The Scottish Parliament is currently in recess, which allows MSPs to get out and about in their constituencies a bit more or – in the case of the First Minister last week – pack in numerous engagements during a trip to the United States.
Nicola Sturgeon’s visit included the signing of a climate change memorandum of understanding with the Government of California. Both California and Scotland have set ambitious goals, seeking to cut greenhouse gases 80% by 2050, with the Under 2 Memorandum of Understanding (Under2MOU). This refers to the goal of limiting global warming to below 2° Celsius.
For those involved in Orkney’s renewable energy industry there may well be opportunities associated with this, as both governments have undertaken to share ideas and best practices on how they have reduced greenhouse gases and expanded renewable energy development, including by providing expert staff support to other jurisdictions and to leading working groups within the Under2MOU Coalition on these and related topics.
Elsewhere the First Minister spoke at Stanford University about Scotland’s place in the world, and fielded questions on topics such as Brexit, Scotland’s economy and independence. In New York, she spoke at the United Nations, where she discussed the importance of human rights and mediation as a way of preventing conflict.
Nicola Sturgeon also announced that the Scottish Government will provide an additional £1.2m to train women from war zones on conflict resolution and peacekeeping techniques, following a successful pilot project last year.
However, perhaps the highlight for me was when the First Minister spoke at the Women in the World conference. During a Q&A session she discussed issues such as gender equality, climate change, and a second independence referendum. But it was her explanation of the ‘rape clause’ that drew audible gasps from the audience. The new policy limits tax credits for children to a family’s first- and second-born, but with an exemption for subsequent children if they were born as a result of nonconsensual sex. This requires a mother to prove her child was conceived by rape.
Before describing the policy, Nicola Sturgeon apologised to the audience ‘because I get angry and upset just talking about this’.
And little wonder. As a fellow female politician I can only endorse the following statement from the First Minister: “That policy was introduced by a woman prime minister,” she said. “That’s the point I’m making. It’s not enough to be a woman in politics — you have to do the right thing.”
Exemplifying this, on the same day the UK Government brought in the ‘rape clause’, the Scottish Government announced that the two child cap would not be implemented in Scotland’s Council Tax Reduction Scheme. This scheme reduces the council tax those on low incomes have to pay, with over 75% of recipients not having to pay any council tax at all.
I am proud that the Scottish Government is refusing to follow this callous two-child cap policy. In doing they we are putting dignity and respect at the heart of their new system and recognising that it is their job to support people to get back on their feet, not make it more difficult.
This is a regular fortnightly column by local MSP Maree Todd SNP