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 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.

Charles Kennedy

Charles Kennedy with Jean Urquhart (2nd from right) at Ullapool Primary School, 1983
Charles Kennedy with Jean Urquhart (2nd from right) at Ullapool Primary School, 1983

I was so sad to learn of the death of Charles Kennedy this morning. Immediately I thought back to the general election of 1983 and his surprise victory over Conservative and Unionist MP, Hamish Gray, to the electors’ delight it has to be said. I did stand against him myself in the 2001 General Election and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. There was genuine camaraderie with all of the candidates, and little or none of the party political dislike or outright hatred that happened in some parts; maybe it was a Highlands and Islands thing. Whatever, I’m sure the other candidates would agree, Charlie was a pleasure to oppose!

Charles Kennedy at Ullapool Primary School, 1983
A very early public engagement for the new MP in 1983 was formally opening and speaking at an exhibition about educational opportunities held in Ullapool Primary School. The photographs remind us of how young he was; memory recalls how passionate about education he was.

Charlie belonged to the West Highlands and for many years the West Highlands belonged to him.

When the symptoms of his illness became more and more overt, most folk understood and recognised the problem; it never diminished their like of Charlie Kennedy, the man. His premature death will be felt by many and all of our sympathy is with his family for whom this will be especially hard to bear.

Why I voted for the Assisted Suicide Bill

Logo of "My Life, My Death, My Choice," the campaign for the Assisted Suicide Bill.Yesterday the Scottish Parliament debated the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill, which had originally been brought by our much-missed colleague Margo MacDonald and was taken on by Green MSP Patrick Harvie after she died last year. After much thought, I voted in favour of the bill, but it was defeated by 82 votes to 36 (you can find out how your other MSPs voted here).

I am very grateful to the many constituents who have contacted me about assisted suicide over the past months, both in support of and in opposition to the Bill. This is an extremely personal issue and many of those who have been in touch have been directly affected by difficult end-of-life situations. I considered my vote very carefully, and the views and experiences of everyone who has been in touch have been invaluable.

My own personal experience is of an elderly family member who, I know, suffered beyond human endurance and was longing to be relieved of pain. She was in a hospice in the last few days of her life, living from one shot of morphine to the next. There was nothing more that could be done for her, and I have never forgotten how I felt so completely useless; she was ready to die and no-one would, or could, let her.

If I was in a similar position, I would have sought help to end my life. I find it very hard to justify a situation where that help is withheld from people who desperately need it.

As Margo MacDonald herself said, we have learned a great deal about how to create the right safeguards since she first presented the Bill in 2010. The revised bill had very robust measures to ensure patients would get proper medical advice and could not be pressured into a decision by family.

Under Margo and Patrick’s proposals, the individual would have had to gain the consent of two separate doctors. Nurses and doctors who had been previously involved in the individuals’ care would also be excluded from the process of witnessing any declarations required in the process. Family members, and anyone who would benefit financially from the individual’s will, would also have been excluded from acting in the process.

I believe that these measures would prevent individuals from being pressurised by others and would ensure that the choice lies with the individual, and the individual alone.

For all these reasons, I believe legalising assistance to die remains the just and compassionate thing to do.

With a majority of Scots in favour of change, clearly we still have a lot to discuss. I had hoped that MSPs who had reservations might voted to allow the deliberations on the bill to continue, even if they expected to vote against it in the end. But although this particular bill won’t go any further, I would be very surprised if it’s the last time the issue comes before the Scottish Parliament.

You can watch the debate and read my speech below. My contribution begins at 2:22:40 on the video, and the transcript of the full debate is available on the Scottish Parliament website.

Jean Urquhart (Highlands and Islands) (Ind):

This Parliament has never shirked its responsibility in dealing with a number of controversial subjects that have brought about societal change. In bringing them to this chamber we hear many differing and often strong opinions, which inform and allow for the best kind of debate. As other members have done, I thank the many individuals, organisations and groups who took the time to articulate their reasons for offering their support for or objections to the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill.

I will support the motion today for various reasons. I have listened to the different contributions to this debate, all of which have been very considered and many of which have been quite powerful. My instinct is that there should be a bill of this nature. I must set aside my reasons for that and join with those who are asking for the bill to be passed, even though their instinct is that it should not, or that it should not come into law.

Agreeing the general principles of the bill today will allow for greater debate and perhaps for more public involvement in what is, for most of us, an issue about which we feel strongly. It is really not an issue that we can be uncertain about in the end, as it were, if you will excuse the pun, Presiding Officer.

My main reasons for supporting the bill are, first, for the want of choice and fairness, secondly, as an act of human kindness and compassion, and thirdly, out of respect for any individual and his or her needs and beliefs. I, too, spoke to Margo MacDonald at some length about her bill, and I am pleased to have heard her name checked so often today, because she is synonymous with the bill and her desire was to see it become law.

To an extent, the bill as drafted may still be far from perfect, and what is clear from the Health and Sport Committee report is that there are still many questions to be answered and many details to be clearly articulated and understood by everyone. On such an important issue, the devil really will be in the detail. However, I believe that all of that can and should happen.

The right of an individual to be released from life at their own request should be acknowledged as their choice, and they should be supported. It would appear that the majority of people in Scotland, if we are to believe recent reports in journals and newspapers, now broadly agree that it is a matter of choice.

Scotland has an ageing population, many of whom will suffer degenerative conditions. The debate about the quality of life and how we can live it will continue for years to come. Meantime, anyone who out of compassion and love wants to help a friend or relative to die will remain open to prosecution, and inevitably more and more people who can afford to do so will travel abroad in order to have their wishes met. That cannot be right.

I acknowledge the views of those who are of a religious faith — I am not — and they do appear, judging by my mailbox, to be the largest group opposing the bill. They have their reasons for doing so, and I can respect that. They would never consider using the permissions that the bill would allow, and that is their right, but I would ask that they respect those of a different belief. It would be very wrong if the bill were to fail today on any religious grounds.

The problem will not go away, but rather will increase, and therefore the bill is timely. There is a strong feeling across the country, I believe, that recognises that and supports the generality of the bill.

Every contribution in the chamber today has been interesting, thoughtful and considered, and the Parliament is surely here to allow the debate to continue and not to shut it down prematurely. Please, let us not shut down this important debate. I urge members to support the motion.

Jean condemns Carmichael

Jean has this afternoon condemned Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael for failing to admit to his responsibility for the now infamous leaked ‘memo’ which falsely accused First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of favouring David Cameron to be Prime Minister.

The false memo was leaked following a meeting between the Scottish First Minister and the French Ambassador. Both Ms Sturgeon and the Ambassador rejected the memo’s version of events, which said Ms Sturgeon would prefer a government led by David Cameron and stated that she did not think Ed Milliband was ‘of prime minister material’.

The memo was later found to have been leaked by the Scottish Office during the election campaign – when the Government was in purdah. Speaking at the time, the then-Scottish Secretary Mr Carmichael dismissed the leak, saying ‘These things happen from time to time.’

His admission this afternoon comes after an official Cabinet Office inquiry found that Mr Carmichael’s adviser leaked the document under direction from the Scottish Secretary.

Speaking from Shetland following Mr Carmichael’s statement, in which he described the matter as an ‘error of judgement’, Jean said:

“Mr Carmichael’s actions go far beyond a simple ‘error of judgement’ – this was a calculated and deeply cynical attempt to undermine the integrity of Scotland’s First Minister during the election campaign.

It was a deliberate attack on a fellow politician and this incident seriously calls into question Mr Carmichael’s fitness to continue as MP for Orkney and Shetland.

Politics is all about best judgement and integrity, and he has failed his constituents on both counts – by leaking the memo in the first place, and then by delaying his admission of guilt until after the election. Mr Carmichael is the Liberal Democrats’ ‘last man standing’ in Scotland – but only as a result of intentionally deceiving them about his role in this under-handed attempt to undermine Nicola Sturgeon.

Working in Shetland this afternoon I have spoken to a number of residents, and they are shocked and appalled by Mr Carmichael’s behaviour.

He has said he considers that this would be a matter which, had he still been in cabinet, would have required his resignation as a Minister. In my view, had Mr Carmichael continued to be part of the government post-election, this may never have come to light. It is exactly this kind of cover up in so many aspects of the Westminster bubble that the majority of the people of Shetland and Scotland voted against.

It is incredible that he believes he can continue to represent the constituents he has openly misled.”

Jean condemns Cameron’s draconian and unjust immigration plans

Jean launching her Not My Xenophobia campaign with Glasgow Girls campaigner Roza Salih and Scottish Greens co-convenor Maggie Chapman
Jean launching her Not My Xenophobia campaign with Glasgow Girls campaigner Roza Salih and Scottish Greens co-convenor Maggie Chapman
Jean Urquhart has spoken out against the radical anti-immigration plans announced by David Cameron this morning, and pledged to investigate ways the Scottish Parliament could resist some of the proposals.

In a speech at the Home Office, Cameron said the Queen’s Speech next week would include measures to create a criminal offence of ‘illegal working’ and confiscate the wages of undocumented migrants, adopt what he called a “deport-first-appeal-later” approach to immigration appeals, and make landlords and banks investigate the immigration status of tenants and customers.

Jean said:

“Cameron’s speech this morning scapegoated migrants, then used that as a pretext for shockingly draconian and unjust proposals. It’s hard to put it any more succinctly than the Sky reporter who summarised Cameron’s message to migrants as: ‘we are going to treat you like criminals.’

“His plan for a criminal offence of ‘illegal working’ is nothing less than a back-door way of criminalising undocumented migrants. If undocumented migrants working in our businesses and contributing to our economy really was the problem he claims, he would punish the employers, not the migrants.

“From Legal Aid cuts to employment tribunal charges, the Conservatives in government have made a concerted assault on access to justice and today’s speech continued that effort. His plan to deport undocumented migrants without appeal, forcing them to attempt to appeal remotely from another country, radically reduces the chance of a fair hearing.

“Cameron’s plan to turn landlords into immigration officers by making them investigate their tenants, and to automatically cancel tenancies when visas expire, seems to cross the line from immigration policy to housing policy – which is a devolved matter. So I will be looking into what the Scottish Parliament can do to protect our migrant tenants from suffering this intrusion and threat of homelessness.

“I’m hugely grateful to all those who have already taken part in the #notmyxenophobia campaign online by calling out anti-immigrant attitudes in politics and the media. This renewed attack on migrants makes it all the more important that refuse to be quiet in the face of xenophobia.”

Jean launched Not My Xenophobia in March, inviting Scots social media users to name-and-shame examples of xenophobic language, stereotypes and attitudes they see being used by newspapers, adverts, TV programmes and politicians. You can take part in the campaign by sharing any examples of bigotry and xenophobia on Twitter with the hashtag #notmyxenophobia, or on the campaign’s Facebook page, or by emailing

Speech: Jean calls for visas to let Scots uni graduates stay and work

On Tuesday, the Scottish Parliament debated a Government motion calling for a return of the post-study work visas, once known as the ‘Fresh Talent’ scheme, that allowed overseas students who graduated from Scottish universities to stay and work in Scotland after their degree. Jean supported the motion, and called for Scotland to have control its own immigration policy more generally, so that we can have a welcoming system that meets our needs. The motion passed by 93 votes to nil, with 12 Conservatives abstaining, as did a Labour amendment recognising the work of former First Minister Jack McConnell in creating Fresh Talent.

On this page you can read Jean’s speech, and watch the video of the debate – Jean’s contribution starts at 1:58:35. You can read the full transcript of debate in the Scottish Parliament’s Official Report.

Jean Urquhart (Highlands and Islands) (Ind): This is a timely debate and it is heartening to hear that there is cross-party support for the reintroduction of post-study work visas.

We have heard from all members who have spoken about the contribution that overseas students make, whether cultural, social, economic and educational, but in spite of the reputation of Scottish colleges and universities, we cannot assume that they will keep coming.

Competition in the education sector is tough. Many of our colleges and universities are making greater and greater efforts to attract students from around the globe, even to the extent of changing their names. The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama is now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. That change to the name was not made because people demanded it; it was made to attract students and so that they could better understand the college’s work and its potential.

It is no matter that our universities and colleges are the best or that they are opening branches in many other countries around the globe. It might be that the growing number of such courses will produce graduates there with degrees from the University of Glasgow, the University of Edinburgh or, indeed, the University of the Highlands and Islands.

What will bring those students here? It is not enough to be the best, or to provide good student associations and a welcome. As the institutions know, they need all the support that they can get to maintain or grow the international student community. The post-study work visa is only one good reason to apply to one university over another, but it is perhaps the most important.

Some of the partner colleges in the University of the Highlands and Islands have developed the potential for business experience to follow the course as well as being part of the course. For example, were they allowed to stay after graduation, textiles students in Shetland could access equipment—large industrial knitting machines, for example—to develop better business skills and experience whether or not there was a market for their products.

Manufacturing must be one of the most important areas for us to cover, so the opportunity of getting such experience for the period after graduation is certainly an attractive option, and Scotland has a great deal to offer in that respect.

All the papers that we have received from NUS Scotland or business organisations show cross-sector and cross-party support for the reintroduction of post-study work visas.

I am not sure about the Smith Commission process. It occurs to me, particularly after listening to Lord Lang on the radio this morning, that that process might not be the quickest method by which to put in place the developments that we need. It is incumbent on all members to show that there is real urgency about the issue. The fresh talent initiative has been referred to—all credit to Jack McConnell and the Labour Party for it. It is important to acknowledge that they brought it about, but it is also important to note that if we had the powers over immigration that Scotland needs and clearly deserves, the fresh talent initiative would surely still be in place and we would not need to have this debate.

It was disingenuous of Liam McArthur to try to somehow link all the evidence from academics, businesses and agencies that support the post-study work visas with the danger that not everyone will agree. By way of evidence, he cited BBC Scotland’s evidence that people in Scotland are not unlike people south of the border in their views on immigration.

Liam McArthur: The point that I was trying to make is that the assumption that the population in Scotland takes a radically different approach to immigration from the approach of the population south of the border is not borne out by the BBC survey or by attitude surveys over a number of years. Kenny MacAskill made a fair point about the leadership that we need to show, and it is worth acknowledging that we do not work with a more enlightened or progressive population on the whole.

Jean Urquhart: I thank Liam McArthur for that. In fact, I was just going to refer to Kenny MacAskill’s point that it is up to us to take a lead. It ill behoves us to constantly hark back to what is in some ways a bigger issue. We had a debate on immigration last week, in which we were all very much agreed, and those points were well made by members at the time.

Joan McAlpine talked about MIT, which is a great example of the fact that, where creativity is developed, it can flourish. Scotland needs to have control of immigration if we are to realise our full potential. We must push for the issue to be considered outwith the Smith Commission process. It is a serious and important issue for Scotland and for our colleges. More than that, it is seriously important for the kind of economic development that we want. We have acknowledged that we are talking about thousands of students. Why on earth would we want that talent to be educated in Scotland and then insist that they leave? That cannot be right. I hope that we will push for the issue to be dealt with in the House of Commons and for our case to be made outwith the Smith Commission process.