Record voter registration in Scotland ahead of referendum

You can vote in the Scottish Independence Referendum if you are 16 or over. Make sure you register. Click for more information. The Electoral Commission.Jean has lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament celebrating the news that voter registration in Scotland is now at its highest ever figure – 4.1 million are now registered, including 92,000 16- and 17-year-olds.

Jean’s motion highlights the great work of Radical Independence, who have been canvassing and registering voters in working-class areas where both registration and turnout have historically been low, especially since 1989 when many removed themselves from voting rolls to avoid the notorious and unjust Poll Tax.

You can join in with RIC’s canvassing at upcoming events including Inverness this Saturday 5 March, East Kilbride on Sunday 6 April, and Castlemilk in Glasgow on Wednesday 16 April.

Jean also congratulates the Electoral Commission on their work to inform those from other EU citizens who are resident in Scotland of their right to vote in the referendum. They have provided Jean, as Convenor of Holyrood’s Cross-Party Group on Poland, with a factsheet on the voting rights of Polish citizens in Scotland – the same rules apply to all EU citizens. The Electoral Commission also provide voting forms in English, Welsh and 14 other languages including French, Polish and Portuguese.

The motion, whose full text is below, has so far been supported by John Finnie (Ind, Highlands and Islands), Alison Johnstone (Green, Lothians), Patrick Harvie (Green, Glasgow), Bill Kidd (SNP, Glasgow Anniesland), John Mason (SNP, Glasgow Shettleston), and Kevin Stewart (SNP, Aberdeen Central). As always, if you’d like your other MSPs to support the motion, you can find and contact them at WriteToThem.com.

Motion Number: S4M-09585
Lodged By: Jean Urquhart
Date Lodged: 02/04/2014

Title: Voter Registration in Scotland

Motion Text:
That the Parliament welcomes the news that the number of voters registered in Scotland is, at 4.1 million, the highest it has ever been; notes that approximately 92,000 of the 120,000 16 and 17-year olds in Scotland have added their names to the electoral roll; reaffirms its support for extending the franchise for the independence referendum to 16 and 17-year olds; believes that a high electoral turnout across all age groups, ethnic backgrounds and social classes is of paramount importance; cautions that there is still progress to be made to ensure that those not currently on the electoral roll, particularly from working class areas, are registered in time to vote in the referendum; welcomes the moves taken by groups such as Radical Independence to register residents of working class areas and to provide legal advice for those who removed themselves from the electoral roll at the time of the “Poll Tax”; further welcomes the Electoral Commission’s work in engaging with citizens of other EU countries who are resident in Scotland to inform them of their voting rights, and encourages everyone, regardless of whether they intend to vote Yes, No or to spoil their ballot, to engage in the independence debate and the vote on 18 September 2014.

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Motion: Lerwick’s Waterfront, One of Scotland’s Best Places

I was pleased to see Lerwick’s continued regeneration recognised in this national competition. You can vote for Lerwick waterfront- or the others on the shortlist!- at http://www.rtpi.org.uk/scotlandsbestplaces .

Motion Number: S4M-09550
Lodged By: Jean Urquhart
Date Lodged: 31/03/2014

Title: Lerwick’s Waterfront, One of Scotland’s Best Places

Motion Text:
That the Parliament welcomes the shortlisting of Lerwick’s waterfront as one of Scotland’s Best Places by the Royal Town Planning Institute; notes that the waterfront will compete against what it considers iconic vistas such as the Royal Mile in Edinburgh and Loch Lomond for the prize; understands that the shortlist of 10 places was chosen from 55 public nominations; believes that the establishment of the Mareel cinema, music and arts complex on the waterfront, which also houses the Shetland Islands Council headquarters, the Shetland Amenity Trust and the Shetland Museum and Archives, has contributed significantly to the waterfront’s vibrancy; understands that the public vote to choose the top three places is open until June and can be accessed online at rtpi.org.uk/scotlandsbestplaces , and hopes that the competition sparks interest, debate and enthusiasm about the country’s natural and built environments.

Motion: UHI Appointment of Gaelic Research Professor Dr Conchúr Ó Giollagáin

Motion Number: S4M-09537
Lodged By: Jean Urquhart
Date Lodged: 28/03/2014

Title: UHI Appointment of Gaelic Research Professor Dr Conchúr Ó Giollagáin

Motion Text:
That the Parliament welcomes the appointment of Dr Conchúr Ó Giollagáin as Gaelic Research Professor at the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) and director of Soillse, the national research network for the maintenance and revitalisation of Gaelic language and culture, which is effective from April 2014; understands that Dr Ó Giollagáin has an international reputation in language planning and minority language culture and sociology; further understands that, as director of Soillse, Dr Ó Giollagáin will lead a team of four research fellows, one lecturer and 10 PhD students in their research; notes that his research will cover the intergenerational transmission of Gaelic practice and policy in Gaelic medium education and the assessment of government policies on the revitalisation of the language; considers this appointment to demonstrate the commitment of UHI to Gaelic language and culture and the growing reputation of UHI as a centre of academic excellence; further considers the work of academics, the Scottish Government and other partners in supporting Gaelic language and culture to be of paramount importance to the Highlands and Islands and to Scotland, and looks forward to working with Dr Ó Giollagáin and others in support of the Gaelic language and culture.

Title: Lewis and Harris named as best islands in Europe by Trip Advisor

Motion Text:
That the Parliament welcomes the news that Lewis and Harris has been named the best islands in Europe by Trip Advisor; understands that Scottish islands feature several times in the list, with Orkney and the Isle of Mull also named in the European top 10; notes that Scotland also dominates the top 10 UK list with Skye, Arran and Islay all named; believes that this will be a boost to the local tourist industry; understands that TripAdvisor compiled the list on opinions of tourists who had visited the islands on holiday; notes that this news comes after Scotland being listed as one of the top countries in the world to visit in 2014 by travel guide Lonely Planet, coming third in the list behind Brazil and Antarctica; considers the comments of Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2014 Contributor Tom Hall, who said that ‘Scotland…will be taking the spotlight on the world stage and that the ‘country’s buzzing cities and stunning scenery have plenty to offer visitors, combined with an incredible calendar of events’ demonstrate the potential for a successful year for Scotland’s tourist industry, and looks forward to further recognition of what it considers to be Scotland’s sustainability as a top tourist destination.

Jean’s bid to protect children’s rights

Cartoon of a child leaning against a stack of huge books. On the books is the message "You have the right to an education." Image by Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young PeopleJean has proposed an inquiry into how the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) could be enshrined in Scots law. She’ll be arguing for the amendment to the Children and Young People Bill in its final debate at Holyrood tomorrow.

If backed by MSPs, Jean’s amendment will require the government to set up a body to investigate whether the UNCRC should become part of Scots law, as is already the case with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The UNCRC demands that decisions about children always put their best interests first. It enshrines a number of specific rights, including the right to an education, the right to a family, and the right to be protected from violence.

Jean said:

“We’re currently engaged in a debate about the kind of country we want to be, and what kind of future we want for all our citizens. I think we should aspire to be the kind of country that always puts our children – our future – first.

“Enshrining children’s rights in Scots law would be a powerful protection for our kids, and a bold signal of our ambition to make Scotland the best place in the world to grow up in.

“We have the opportunity here to be a leading nation, not only in the UK but also in the world. By starting on the journey towards a truly child-centred society, I have no doubt we’ll give other countries the inspiration to travel with us.”

The United Kingdom ratified the Convention in 1991, as have 192 other countries. Somalia, South Sudan and the United States are the only UN members not to have done so.

Unlike the ECHR, the UNCRC does not give individual children any way to take action if their rights are breached. Bringing the UNCRC into Scots law would enable Scottish children to go to court here to defend their rights.

The Welsh Assembly has moved towards legal recognition of the UNCRC, and from 1 March the devolved Welsh government will be bound by the Convention. The Scottish Parliament, with its greater powers, has the opportunity to be the first part of the UK to incorporate the Convention into law in full.

Bringing the UNCRC into Scots law is supported by UNICEF, the Scottish Human Rights Commission, Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, the NSPCC, Children 1st, Barnado’s, YouthLink Scotland, the Scottish Youth Parliament, Families Outside and Together.

Jean has also backed the Bill’s provision of a ‘Named Person’ service, which will ensure every child in Scotland has someone they and their parents can turn to who can help them navigate the various public services and support available. The scheme has been in place in the Highland council area since 2010, and the new law will roll it our nationwide.

Jean said:

“It’s a shame that the Named Person Service has been so misrepresented by media seeking to cook up a scare story.

“Parents are tired of being passed from pillar to post, never talking to the same person twice, and having to tell their story over and over again; they want joined-up services.

“The named person scheme means that every child and their parents have one person they can always call to help them navigate services, find advice, or be listened to.

“Some people have suggested that named person service means appointing a social worker for every child. That’s not true. In the Highlands, we already have the named person scheme and the people appointed are the local midwife and health visitor until the child goes to school, and then it’s the headteacher or deputy head.

“Named Person has been in place in the Highlands since 2010. I was a Highland councillor until 2012, and have been a Highlands and Islands MSP since 2011, and I’ve never received a single complaint about a named person interfering where they weren’t wanted.

“The Named Person Service will help families get the support they want and deserve, and create a safety net for every child.”

Rolling out the named person scheme across Scotland is supported by Barnado’s, Children 1st, Parenting Across Scotland, One Parent Families Scotland, the NSPCC, Aberlour, the Scottish Youth Parliament, Action for Children, Quarriers, Royal College of Nursing and the Scottish Childminding Association.

Jean’s amendment to the Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill:

116 Before section 1, insert—

<Duty on Scottish Ministers to establish a body to consider whether the UNCRC should be given legislative effect

  • (1) Within one year of this Act receiving Royal Assent, the Scottish Ministers must by order establish a body to consider whether the UNCRC should be given legislative effect.
  • (2) Where a body established under subsection (1) has completed its consideration it must—
    • (a) make a written report of its conclusions,
    • (b) lay the report before the Scottish Parliament,
    • (c) publish the report.
  • (3) As soon as practicable after the report has been laid before the Parliament, the Scottish Ministers must make a statement—
    • (a) responding to the report,
    • (b) indicating, on the basis of that report, whether they intend to give legislative effect to the UNCRC.
  • (4) The Scottish Ministers must—
    • (a) lay a copy of the statement under subsection (3) before the Parliament,
    • (b) publish the statement in such a manner as they consider appropriate.
  • (5) An order under subsection (1) may make provision about—
    • (a) the status, constitution and proceedings of the body,
    • (b) the period within which the body must report to the Parliament,
    • (c) the matters which must be covered in the report,
    • (d) the publication of the report.>

Motion S4M-09059: Human Rights Abuses in North Korea

Today, I lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament marking the publication of the most recent UN Report on the situation in North Korea. The parliamentary lexicon can make it difficult to fully describe the litany of horrors that ordinary citizens in North Korea (officially and perversely titled the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) face on a daily basis. The use of sexual assault as a weapon of control by the state; the strict and long-lasting stratification of North Korean society, where a grandson or granddaughter can live out their life in a prison camp for no reason other than the identity of a grandparent; the arbitrary “justice” meted out to citizens for “crimes” such as using a newspaper with a picture of Kim Jong-il to mop up a spilt drink, or forcing new mothers, who gave birth with no medical assistance, to kill their own babies, and the deaths of tens if not hundreds of thousands of people in massive, sprawling prison camps akin to those used to such devastating and evil effect by Nazi Germany are just some of the crimes against humanity detailed in the report. It is a damning condemnation of a regime without legitimacy or any semblance of humanity, and an urgent call to action to the international community, who must act to bring the perpetrators of this Hell on Earth before the International Criminal Court. The report can be accessed here and is a chilling but essential read to understand why the work of human rights organisations worldwide must continue. Amnesty International have done further research into the prison camp system in the police state of North Korea which can be accessed via this link.

My motion is below- please encourage your MSPs to sign it if they haven’t already done so. Although one motion in the Scottish Parliament will not on its own achieve change, it can add to the growing international consensus that something must be done to alleviate the suffering of the North Korean people.

Motion Number: S4M-09059
Lodged By: Jean Urquhart
Date Lodged: 18/02/2014

Title: Human Rights Abuses in North Korea

Motion Text:
That the Parliament notes the publication of the Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea by the UN Human Rights Council; understands that among the issues investigated by the commission of inquiry were violations of freedom of the press, expression, religion, movement and to the right to life and the country’s use of political prison camps, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances; considers that the findings, which suggest evidence of forcing mothers to commit infanticide, the widespread use of rape, sexual abuse and torture by the state and its officials and the use of intergenerational punishment. demonstrate the depravity of the North Korean regime and what it sees as that country’s blatant disregard for humanity and human rights; believes that the absolute control of the North Korean state over the lives of its citizens, the deliberate blocking of aid for ideological reasons, the cult of personality surrounding its three leaders since the Korean War and the use of political prison camps with little or no due process for prisoners plumb the depths of what human beings are capable of; supports the report’s belief that “the gravity, scale and nature” of its findings “reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world”; considers comparisons with Nazi Germany and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four to be apposite, and calls on the international community to take action to release the North Korean people from what it sees as their nightmarish existence and to bring to justice those responsible for these crimes against humanity.

Jean urges decriminalisation for sex workers’ safety

Candles and messages commemorating dead sex workers: "Annette Nicholls, 29 years old, Murdered 2006, Ipswich, UK," "Fight violence, not sex workers."Jean has criticised Edinburgh’s decision to delicense its saunas and massage parlours, and called for a debate on decriminalising sex work in order to improve safety and decrease stigma.

Her intervention has been praised by the sex-worker-led charity SCOT-PEP as “courageous”.

In a motion to the Scottish Parliament, Jean praised Edinburgh’s formerly strong record of harm reduction policies on sex work, and urged the capital to reconsider.

Edinburgh has been unusual in granting Public Entertainment Licenses to sex work premises, a policy which improved health and safety and was strongly supported by sex workers themselves. Until 2001, Edinburgh also recognised tolerance zones for street prostitution.

Jean highlighted calls from sex workers’ organisations for full decriminalisation, as practiced in New Zealand since 2003. Kiwi sex workers now report much greater safety and wellbeing. Decriminalisation is supported by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

Jean said:

“Our first duty in dealing with sex work must be the protection of the safety and dignity of sex workers. Sex work can be dangerous; but those dangers are exacerbated, or in many cases even created, by criminalisation.

“In Edinburgh’s case, delicensing will eventually lead to saunas being forced out of business by raids and arrests – which is presumably its intention. This will force sex workers into more dangerous work such as street prostitution or working alone from home.

“This is a continuation of a concerted shift against harm reduction in Edinburgh. One of the changes already made, in 2001, has been to abandon the use of tolerance zones for street prostitution. A subsequent crackdown on kerb-crawling in 2007 led to sex workers reporting a 95% increase in incidents of violence over 12 months.

“Edinburgh’s management of sex work was a success story. But instead of the rest of Scotland learning from their experience, we are seeing failed policies being pushed on the capital.

“Both the hard evidence and the testimony of sex workers themselves tell us that fully decriminalising sex work, as in New Zealand, is the best way to protect sex workers and their communities. This would allow co-operation instead of conflict with the authorities, improve the health and safety of sex workers, and create the best possible environment for the eradication of coercion, trafficking and underage sex work.”

The sex workers’ charity SCOT-PEP said:

“SCOT-PEP warmly welcomes Jean Urquhart’s motion on Edinburgh city council’s sauna decision, and on the wider legal context of sex work in Scotland. It is heartening to see an MSP focus on harm reduction rather than on ideology, and back a policy – decriminalisation – that is supported by evidence, and international agencies including UNAIDS and the World Health Organization.

“We are delighted that Jean’s motion notes that decriminalisation is the legal framework called for by sex workers in Scotland, and around the world. For too long, debates about sex work have been dominated by policymakers who seek to dismiss the voices of those most affected. Sex workers are the experts on the legal framework that best enables them to work safely, and to access health, human rights, and justice.

“We have long fought for policy that centres safety, human rights and evidence, and are pleased to see that, in a context for sex workers in Scotland that has recently brought setbacks, we nonetheless have courageous politicians”.

If Jean’s motion gains the support of MSPs from three of the five Holyrood party groups, including Jean’s Independent/Green group, it will be eligible for a debate in the Parliament. If you support a debate on the issue, please consider emailing, writing or phoning your MSP and asking them to sign the motion.

Jean’s motion to the Scottish Parliament:

Motion Number: S4M-08986
Lodged By: Jean Urquhart
Date Lodged: 06/02/2014

Title: Criminalisation of Sex Work

Motion Text:

That the Parliament regrets the decision of the Regulatory Committee of Edinburgh City Council, on 3 February 2014, to remove massage parlours and saunas from the Public Entertainment Licence regime; considers that this decision represents a move toward deeper criminalisation of sex work and sex workers; believes that such criminalisation exposes sex workers to greater danger and stigma; further believes that Edinburgh’s previous sex work policies, including tolerance zones for street prostitution and licensed saunas, demonstrated success in reducing harm, and notes calls for Edinburgh City Council to reconsider this decision and the Scottish Government to give consideration to policies to decriminalise sex work, as it believes has been requested by sex workers themselves.

Motion: One Big Drum at Trade Union Week

Jean has lodged a motion welcoming East Sutherland’s One Big Drum group to Holyrood as part of the Scottish Parliament’s Trade Union Week celebrations.

One Big Drum brings people together to learn African drum music, including young and old, and people with and without disabilities. The group was created two years ago by Health and Happiness‘s Bruce Armstrong and Roxana Meechan from High Life Highland, and has won great audience reactions at many local events and at the 2013 STUC Unions into Schools Songs Festival in Glasgow.

Jean will be meeting with members of One Big Drum on Wednesday 19 February, and they will be performing in the Scottish Parliament’s central Garden Lobby that night.

Motion S4M-08997: Jean Urquhart, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 10/02/2014

One Big Drum at Trade Union Week

That the Parliament welcomes the visit by members of One Big Drum from East Sutherland during Trade Union Week at the Parliament; commends High Life Highland and Health and Happiness for the One Big Drum initiative, which brings together people with learning disabilities, non-disabled people, young people and older people; recognises the support from Brora Community Council, Golspie Community Council, High Life Highland, Health and Happiness, the STUC and from Unions into Schools in making the visit possible, and joins with One Big Drum in celebrating what it sees as the positive contribution that African drum music makes to breaking down barriers and collectively improving wellbeing.

Title: ♦ The Role of University Rectors and Gender Imbalance

Title: ♦ The Role of University Rectors and Gender Imbalance

Motion Text:
That the Parliament notes the existence of the office of rector in Scotland’s five ancient universities; understands that elections to this office take place every three years, allowing all undergraduate students the opportunity to vote for their rector at least once during their studies; considers the ability to nominate figures of national and international renown as the figurehead of the university to be an opportunity for students to demonstrate solidarity with social and political causes; believes that the nomination and successful campaigns of the anti-apartheid campaigner, Winnie Mandela, the trade unionist, Jimmy Reid, and the Israeli whistleblower, Mordechai Vanunu, by the University of Glasgow demonstrate a strong political tradition that continues to this day with the nomination of Edward Snowden for the same post; notes with disappointment the current and historic gender imbalance among university rectors; understands that all five university rectors in position are male and that each of the five ancient universities has only had one female rector in their respective histories; notes with concern that none of the four nominees for the position at the University of Glasgow is female; believes that there are innumerable inspirational female figures who would serve as role models to female students; would welcome an increase in the number of women who stand as candidates in future contests, and notes calls for universities to investigate what can be done to redress this gender imbalance.

motion: Mallachy Tallack, New Writer Award Winner

Title: Mallachy Tallack, New Writer Award Winner

Motion Text:
That the Parliament congratulates Mallachy Tallack on winning a 2014 Scottish Book Trust new writer award; understands that Mallachy is one of 11 winners chosen from over 300 entries by a panel, which included Jen Hadfield, Doug Johnston, Jenni Fagan, Keith Gray and the Scots Makar, Liz Lochhead; recognises that he has put his writing skills to use as a journalist for the Shetland Times and writes music, fiction and non-fiction; notes that Mallachy’s recent project, the non-fiction book, Sixty Degrees North, focuses on communities that are 60 degrees north of the equator, such as Shetland; believes that the award, which includes mentoring from writers and industry professionals, a week-long retreat to Helensburgh and a cash sum, is invaluable to writers and will provide time, space and support to help them to develop their craft, and looks forward to continuing to read the work of Mallachy and the other winners.