Jean reveals huge delay in farm payments

Basic Payment Scheme helpline - 0300 300 2222Jean Urquhart’s questioning of the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food & Environment, Richard Lochhead MSP, has revealed that the distribution of Single Farm Payments is well behind the schedule promised by the Scottish Government.

Mr Lochhead told Parliament in December that the majority of applicants would receive their first instalment by the end of January. But the Scottish Crofting Federation revealed that only 1% of their members had been paid by the middle of the month, prompting Jean to push for answers.

In the Topical Question section of Parliamentary business this afternoon, she asked the Cabinet Secretary “what percentage of single farm payment applications in the Highlands and Islands and in the rest of Scotland has been paid as of the end of January?”

Mr Lochhead admitted that only 28% of applicants in the Highlands and Islands, and less than 30% of applicants nationally, had received any of the funds due to them.

Quoting evidence from NFU Scotland that although almost 30% of applicants had received their first instalments, only 15% of the total fund has been paid out, Jean asked what proportion of the funds due to farmers in the Highlands and Islands had been paid. Mr Lochhead promised to calculate those figures and forward them to Ms Urquhart “as soon as possible”.

Jean said:

“Many crofters in the Highlands and Islands are having a very difficult time. This huge delay in payments combined with winter feeding, poor weather, and low prices for beasts, is plunging crofters and other farmers into financial emergency. Some have not even had their entitlement letters yet, and some of those that have been issued have been wrong.

“Farmers need peace of mind about their finances, and they need the money they are entitled to at this difficult time. It is essential that the Scottish Government get payments back on the schedule they promised.

“It is bad enough that less than 30% of applicants have received their first instalment, but the picture for crofters looks even worse. The Scottish Crofting Federation estimate that only 1% of their members have received payments. The Minister told us today that simpler cases were being dealt with first, which puts crofters – many of whom have had to lodge appeals due to misclassification of their land – at the back of the queue.

“Today the Minister said that officials will prioritise cases where there is hardship caused by late payments. I urge crofters and any other farmers who are in that position to call the Scottish Government helpline on 0300 300 2222 or visit their local office and ask for their application to be prioritised.”

Rural Payments offices in the Highlands and Islands are located at Inverness, Portree, Stornoway, Kirkwall, Thurso, Lerwick, Tiree, Golspie and Oban. Click here for full contact details.

International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

Candles and messages commemorating dead sex workers: "Annette Nicholls, 29 years old, Murdered 2006, Ipswich, UK," "Fight violence, not sex workers."On the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, 17 December, Jean Urquhart has given her support to the voluntary organisations that work to protect the health and saftey of sex workers in Scotland.

Thousands of sex workers and sex worker-led organisations around the world, and their allies, mark each 17 December as the the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. The event began in 2003 to honour the sex workers who were murdered by the Green River Killer in Seattle, and 2015 is the 12th annual event.

Jean joined the sex-worker charity ScotPep, the grassroots collective Sex Worker Open University (SWOU), the community health project Umbrella Lane and HIV charity Terence Higgins Trust Scotland in observing the day and calling for the decriminalisation of sex work, as proposed by Jean’s Prostitution Law Reform Bill.

Criminalisation and stigma mean that sex workers are disproportionately vulnerable to violence, including in Scotland. Jean has brought forward the proposed Bill to change the law to make sex workers safer, and her proposals that have been supported by every sex worker-led organisation in Scotland.

Jean said:

“When I started speaking with sex workers in Scotland I was struck by what they told me about how the law makes them less safe. For example, two women working together for safety in a flat can be both arrested for brothel-keeping, which forces sex workers to work alone – and signals to predators that they are ‘easy targets’.

“It should be unconscionable that the law makes sex workers so vulnerable to violence, and I’m proud to have brought forward proposals that are based on what people who sell sex say will keep them safe. International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers should be a day of reflection, and I hope that my colleagues in Holyrood will reflect on whether it should be acceptable for another year to pass with sex workers in Scotland still denied access to safety and justice.”

Luca Stevenson, co-founder of the Sex Worker Open University, said:

“Violence against sex workers is endemic across Europe. Too often, the supposed ‘solution’ is presented as the criminalisation of clients – a disastrous policy failure that has made sex workers vastly more vulnerable to violence, HIV, and stigma. Jean Urquhart’s proposals can lead the way in Europe in showing that laws built around respect for sex workers are possible.”

Nadine Stott, ScotPep co-chair, said:

“Sex workers in Scotland have seen another year pass where criminalisation has meant that they are still vulnerable to violence. However, there is also hope: for the first time this year, a debate about sex work policy launched with the voices and concerns of sex workers themselves at the heart of it. We’re looking forward to 2016, hopeful that this will set the tone for future discussion about the laws that affect sex workers. Only then can policy be shaped in such a way as to push back on the epidemic of violence that sex workers in Scotland face.”

ScotPep board member Raven Bowen said:

“Today as we light our candles and honour our dead, we also recognise that all eyes are on Scotland in 2016, which can be among the first countries to stand on behalf of sex workers and enact legislation that prioritises their health, safety and human rights. Sex workers, activists and researchers are redoubling advocacy efforts across the United Kingdom to ensure that sex workers are never again denied their due rights and the benefits of citizenship.”

Anastacia Ryan, co-founder of Umbrella Lane, said:

“Sex workers were telling us that they were feeling unable to access health and support services in the Glasgow area because of the stigma and judgement that they were being subject to. This is an unacceptable state of affairs: sex workers deserve unimpeded access to health care and to support. We set up Umbrella Lane as a community-led health project to fill this gap, because stigma, judgement, and lack of access to healthcare are also forms of violence against sex workers.

“We’ve been delighted by the supportive response from the community and from sex workers accessing our services – there is a growing recognition that stigma and criminalisation should be consigned to the past, and Jean Urquhart’s proposals are a key part of moving our society forward.”

Robert McKay, National Director at Terrence Higgins Trust Scotland said:

“Tackling violence against sex workers is a crucial component of reducing the transmission of HIV and improving the sexual health of everyone in the industry. This is why the Terrence Higgins Trust Scotland, like our colleagues elsewhere in the UK, has long supported the full decriminalisation of sex work along the lines of Jean Urquhart’s proposals. On International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, Terrence Higgins Trust Scotland again calls on policymakers to listen to sex workers and the evidence – Scotland needs the New Zealand model.”

Speech: Land Reform Act – stop Scottish land being owned in offshore tax havens

The Scottish Parliament has voted in favour of the Land Reform Bill at Stage 1, allowing it to progress to the detailed committee stage. Jean spoke in the debate to call for a ban on Scottish land being owned outside the EU, especially in secretive jurisdictions like Caribbean tax havens. You can read more about that issue in a new report from RISE.

On this page you can read Jean’s speech, and watch the video of the debate – Jean’s contribution starts at 1:52:50. You can read the full transcript of the debate in the Scottish Parliament’s Official Report.

Jean Urquhart (Highlands and Islands) (Ind):

I would like to recommend a book that everybody should read in order to better understand the passion with which we should deal with land reform — Our Scots Noble Families, by Tom Johnston, who, famously, was possibly the best Secretary of State for Scotland we ever had. It explains how land was acquired by some of the landowners who are still there today.

There is no doubt that the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 was welcome and that it has only fed the desire for more and better legislation on land reform. I will not go over all the issues that have been covered by others, such as how the Highland estates that Rhoda Grant referred to came about, but I would like to challenge John Lamont’s point that it is the people who own the land who know best how to work it. In defence of landowners, he said that the state does not know best. I suggest that nothing that we are talking about here is about the state knowing best; it is about the fact that the people who live on the land and the communities that are there know best.

The evidence is there for all of us to see. Less than two weeks ago, the Pairc estate community achieved ownership of its 28,000 acres, and I have no doubt that it will follow Eigg, Assynt and Stòras Uibhist in getting more and more people to live on the land and creating more and more jobs. Such an arrangement benefits the people who live there and their community far more than does ownership by an absentee landowner, which was the situation with the Pairc estate until two weeks ago. I think that we should celebrate the fact that the community has achieved ownership of the Pairc estate after 13 years—that is how long it has taken it to get ownership of the land. If the bill means that no other community has to go through that, bring it on.

Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con):

I think that Jean Urquhart might agree that we have had two acts on crofting that have not delivered very much for the crofters. Will she try to ensure that the Government makes certain that the bill will deliver for tenant farmers?

Jean Urquhart:

I thank Jamie McGrigor for raising that issue. We had the ludicrous situation in which somebody who owned 28,000 acres in Lewis was not required to meet any of the regulations that someone who owns 20 acres in Shetland or anywhere else has to meet. We must think about exactly what we are asking for. Of course we have argued for the crofting legislation to be changed, and of course the whole system needs to be reviewed, but that is not what we are arguing for in the bill.

I want to talk about tax havens and the link between corruption, offshore corporate property and land ownership. It is clearly established in a recent Transparency International report that:

“Land owned in offshore jurisdictions such as the British Virgin Islands, Jersey and Guernsey is particularly common in London, and 75% of properties under investigation for corruption are using offshore ownership to hide their identities.”

The problem is not confined to south-east England; another recent investigation found that as much as 750,000 acres in Scotland, most of it on Highland estates, is owned in offshore tax havens. That is a disgrace, and it potentially makes it impossible to find the real owners, which could be a series of shell companies and trusts. If they are registered in offshore secrecy jurisdictions, the legal means to reveal ownership is not available. Consequently, the land reform review group recommended strongly that the problem be tackled, saying that:

“the Scottish Government should make it incompetent for any legal entity not registered in a member state of the European Union to register title to land in the Land Register of Scotland, to improve traceability and accountability in the public interest.”

That is what many would like to happen.

Of course, Andy Wightman has long campaigned on and highlighted these issues, and, like the Government, he is clearly having some success in raising land reform as an issue. There is interest out there; indeed, more than 200 people emailed me about this debate, and I know that the same has happened to other members. The mass of people who responded to the consultation shows that individuals are recognising the injustice in this situation.

As late as the mid-1980s, we were paying a feudal tax to our feudal landlord on a very small bit of land in Ullapool — I think that I am right in saying that England stopped being a feudal country something like 400 years before. This legislation is therefore long overdue, because change is desperately needed. People must be able to access the land. The Stoddart family have been mentioned already, and I know of a school in north-west Sutherland that sits in the middle of a loch, which I thought was quite romantic until I discovered that it is there because the then landowner refused to give the people land for the school. When he was pressed by the council and told that a compulsory purchase order could be made, he offered the loch, which the people had to take.

There are many wrongs to be righted, and this bill is to be welcomed as the first step on that long road.

Prostitution Law Reform – an extra week to have your say!

Find out more and have your say: visit prostitutionreform.scot.

Women from the Sex Workers' Open University demostrate with red umbrellas and placards reading 'Solidarity with sex workers'.
Photo: Sex Workers’ Open University
Scots now have until Tuesday 8 December to give their views on Jean’s proposal for a new law to protect the rights and safety of sex workers by decriminalising activities associated with the buying and selling of sex, and by strengthening measures against coercion.

The public consultation on the proposed Prostitution Law Reform (Scotland) Bill was due to close on Tuesday 1 December, but Jean has extended the deadline by seven days in response to a late flurry of submissions, and after receiving requests from some important stakeholders for extra time to finalise their comments.

Jean has launched a new website, prostitutionreform.scot, to provide easy-to-understand information and evidence on her proposals, and to guide you through the process of submitting your response to the consultation. You can also download the consultation document, which includes full details on how to contribute your views.

Jean worked closely with sex workers’ rights charity SCOT-PEP in the development of her proposals, which are based on successful reform in New Zealand, and are also backed by HIV Scotland and NUS Scotland.

The new law would:

  • Permit small groups of sex workers (up to four) to work together from the same premises, and for larger premises to be licensed. Currently, even two sex workers who work together for safety are criminalised for brothel-keeping – forcing sex workers to work alone increases their vulnerability to violence.
  • Scrap laws against soliciting and kerb-crawling. Evidence shows both measures reduce the amount of time sex workers have to assess their safety and agree services, which again increases their vulnerability to violence.
  • Extend protection against coercion, which only applies to female sex workers under current legislation, and make those provisions more robust – in line with what sex workers say they need.
  • Permit sex workers to have joint finances with their families or flatmates. Currently the partners and family of sex workers are criminalised, which is isolating and stigmatising, and assumes coercion rather than tackling coercion directly.

Jean said:

“We’ve had a great response to the consultation so far, with a huge diversity of viewpoints from across Scotland and as far afield as Canada and Namibia.

“As the initial deadline nears we’ve had a rush of responses, but there are also some important Scottish stakeholders who have told us they are still developing their submissions.

“I think it’s essential we give everyone the maximum possible opportunity to have their say, so we’ve decided to extend the deadline for responses by a week. You can now contribute to the consultation up until Tuesday the 8th of December.

“I urge everyone to read the proposal and give their views. None of it is in technical language and it’s been prepared in partnership with people with direct experience of sex work. You can give your views entirely in your own words and there’s no need to produce a long response – whatever you want to say is valuable.

“Despite the support for decriminalisation offered by organisations from Amnesty International to the World Health Organisation, I know these proposals will be controversial. Some think sex work is simply immoral, or cannot be made safer, or that punishing clients can be done without harming sex workers. Others claim that sex workers are somehow themselves responsible for the problems of a sexist society.

“I hope everyone will take this opportunity to take a look at my proposals, make up their own mind and have their say.”

Nadine Stott, co-chair of SCOT-PEP, said:

“We are incredibly grateful to Jean Urquhart for bringing forward the first comprehensive set of proposals designed to allow sex workers to work safely in Scotland. The purchase and sale of sex is currently legal, but in general, the law prevents sex workers from being able to work safely, and that must end. There is no reason why sex work should only be permissible if a single person works alone in their flat, for example. That law leaves sex workers vulnerable to violence and exploitation, as do the current laws on street-based sex work, which also seriously hamper sex workers’ ability to move onto other work.

“The evidence from New Zealand, where similar proposals were passed in 2003 in close consultation with sex worker-led organisations, is that putting safety first works. The New Zealand model reduces violence, enables sex workers to have greater confidence in reporting crimes to the police. It has also not led to an increase in sex work.

“We look forward to supporting this process through Parliament, to seeing responses to the consultation, and to working with MSPs to put sex workers’ safety at the heart of the debate for the first time.”

Congratulations to Scotland’s new UNESCO geoparks

Kayaking round Achiltibuie. Photo: North West Highlands Geopark
Kayaking round Achiltibuie. Photo: North West Highlands Geopark
Scotland’s two Geoparks, in Shetland and the North West Highlands, have been awarded the new UNESCO Global Geopark status, and Jean has lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament to congratulate the teams behind the success.

Representatives of UNESCO’s 195 member states created the Global Geopark designation at their General Conference, which was held in Paris between 3 November and 18 November. It is the first major new UNESCO designation to be created for over 40 years, and ranks the Shetland and North West Highland Geoparks alongside UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites and Biosphere Reserves.

Jean said:

“UNESCO Global Geopark designation is a well-deserved tribute both to the exceptional importance and beauty of Scotland’s geology, to the dedication of everyone who contributed to the creation and development of Shetland Geopark and North West Highlands Geopark, and to the Scottish Government’s vital support of the parks.

“The new status reflects the how important it is to understand our geological history, and how important our geology is to our future – from developing our energy economy to dealing with the consequences of climate change.

“It’s fitting that two of the very first UNESCO Global Geoparks are here in Scotland, the place where James Hutton invented the science of geology and proved that the earth is ever-changing.

“Our Geoparks honour two of the world’s most scientifically important and visually stunning landscapes, and do brilliant work developing their educational and tourist potential.

“Shetland’s complicated fault lines mean that you can see rock types otherwise found scattered across the North of Scotland, side by side. Geologically, Shetland is the Highlands in miniature and a visit to the Geopark is a whirlwind tour of billions of years of Scotland’s history.

“The North West Highlands are home to the oldest rocks in Britain. At 3 Billion years old, some are well over half the age of the planet. The Moine Thrust that runs right through the North West Highlands Geopark was instrumental in proving that the continents are moving – a debate that wasn’t settled until the 1960s.

“I’m so happy for the teams that have worked so hard to bring these ancient stories to life, and I’m sure their new global status will help them delight and inform many, many more visitors from across Scotland and around the world.”

Jean’s Scottish Parliament motion reads:

Motion S4M-14907: Jean Urquhart, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 19/11/2015

Scotland’s UNESCO Global Geoparks

That the Parliament congratulates Shetland Geopark and North West Highlands Geopark on becoming UNESCO Global Geoparks; understands that Global Geopark status is the first new UNESCO designation of its kind to be created in over 40 years; considers that this status now ranks the Shetland and North West Highland parks alongside UNESCO World Heritage Sites in importance and esteem; recognises with gratitude the work of everyone who contributed to Scotland’s two Geoparks receiving and retaining the European Geopark Network green card status, which allowed them to become two of the inaugural 118 Global Geoparks worldwide; welcomes the support of the Scottish Government, which it believes has been crucial to the development of both Geoparks, and looks forward to the Geoparks’ continued success in bringing what it considers the fascinating story of Scotland’s geological history to visitors from across Scotland and around the world through the Global Network of Geoparks.

Please take part in my consultation on a new sex work law

Candles and messages commemorating dead sex workers: "Annette Nicholls, 29 years old, Murdered 2006, Ipswich, UK," "Fight violence, not sex workers."Dear friends,

This morning, I published a consultation, which is the first step towards bringing a new Bill before the Scottish Parliament. My proposed new law is the Prostitution Law Reform (Scotland) Bill, which I have developed with the sex-worker-led charity SCOTPEP to promote the safety and uphold the rights of people selling sex in Scotland. It seeks to reform and repeal existing laws, which criminalise activities associated with sex work, and introduce more robust safeguards against coercion and exploitation.

The consultation document includes details of my proposals, and questions that I’d like you to respond to to help develop and improve the Bill. The closing date for responses is Tuesday 1st December. To download the consultation, click here.

It is important to stress that this proposed Bill does not argue that the sex industry is free from violence and exploitation. Sex workers themselves can amply testify to the fact that both are present in the context of their work. Criminalisation itself has been recognised to create a fertile ground for human rights abuses to flourish. This proposed Bill represents a practical solution to these issues and it has been guided by what people currently selling sex say that they need. The focus, therefore, is first and foremost on safety and rights.

Sex workers’ vulnerability to violence is often treated as an argument for further criminalisation, but in fact sex workers are made vulnerable to violence by criminalisation. My proposed Bill adopts an evidenced-based approach to the issue and is grounded in an awareness of the multiple harms caused by criminalisation. It encourages the authorities in Scotland to switch their attention away from arresting and prosecuting sex workers and towards protecting them from violence.

More than ten years ago New Zealand adopted world-leading legislation, based on pragmatic policy positions supported by sex workers themselves, and this approach has since been widely recognised to have delivered substantial material benefits for sex workers and for society. My proposed Bill looks to replicate the success of the New Zealand model in Scotland: a set of laws and policies which prioritise the safety, rights and health of people currently selling sex.

The key elements of the proposed bill are:

  1. Permit small groups of sex workers (up to four) to work together from the same premises, and for larger premises to be licensed. Currently, even two sex workers who work together for safety are criminalised for brothel-keeping – forcing sex workers to work alone increases their vulnerability to violence.
  2. Scrap laws against soliciting and kerb-crawling. Evidence shows both measures reduce the amount of time sex workers have to assess their safety and agree services, which again increases their vulnerability to violence.
  3. Extend protection against coercion, which only applies to female sex workers under current legislation, and make those provisions more robust – in line with what sex workers say they need.
  4. Permit sex workers to have joint finances with their families or flatmates. Currently the partners and family of sex workers are criminalised, which is isolating and stigmatising, and assumes coercion rather than tackling coercion directly.

I’m very grateful to have already received support for the Bill from HIV Scotland, NUS Scotland, the European Network of Sex Work Projects, and individual sex workers in Scotland. This consultation is your opportunity to give your views on the ideas in the proposed Bill, and to help refine and add to those ideas. I hope the consultation will generate a lively and positive discussion on how best to keep sex workers safe.

It’s essential that policy debates are led by those most affected. That’s why I have listened above all to sex workers themselves in formulating these proposals, and I am particularly keen to receive consultation responses from sex workers.

Please do download the full consultation document, and add your views and experience to this important discussion.

My hope for this process is that we can produce a Bill which will pave the way for a legislative framework which affirms and upholds the rights, safety and health of everyone who sells sex in Scotland: a piece of legislation fit for a forward-thinking and progressive nation.

Best wishes,

Jean

Jean launches new Bill to decriminalise sex work

Women from the Sex Workers' Open University demostrate with red umbrellas and placards reading 'Solidarity with sex workers'.
Photo: Sex Workers’ Open University
Jean Urquhart has published a consultation on a new law to promote sex workers’ rights and safety by decriminalising sex work.

Jean’s proposed Prostitution Law Reform (Scotland) Bill has been developed in close consultation with sex workers in Scotland, and are supported by SCOT-PEP, a charity which campaigns for the rights of sex workers. It has also been supported by HIV Scotland and NUS Scotland, and the decriminalisation approach taken by Jean’s proposals is backed by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, UNAIDS and the World Health Organisation.

Read Jean’s personal messageDownload the consultation

The proposed Bill would:

The four key elements of the proposed legislation are as follows:

  1. Permit small groups of sex workers (up to four) to work together from the same premises, and for larger premises to be licensed. Currently, even two sex workers who work together for safety are criminalised for brothel-keeping – forcing sex workers to work alone increases their vulnerability to violence.
  2. Scrap laws against soliciting and kerb-crawling. Evidence shows both measures reduce the amount of time sex workers have to assess their safety and agree services, which again increases their vulnerability to violence.
  3. Extend protection against coercion, which only applies to female sex workers under current legislation, and make those provisions more robust – in line with what sex workers say they need.
  4. Permit sex workers to have joint finances with their families or flatmates. Currently the partners and family of sex workers are criminalised, which is isolating and stigmatising, and assumes coercion rather than tackling coercion directly.

The consultation is open for responses from the pubic until December 1st 2015. You can download the consultation document here.

Speaking about why she has developed the proposals, Jean said:

“With the death of Margo MacDonald, Scotland’s sex workers lost an irreplaceable friend and ally. With the exception of the proposals she campaigned for, the debate about Scotland’s prostitution laws has for too long been conducted as if sex workers should be pushed out of sight. They have been systematically ignored while laws which expose them to violence and stigma have been preserved or extended. These proposals take on board not only the experience and concerns of sex workers, but also reflect a growing international consensus that what sex workers most need is safety and labour rights, not the risks which come from criminalisation.

“Despite the support for decriminalisation offered by organisations from Amnesty International to the World Health Organisation, these proposals will be controversial. Some think sex work is simply immoral, or cannot be made safer, or that punishing clients can be done without harming sex workers. Others claim that sex workers are somehow themselves responsible for the problems of a sexist society. I would urge anyone who takes those views to read the evidence, to read the consultation, and to consider whether their feelings are more important than sex workers’ right to work safely.”

Nadine Stott, co-chair of the sex workers’ rights charity SCOTPEP, said:

“We are incredibly grateful to Jean Urquhart for bringing forward the first comprehensive set of proposals designed to allow sex workers to work safely in Scotland. The purchase and sale of sex is currently legal, but in general, the law prevents sex workers from being able to work safely, and that must end. There is no reason why sex work should only be permissible if a single person works alone in their flat, for example. That law leaves sex workers vulnerable to violence and exploitation, as do the current laws on street-based sex work, which also seriously hamper sex workers’ ability to move onto other work.

“The evidence from New Zealand, where similar proposals were passed in 2003 in close consultation with sex worker-led organisations, is that putting safety first works. The New Zealand model reduces violence, enables sex workers to have greater confidence in reporting crimes to the police. It has also not led to an increase in sex work. We look forward to supporting this process through Parliament, to seeing responses to the consultation, and to working with MSPs to put sex workers’ safety at the heart of the debate for the first time.”

Stewart Cunningham, also co-chair of SCOTPEP, said:

“I recently had the opportunity to visit New Zealand to explore the effects of their legal model first hand. While I was there I met with sex workers, representatives of the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective, and a number of academics who have studied the impact of the law, and I am convinced now more than ever that this is a legislative model that Scotland must adopt. In New Zealand, the rights, health and safety of sex workers are prioritised above any moral or ideological objection to exchanging sex for money. I met with the former sex worker who was the first person to take a brothel manager to court for sexual harassment and was awarded $25,000 in compensation. She emphasised to me how in a decriminalized system she did not have to tolerate harassment and abuse from her manager and was empowered to use the law to hold him to account.

“The effect of the New Zealand approach to sex work is summed up in the words of the human rights tribunal in this case when they said simply that ‘sex workers have the same human rights as other workers.’ It is time that Scotland began prioritising the rights and protection of people who trade or sell sex, for whatever reason, rather than arresting and prosecuting them and perpetuating harm.”

George Valiotis, Chief Executive Officer for HIV Scotland, said:

“International organisations like UNAIDS and the World Health Organization have long called for the decriminalisation of sex work, and Jean’s proposals are firmly based in that evidence. In 2012, the WHO called the decriminalisation of sex work a ‘minimum global standard’. Criminalisation clearly inhibits sex workers’ safety and access to services, including HIV-related services. As such, we welcome any move to follow these international and evidenced-based recommendations.”

NUS Scotland President Vonnie Sandlan said:

“I’m delighted that these proposals have been brought forward – they are long overdue. The safety and rights of sex workers is a feminist issue, and one which we know is of great importance to students in Scotland. As a feminist I wholeheartedly support these measures, and hope that they signify the start of a new normal in policymaking, where the voices and experiences of sex workers are prioritised.”

Luca Stevenson, co-ordinator for the European Network of Sex Work Projects (ICRSE), said:

“ICRSE, a European network of seventy five organisations advocating for sex workers’ rights, strongly supports this decriminalisation bill.

“The criminalisation of sex work profoundly fails to protect sex workers. Criminalisation of the purchase of sex, as experimented with in Sweden and Norway, increased the stigma directed against sex workers, and increased sex workers’ vulnerability to violence – and made them less likely to report abuse and violence to the police. We hope MSPs will listen to sex workers and human rights organisations who, after years of research, unequivocally support decriminalisation.”

Cat, a sex worker in Scotland, said:

“Finally a politician has listened to us and put our safety first. I can’t understand why policymakers love to talk about how dangerous sex work is and yet support laws that force us to sell sex alone. Jean listened to people currently selling sex in Scotland and actually cared about our safety, rather than grandstanding or seeing us as a problem to be ‘cleared away’. I hope other politicians will follow her lead.”

Mike, a male sex worker, said:

“I have worked for several years in Glasgow, offering sexual services to men. Society needs to comes to terms that many of us have decided to sell sex and laws that criminalise us do not stop sex work. Many of my clients are mature men who have only recently accepted their sexuality and prefer to hire an escort than hanging out on the ‘gay scene’ or using apps. It is unbelievable that people would want to see either my clients or myself fined or jailed. Criminalising consensual sex between adults should be confined to the 1960s, not a modern democratic country like Scotland.”

Jean welcomes Amnesty vote to back decriminalisation of sex work

Candles and messages commemorating dead sex workers: "Annette Nicholls, 29 years old, Murdered 2006, Ipswich, UK," "Fight violence, not sex workers."Jean Urquhart has congratulated Amnesty International delegates on their vote to support decriminalisation of sex work, in order to protect the rights and safety of sex workers.

Delegates at the campaign’s International Council Meeting in Dublin today approved the resolution calling for a new “Policy on state obligations to respect, protect, and fulfil the human rights of sex workers,” which includes support for decriminalisation of sex work. The result of the vote was announced just after 5pm UK time.

The new policy will bring Amnesty International into agreement with Human Rights Watch, UNAIDS and the World Health Organisation, as well as almost all organisations representing sex workers themselves, in calling for the decriminalisation of sex work.

Jean said:

“This is an excellent and thoughtful decision by the Amnesty movement, and a huge victory for sex workers who are fighting for their rights and their safety.

“The vote took place in a context of loud but mostly ill-informed attacks from opponents as varied as religious groups and Hollywood actors. Amnesty’s delegates should be congratulated for listening to the evidence and to the voices of those most affected – sex workers themselves.

“Around the world, sex workers are routinely marginalised, stigmatised, and denied the most basic human and labour rights. Sex workers themselves are very clear these abuses are exacerbated, or in many cases even created, by the criminalisation of sex workers or their clients.

“Both the hard evidence and sex workers’ own testimony 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.

“Amnesty’s backing is a massive boost to this urgent campaign. I’m looking forward to working with Amnesty in Scotland to secure the rights and safety of sex workers here and internationally.”

In Amnesty’s statement on the vote, Secretary General Salil Shetty said:

“Sex workers are one of the most marginalized groups in the world who in most instances face constant risk of discrimination, violence and abuse. Our global movement paved the way for adopting a policy for the protection of the human rights of sex workers which will help shape Amnesty International’s future work on this important issue.”

Jean demands referendum votes for EU citizens

Jean Urquhart has written to the Prime Minister to demand that European Union citizens resident in the UK are permitted to vote in the forthcoming referendum on membership of the EU.

Jean was writing on behalf of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Poland, of which she’s the Convenor.

In her letter, Jean says that the proposed voting restrictions were “seen to be discriminatory” by the Cross-Party Group, and were “extraordinary” in the context of recent participation by Polish Scots in the independence referendum. The full text of the letter is below.

She wrote that it was “absurd that … Poles and other EU citizens were able to vote on the biggest constitutional issue facing Scotland and the UK since 1707 but are being denied the right to determine another constitutional question just a matter of months later.”

Jean said:

“We are proud that citizens of every EU nation have chosen to make Scotland their home. A Scot from Warsaw is just as much a part of our community and our country as one from Wishaw, and we all have a right to our say on Scotland’s future in Europe.

“The Conservative government’s plan to deny EU citizens a vote in the referendum smacks of the same kind of xenophobic nationalism that inspired their referendum pledge in the first place.

“It is ironic that the Conservatives used scare stories about EU membership to try to persuade EU Scots to vote No just a few months ago, but now want to prevent the very same voters from having a direct say on the very same issue.

Ms Urquhart also urged the Prime Minister to grant 16- and 17-year-olds the right to vote on the issue:

“16- and 17-year-olds proved during the referendum that they can engage with big political issues with intelligence and enthusiasm. Next week, they will finally get the right to vote in Scottish Parliament and local council elections. There’s no longer any excuse for refusing 16- and 17-year-olds full voting rights.

“Our future in Europe is a decision for the whole country. I’m calling on David Cameron to amend the EU Referendum Bill to recognise the right of 16- and 17-year olds and UK-resident EU citizens to be part of that decision.”

Jean’s letter to the Prime Minister:

Dear Mr Cameron,

European Union Membership Referendum

I am writing on behalf of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross Party Group on Poland, which I convene, regarding the recently announced voting criteria for the forthcoming referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU.

Members of the CPG are dismayed by the decision to restrict voting to only those who would qualify to vote in UK Parliamentary elections. The membership of the group is diverse – it includes not only Polish nationals, but the descendants of Polish nationals and other individuals who have an active interest in Poland – but the proposals have outraged the group.

The proposal to adopt the same rules for voting in the EU Referendum to those used for UK Parliamentary elections are seen to be discriminatory. There are thousands of people who are resident and paying taxes in this country who will be denied their right to determine the future of the country they live in – it’s the worst possible demonstration of ‘taxation without representation’, something which has no place in a modern Britain.

The referendum is, crucially, not the same as a UK Parliamentary election and as such, there is no precedent for restricting voting in this way. It is a unique opportunity for the people who live – and pay tax – in the UK to make a collective and direct decision about the UK’s future in Europe. Why would you deny European Union citizens the right to vote on the future of their country of residence, especially when it has a direct impact on their home country and their own residential status? Especially when one considers that EU citizens can vote in Britain in EU elections, but are now being denied a say on the future of that very institution.

In a Scottish context, the proposal is extraordinary given that EU citizens were able to vote in last year’s referendum. It seems to the group that it is absurd that many of the members – and of course many other Poles and other EU citizens – were able to vote on the biggest constitutional issue facing Scotland and the UK since 1707 but are being denied the right to determine another constitutional question just a matter of months later.

We write to urge you, and the members of your Cabinet, to rethink the voting strategy. Excluding EU citizens from this vote fails to recognise not only the diversity of the British population, but also the contribution EU tax payers make to our economy. It flies in the face of recent precedent on the determination of constitutional issues and ignores the fundamental right of a taxpayer to have a right to be represented within a democracy.

We hope that you will reconsider your position on this matter and look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Jean Urquhart MSP

Letter in the Guardian: Labour rights are the key to sex workers’ safety

Jean’s letter in the Guardian newspaper last week, responding to the campaign to criminalise the purchase of sex, a move which sex workers say would make them less safe:

Former police officer Alan Caton celebrates the criminalisation of the purchase of sex in Northern Ireland and suggests that crackdowns make sex workers safer (Letters, 1 June). However, sex workers themselves tell us the exact opposite. When the highly successful tolerance zones for street prostitution were abolished in Edinburgh, for example, sex workers reported a 95% increase in violence over 12 months.

Mr Caton further proposes criminalisation of clients as a solution to trafficking; it is hard to understand how he believes threatening the key witnesses to trafficking and coercion – the clients – with a sex-crime record if they come forward would help with investigating and prosecuting this awful crime.

There is little evidence that the criminalisation of clients even achieves its proponents’ aim of reducing demand for sex work. Following criminalisation in Sweden, police themselves have observed a sharp increase in massage parlours in Stockholm – from 90 in 2009 to 250 in 2013.

What sex workers tell us would actually protect them would be to ensure their labour rights, including the right to work in a shared premises, to eliminate stigma and discrimination against sex workers, and to decriminalise sex work.

Jean Urquhart MSP
Independent, Highlands and Islands

To find out more about issues affecting sex workers and read sex workers’ own views, visit SCOT-PEP and the Sex Worker Open University.