SNP youth to campaign for sex work decriminalisation following national conference

Caitlin Logan

Young SNP members commit to non-party grassroots independence campaign and efforts to tackle gender inequality

AT THE ANNUAL CONFERENCE of Young Scots for Independence (YSI), the youth wing of the SNP, members unanimously passed a motion to back decriminalisation of sex work, in a move which sets them apart from the official party position.

At the SNP’s spring conference this year, a motion to back a form of the Nordic model, which would decriminalise the sale of sex but criminalise the purchase of sex, was passed narrowly by members. At the autumn conference, an amendment to a motion to end sexual exploitation by landlords which would have expanded the wording to include all forms of exchange for sex narrowly failed.

It is evident then that there is no singular party view on this subject, and YSI has now made clear its own distinct view, for which it will try to gain wider party support.

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Speaking to CommonSpace, Gavin Lundy, who was elected this weekend as the new national convener for YSI explained the decision: “The central reason behind our shift in position is safety. We believe that decriminalisation will prevent sex workers being forced to work alone in unsafe environments and will allow them to report unsafe clients with the knowledge that they will not receive criminal charges themselves.

“It’s worth noting that our position is shared by organisations like WHO (World Health Organisation) and Amnesty International. YSI members Christina Cannon and Emma Hendrie have been leading this fight, they have put in serious work within our party and it was great to see them bringing this conversation forward.”

At present, the exchange of sexual services for money in itself is legal in Scotland, but associated offences, such as solicitation, kerb-crawling, operating a brothel, or other forms of pimping, mean that those involved risk criminalisation in a number of ways.

Asked about YSI’s response to critics of decriminalisation, who commonly argue that the move could be seen as promoting sexual objectification of women, or promoting sex work itself and thereby putting people at risk, Lundy said: “We pass no judgement on the people who choose to work in the industry.

“I of course recognise that this is a difficult topic to discuss, but like all good policy our position is based only on outcomes and well-being.

“If sex work is carried out then it should be carried out safely, and there isn’t enough evidence to show that decriminalisation would encourage the growth of the industry.”

READ MORE: SNP members back creation of new law against “sex for rent”

The motion was one of five passed by the members, four of which were linked to issues commonly associated with gender inequality. The conference also backed a motion for the Scottish Government to provide free personal care to Northern Irish women travelling to Scotland for an abortion; a motion to call on governments at all levels to provide sexual consent education for all young people; and a motion to encourage companies to end gendered marketing.

Asked whether this thematic focus was a conscious decision, Lundy said: “Achieving gender equality is intrinsic to our vision of a fairer Scotland, so if we weren’t addressing these issues we simply wouldn’t be living up to our own aims.

“We’re making progress within our own organisation with more and more young women becoming involved and our policy direction is reflecting this welcome change.”

The motion on sexual consent education, put forward by Sarah Masson and Rory Steel, situated itself within the context of the #MeToo social media campaign and the need to prevent sexual harassment, assault and rape.

While all members were in full agreement, Lundy said there was “a genuinely heartening discussion on consent, language, and culture”, in which some of the young men of the YSI argued for the need to “address the toxicity of ‘lad culture’ by being better feminists themselves”.

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“It’s clear that we need to improve education and start to nurture good understandings of consent and language from a young age,” he said.

A motion to support a non-party, grassroots campaign for independence was also passed by the conference, which recognised the success of the non-party, grassroots organisation Assemblea Nacional Catalana in Catalonia as a model from which to learn.

Lundy said: “The YSI agreed that if we are to ever win and independence referendum, then we must start building support for independence today. We’ve learned from our friends in Catalonia that building support requires a movement with grassroots engagement and hard work every day.

“We may not be in a referendum campaign period right now, but that doesn’t make Scottish independence any less of the right thing for our country. Young people have the biggest stake in the constitutional question.

“The YSI will therefore support ongoing efforts to build a coalition for independence that includes Scottish civil society and is not limited to one party.”

These policies will now be considered by the YSI for taking forward to the SNP’s National Conference. At the autumn conference this year, YSI succeeded in making it SNP policy to raise the military recruitment age to 18, after a motion was passed overwhelmingly by members. 

Picture courtesy of PJ Starr

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