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Oh, Soutar You, Sir!

13/02/2011

I have very little to add to the Worrier of the Peat’s excellent post on the fact that Brian Souter has opted to spearhead an SNP fundraising drive which will see him match donations from other supporters (you can imagine my discombobulation when I opened my e-mail inbox only to find an e-mail from Brian Souter, though!). But it would be prudent to explain where I’m coming from on this.

I do not boycott Stagecoach public transport. This is a point of necessity: living in Bracknell and having to make trips to London on occasion, I’m hamstrung by the fact that there’s only one train line and only one operator: South West Trains. So refusing to travel by train would be cutting my nose off to spite my face. Besides, there’s an amusing irony about the fact that yes, I’ve just got on the 0605 at Martin’s Heron to Waterloo and there’s not a damned thing he can do about it. I would chuckle at it on the train, but usually I haven’t woken up properly at that point and in any case, no one wants to be the guy laughing to himself on the train.

Nor did I boycott them in Lancashire. They were a second choice, but that wasn’t driven by principle. Rather it was driven by the fact that Stagecoach offered one bus to Chorley every hour that went round the houses and even double-backed on itself, while Arriva offered one every fifteen minutes that went straight to town. Nevertheless, one the rare occasions when the Stagecoach service came for its second pass before its rival from Arriva turned up, of course I’d get on: it was there, it was cheaper, the buses were cleaner and had better suspension and the drivers were less manic. Similarly, to Preston, Stagecoach ran the main bus service but there was a rail alternative which was faster, cheaper and got me to the correct side of Preston (Preston’s railway station and bus station are at opposite ends of the city). But if the trains were off, I would bite the bullet and get the bus. The bus was Plan B, and there wasn’t any Plan C.

So it suits me to give Brian Souter’s businesses money on occasion. His public transport services can make my life a little less difficult and in any case, his employees don’t refuse my money. He can’t stop me from getting on them, and I need to get his train. I get the trip, he gets the money – we both win, and if either of us brought his religious views and/or my sexual orientation into the equation, we’d both lose.

It’s no surprise that I’m happy to take his money, then: he and I are in agreement on the basic point that an SNP Government would be better than a Labour one. Turning down his money would give the SNP fewer resources, making victory harder. Besides, let’s not forget that the SNP took his money four years ago and since then, Patrick Harvie’s Offences (Aggravation By Prejudice) (Scotland) Bill passed with SNP support and the Government proposed and passed the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Bill: these gave the LGBT communities more protection under the law than they had before 2007.

I say that not to take anything away from the strides in equality that were made by Labour before then. Rather, I point out that SNP MSPs have taken decisions because they thought they were right, not because Souter made them. Further, Souter’s funding decision was driven by his political principles, and not his homophobia. Similarly – and this may come as a shock to those poor misinformed souls who believe that the LGBT communities should and do act en bloc – the voting preference of many individual LGBT community members is driven by their own political principles, and not their homosexuality.

What I am trying to say is this: neither homosexuality nor homophobia respect political boundaries and every party has its skeletons in the closet – if you’ll pardon the expression. Yes, the SNP gets money from Brian Souter but it also has a growing LGBT organisation in Out for Independence. Yes, Labour repealed Section 28 and introduced civil partnerships, but a senior Scottish Labour frontbencher – Michael McMahon – objected to the Equal Opportunities committee discussing the case of a state-funded school (yes, it was a Catholic school, but it gets Government money) passing over a teacher for promotion because he was gay. Yes, the Tories are now proposing outright gay marriage, but one of their DWP Ministers argued that businesses should be able discriminate against customers on the grounds of their sexual orientation (something even Brian Souter doesn’t do!). Even the LibDems doubtless regret the intensely homophobic campaign waged in the Bermondsey By-Election, and ironically got Simon Hughes (now openly bisexual) elected at the expense of Peter Tatchell.

All parties have to deal with these contradictions, but none of them are daft enough to ever let things degrade to a point where its gay members felt that they had to choose between their political orientation and their sexual orientation, as the party would never win. That’s as true in the SNP today as it was four years ago.

And that’s why I, for one, don’t feel the need to make any such choice now.

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