Argentina, Sweden and some states of the USA.

That said I will consider the range of views expressed to me carefully together with the outcome of the consultation.

Thank you again for taking the time to pass on your views. I hope this provides you with some reassurance that the right of religious organisations to carry out marriage and other ceremonies, as they view appropriate, will be recognised.

Yours Sincerely

Anne McTaggart MSP

A rather curious reply, since my enquiry expressed no particular concern about the rights of religious bodies, nor required any expressions of esteem for the Archbishop of Glasgow or his convictions. So is she for or agin? Deduce McTaggart's general position from this tour of the world if you can. Cautiously for, perhaps, mibbe? If you can wrestle this jelly into a firmer shape, you are a nimbler soul than I...


Interestingly, Andrew W notes in the comments that he received a word-for-word identical reply from Richard Baker in relation to his enquiries on the same topic. I'm not surprised to hear that. I didn't mention it in the initial blog, but McTaggart's reply was actually headlined "suggested response", rather suggesting that the prose didn't exactly spring from her own pen.  A subtle template, it was not. But suggested by whom, I wondered? A flunky, perhaps? The Labour group in Holyrood? A quick look at the .doc I was sent indicates that the document was actually composed by one ... Jackie Baillie. What would we do without our independent-minded, hard-working and inquisitive tribunes of the people, eh? Free spirits, every man Jack of 'em. I'm sure all of your constituents appreciate your obvious thoughtful commitment to their service, Anne. 


  1. Anne McTaggart's reply is word-for-word identical to a reply I got from Richard Baker (Lab, NE Scotland). My email to the North East Scotland MSPs was explicitly pro-same sex marriage, and didn't mention religion, so I too was surprised to find any comment about Archbishop Conti or the rights of religious bodies in the reply I got.

    This isn't a united front of form letters from the Labour MSPs though; I got a reply from Jenny Marra (also Lab, NE Scotland) which was unequivocally supportive of same-sex marriage.

  2. My first post on your esteemed blog, LPW!

    Just to let you know that I, too, emailed 8 Glasgow MSPs about a week or so before Christmas on the same issue (the same 8 MSPs as you, except substituting James Dornan for Nicola Sturgeon). Both James Dornan and Patrick Harvie replied immediately, with the remainder still yet to respond. Patrick Harvie's email was the same as the one you quoted above, and James Dornan's was as follows:

    "Dear Shay,

    Thank you for contacting me regarding the Scottish Government’s consultation on equal marriage. As you are no doubt aware, this consultation has attracted a significant level of interest, with over 50,000 people responding. On top of this, both Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond have met with a number of key organisations on all sides of the debate to listen to their views. It is evident that there are strong beliefs on both sides of the argument, and the Scottish Government has made it clear that it will work to strike a balance which respects these differences.

    The Scottish Government is now carefully considering all of the responses to the consultation and will publish an analysis of the responses in due course. As your MSP I intend to consider this analysis carefully and look forward to reading the government’s response.

    My personal position is that religious and, civil organisations who wish to conduct same sex marriage ceremonies should be allowed to do so and that those religious and, civil bodies who do not wish to conduct same sex marriage ceremonies should not be compelled to do so. With regards to the vote in parliament, I will have to wait to and see what legislation is put forward. It would be my intention that if the legislation matches my outlined position, that I would vote Yes for marriage equality.

    I hope that this has clarified my position for you."

    Upon a follow-up enquiry by me as to whether or not he would consider extending civil partnerships as well, he replied as follows:

    "Dear Shay,

    If a proposal to extend civil partnerships to opposite sex couples was brought to the parliament I would indeed support it. But as you quite rightly say let's ensure that the same sex marriage legislation is passed first.

    I hope that you have a Merry Christmas and all the best for 2012."

    A great response, I'd suggest - keep us posted on reponses (or lack thereof) from the other MSPs.

  3. I don't understand this line in Anne McTaggart's letter: "It is important to note however that the Scottish Government’s proposal for same sex marriage currently under consideration refers to civil marriage only and not religious marriage."

    I don't think that is right. The SG has consulted on a range of options which includes allowing religious bodies who wish to conduct same sex marriages to do so.

  4. Gutless response from the Labourite who wanted to means test senior citizens - the same gutless response from Richard Baker.

    Both are a disgrace.

    I have more respect for people who openly oppose the legislation even if I don't agree with them.

    The Labourites are intending to opt out of voting for it en masse (just watch what Jenny Marra does - she may be one of the few with the slightest backbone but that would surprise me).

    They'll abstain en masse so that the SNP takes the electoral hit from the voters and they can bolster their existing 'base' (if that's truly the word nowadays).

    Gutless, pointless, aimless and useless.

    As long as the legislation does not compel religious organisations to do something they oppose then good (I'm an atheist but this is about the rights of individuals to pursue their own happiness, including religious people.

  5. Perhaps the Labour MSPs who weren't up to writing a letter about this relatively sensitive (given the religious aspect) subject went to some sort of group adviser who provided a template for them. Those who felt able enough to do so, wrote their own missive?

  6. Seems like all the bloggers have recovered from the holidays. Never mind, it will soon be Easter given that the shops are already selling the eggs.

    This legislation is going to be interesting, since it will almost certainly throw up some poor MSP who criticises the policy and gets "outed" by the media. Then will come the "has my full support" comments followed by the resignation and apologies about "misjudgements" and "I respect the view blah blah blah".

    The policy is a no-brainer. Religious bodies retain their discretion, while councils must provide civil ceremonies. At least that's what I think.

    If we have politicians seeking advice on responding to a question about a simple policy, they are not fit for office in my opinion.

  7. In fairness I think it is standard practice for politicians to seek the views of their party spokesperson on a particular issue before responding to constituents. Jackie Baillie shadows Nicola Sturgeon, so it is quite logical that she should be in charge of Labour's response as it comes within her portfolio. What seems to have happened though is that Jackie Baillie has drafted something that is designed to deal with religious objections but the Labour MSPs in question have sent it out to everyone.

    Looking at the letter as a response to people expressing religious objections it is actually laying the ground for the MSP to vote in support of same sex marriage rather than against. I am still intrigued by the idea expressed in the letter that the proposals refer to civil marriage only. I wonder if that is what Labour will push for as a compromise position - and I wonder also whether they had something to do with the story in the press (which was strongly denied by the SNP) that this was what the Scottish Government was thinking of. Intriguing.

    While I can understand why MSPs may use a standard reply on an issue they are being mass mailed about they ought to have the nous to realise that there are actually two sides to the debate (if not more) and focus their reply on the questions that have actually been asked! So it is a big fat fail there. If you look at James Dornan's reply the first part of it looks to me like a kind of standard reply and then he goes on to give his personal view. That would be the sensible way of doing it, provided the politician is capable of expressing a personal view!

  8. This little experiment seems confirm what I suspected for sometime. Modern politicians are desperate to be seen not to have a opinion on anything of note. Their tiny little skulls must be resounding with a cacophony of cognitive dissonance.

  9. I don't think that is really fair. Politicians are not elected simply to express their own opinions. They are also there to represent their constituents. They have to balance those two duties and I think most of them do that fairly well. I certainly don't think it is fair to write them all off because of a couple of numpties.

  10. ....provided the politician is capable of expressing a personal view!

    And there we get the nub of it.

    Sure MSP's really should toe the party line unless it goes against conscience or something equally important like the interests of their constituents. However when asked about their own views they should really be able to give an opinion.

    I don't know if some of them are, and that seems to be the main relevation here along with lack of basic understanding of what they are replying to, and with what.

  11. Fine stuff to start the New Year and many thanks to Andrew for the info about Jenny Marra - Holyrood is not over-endowed with free spirits.

    Ms McTaggart's invocation of the grim shade of Bishop Brennan (er I mean Conti) is a bit depressing but perhaps not totally surprising.

  12. McTaggart and Baker gave me a laugh anyway!

    at LAST they serve a useful porpoise.

  13. FYI have received the following response from Humza Yousaf (therefore I assume you also have, LPW).

    "Dear Shay,


    Thank you for your email concerning the Scottish Government’s consultation “The Registration of Civil Partnerships: Same Sex Marriage”

    I appreciate the range of views on this important matter and it is clear that you are passionate about this issue. It is important at this point to stress that the now the consultation has closed the Government will take a view on how to proceed and a further consultation will ensue.

    As an elected member I am keen to hear as wide a range of views as possible from those I represent. As a result I have met with various faith groups and equality groups such as Stonewall Scotland.

    Ministers have said they tend towards the view that same sex marriage should be introduced with the recognition that for religious reasons some faith groups may not want to solemnise same sex marriages, and should not be obliged to do so. I think those safeguards are important for faith organisation be they Churches, Synagogues or Mosques. However, I am also a passionate believer in religious freedom, which of course cuts both ways. Just as those faith groups who do not want to conduct same sex marriages should have the freedom not to do so, I do not believe that should be at the expense of those who wish to conduct such ceremonies.

    Once again thank you for getting in touch.

    Humza Yousaf MSP

    MSP for Glasgow"

  14. I don't actually know of anyone who thinks that religious bodies should be forced to solemnise same sex weddings, & it is utterly inconceivable that the Scottish govt would even think about it. So I don't really know where this concern comes from.

    Equalising marriage rights means just that - as no heterosexual couple has a right to get married in a church, neither would any homosexual couple.

    I am definitely in favour of equalising rights to civil partnerships as well. Two birds with one stone.

    Just let's make access to marriage & civil partnerships equal, then churches can decide their own position.

    (I suspect that some in some churches may wish the state to outlaw same sex marriage because that will prevent theological schisms breaking out either now or in the future, over the issue. However that is not the state's role. They can fight it out between themselves).

  15. Thanks for posting up the communications you received, Shay! I intend to pop Humza's up when I receive a couple more from the outstanding MSPs (he said optimistically...) I'm sure he appreciates your efforts to save him from an appearance of tardiness!

  16. http://defendmarriageinscotland.org/2011/11/09/msp-response-drew-smith-labour/