Scottish Tories left isolated as Holyrood unites in vote to damn ‘abhorrent’ rape clause

Nathanael Williams

Scottish Tories left out in the cold by vote condemning parent party in Westminster over two child policy  

THE SCOTTISH TORIES were left political and morally isolated as all progressive parties of the Scottish Parliment united yesterday (Tuesday 25 April) to pass a motion condemning the UK Government’s two child tax credit limitation policy which features the controversial “rape clause”.

By a majority of 91 to 31, SNP, Scottish Labour, Scottish Greens and Liberal Democrats in Holyrood voted to pass a motion describing the clause as “repugnant and morally unacceptable”.

The passage of the motion follows a month which has seen women-led protests in Glasgow and Edinburgh, over concerns that the new rules would place women into a humiliating or even dangerous position.

Leader of the Scottish Tories Ruth Davidson has faced accusations of “heartlessness” and lack of independence from her Westminister party led by UK Prime Minister Theresa May.

The Scottish Tories had also drawn the anger of all opponents and charities by suggesting that the Scottish Government “mitigate” the UK Government’s policy, which would cost up to £200m in extra spending according to an independent Holyrood committee. With their parent party implementing the policy in government in Westminister, the Tories in Scotland have not heeded fierce opposition from charities, health professionals and women’s groups, in their ongoing support for the policy.

Scottish Women’s Aid (SWA), after the debate and vote, released a statement which said: “This issue has always been about more than the rape clause – as horrific as that is – and we are glad today’s debate in the Scottish Parliament demonstrated the broad range of harm the two child policy inflicts. 

“Any policy that actively and knowingly pushes women and children into poverty has no place in our society, and it is not something that we can support. Today’s debate in Holyrood confirmed that the vast majority of MSPs agree, and we hope that this cross-party support sends a strong message to those with the power and means to repeal this policy.

Our opposition and resistance to this policy is not going anywhere, nor we suspect is that of the Scottish public, poverty organisations, children’s organisations and sister organisations working to end violence against women and children.”

SWA, Rape Crisis Scotland (RCS) and Engender have been among charities which have consistently condemned the policy which restricts child tax credits to families with more than two children and forces women to reveal if a third or subsequent child was the result of rape.

A list of the Scottish Tory MSPs who voted against the condemnation of the rape clause

They have also been clear that they will not “collude” with a UK Government plan to deploy “third party” groups or health professionals to help assess whether women are telling the truth about being raped, declaring such a policy as “barbaric and cruel”.

The policy, which limits tax credits to two children with an exemption for women who have conceived as a result of rape, was introduced in April as part of wider welfare reforms.

In the chamber, the policy came under sustained attack by all parties bar the Scottish Tories, who defend it. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who brought the motion, began the attack against the rape clause saying it “showed callousness” in UK Government policy. Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale made a heartbreaking plea as she read the Holyrood chamber a letter from a woman who will be affected by the controversial clause. 

The letter said: “I claimed tax credits from birth to eleven months old; the hand-up I needed when I was at my most vulnerable to allow me to re-stabilise my family. Tax credits kept our heads above water, a buffer between us and the food bank, for that I am eternally grateful.

“Any policy that actively and knowingly pushes women and children into poverty has no place in our society.” SWA

“There is no way I could complete that awful form of shame, no matter what the consequences.”

Alison Johnstone of the Scottish Greens used her speaking time to impress on the chamber how the rape clause was “part of wider agenda of austerity and violence against women all across the UK.”

Alexander Cole Hamilton of the Scottish Liberal Democrats added that the “two-child cap necessitating rape clause was unfair & inhumane, barbaric and likely to “push more families onto the breadline.”

Defending the UK Government, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson warned against the “wilful misrepresentation of the process for claiming an exemption” which she said could cause “fear and alarm”. During her speech, she also asked whether Holyrood was “simply a soapbox to attack Westminister” refusing to take any interventions from other MSPs which cause outbursts from other parties.

At present, the policy is still in force, but charities say they will continue to push for its repeal.

Picture courtesy of Scottish Parliament TV

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