Congratulations to Scotland’s Mercury Prize winners, Young Fathers

Young Fathers
Young Fathers, photo by Sarah Nuehring

Jean has congratulated the hip-hop group Young Fathers, which was formed by Kayus Bankole, ‘G’ Hastings and Alloysious Massaquoi in Edinburgh in 2008, on winning the 2014 Mercury Prize for their debut album, Dead. They are the first Scottish act to win the Mercury since Franz Ferdinand in 2004.

Jean, who is Convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Culture, lodged a motion in the Parliament celebrating the trio’s success, and also recognising the enormous contribution that immigrant communities have made to Scottish arts and culture, today and throughout our history. Alloysious Massaquoi was born in Liberia, and Kayus Bankole was born in Scotland to Nigerian parents.

The motion, which has so far been co-signed by 11 other MSPs, reads:

Motion S4M-11362: Jean Urquhart, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 30/10/2014
Congratulations to Young Fathers on Winning the 2014 Mercury Prize

That the Parliament congratulates Kayus Bankole, G Hastings and Alloysious Massaquoi of the Scottish hip-hop group, Young Fathers, on the group’s debut album, Dead, winning the 2014 Mercury Prize; believes that this win is indicative of the strength, innovation and diversity of Scottish popular music today; notes that Alloysious and the parents of Kayus were immigrants to Scotland, and celebrates the enormous and essential contribution that immigrants make to Scotland’s culture.

To watch the video for Get Up, from the Mercury Prize-winning Dead, click here.

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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.>

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.