My Speech on the UNCRPD Judgement at the SNP Conference

 

“Conference, delegates, friends. I know I speak for the whole Disabled Members Group, and for disabled people up and down the country, when I say we are deeply grateful for the overwhelming support shown by so many branches, members and elected representatives for this resolution.

When the UK signed up to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities in 2009, Labour were in government, and although disabled people were already dying from Blair’s reforms, the full weight of these seemingly disparate deaths wasn’t yet understood.

A year later, when the Coalition took office, we know that they had already received a Coroner’s Report on the Prevention of Future Deaths, which would save lives if implemented. Iain Duncan Smith and Chris Grayling decided to ignore it, and the Tory/LibDem Coalition dedicated their time in government to implementing sweeping, devastating cuts to social security, health and social care – a programme which continues to cut further and deeper with every passing year.

In 2012, Disabled People Against Cuts began the formal process of triggering a UN investigation into violations of the CRPD. This was based not just on the lives lost, but on the multitude of ways the Austerity cuts have made life harder for disabled people. We have been pushing for a cumulative impact study for years, because disabled people are rarely affected by just one cut.

It takes a long time to initiate an investigation, as multiple sources of evidence have to be submitted, verified and researched. In 2014, the UK became the first government to ever be investigated by the CRPD, a shameful mark on our history. No UN investigation is undertaken frivolously – there has to be significant, verified evidence for the process to even begin.

In the years since, hundreds of people have testified, and thousands of pages of documentary evidence have been gathered and submitted. In November, the first judgement was passed: that the UK Government had committed ‘grave and systematic violations of the human rights of disabled people’.

Westminster’s response at the time was a shrug of the shoulders. In late August, the UNCRPD met again for a periodic assessment of the UK’s adherence, or lack of, to the Convention. Two members of our Disabled Members Group, John McCardle of Black Triangle and Bill Scott of Inclusion Scotland, were in Geneva to testify. The UNCRPD’s judgement on the 31st of August was stark: The UK government has created a ‘human catastrophe’ in the disabled population. They noted that Westminster has systematically misled the public about the impact of government policies, refusing to answer questions and misusing statistics to create a false impression. They particularly criticised the use of dangerous rhetoric which demonises disabled people.

Again, this has been met with a shrug. Westminster responded that they don’t accept these findings, and a few soundbites about ‘the most needy’ and ‘£50billion’. The first is a weasel phrase about slightly increasing support to a tiny fraction of people with severe disabilities while stripping it from everyone else, and the second ignores the vast economic, human and ethical cost of isolating, warehousing and killing disabled people. In 2015, in England and Wales alone, research linked 30,000 excess deaths to cuts in health and social care. That’s more than 3 deaths every single hour for a whole year. Hundreds of suicides have been linked to sanctions and disability assessments, and the death toll keeps rising.

The Scottish Government has attempted to mitigate the worst effects and ensure that disabled people have the rights and freedoms accorded by the Convention. They should not have to spend hundreds of millions of pounds to protect people from Westminster and people in the other nations of the UK should not be left behind. Westminster must, as a matter of urgency, undertake a full cumulative impact assessment, halt all impending changes until that is carried out, and immediately engage with the recommendations of the UNCRPD. Failure to do so confirms that international law is not something the UK much cares about and they have no interest in meeting their obligations. That should be noted by all countries negotiating with us over the next few years.

Scotland’s Parliament is founded on the principles of human rights for all. We work hard to be better today than we were yesterday, to fight for the people who live here whoever they might be and whatever circumstances they find themselves in. As my colleague Paula Peters said at the Labour Conference – disabled people are not voiceless. We have voices, we just need you to listen. Disabled people began this process, saw it through, and will hold the government to account on its successes and failures.

We demand justice for the dead, and rights for the living. Please support this resolution.
Thank you.”

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The Thing Which Haunts Me

So there has been another mass shooting. I won’t talk about location or numbers, for reasons which will become clear. My heart breaks for the victims and their families, for the survivors and the emergency personnel who will live with this forever.

I won’t repeat the statistics or the argument. We all know them by now. We all know that knives and cars have purposes other than killing people, and that there is a bigger problem than just the weapons used. We all know, because this has happened before and we have these arguments every time. I am haunted by the tweet from Dan Hodges which said “In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.”

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I am haunted by the words of the trauma surgeon, Amy Goldberg, in the stunning piece of journalism ‘What Bullets Do To Bodies’, by Jason Fagone.

“Goldberg said that if people had been shown the autopsy photos of the kids, the gun debate would have been transformed. “The fact that not a single one of those kids was able to be transported to a hospital, tells me that they were not just dead, but really really really really dead. Ten-year-old kids, riddled with bullets, dead as doornails.” Her voice rose. She said people have to confront the physical reality of gun violence without the polite filters. “The country won’t be ready for it, but that’s what needs to happen. That’s the only chance at all for this to ever be reversed.””

She continues to say that black kids have been dying for decades and nobody really cares, but she thought that a class full of tiny, white bodies from a privileged part of Connecticut might do it.

I am haunted by President Obama’s speeches. Nothing, to me, more readily displays the weight of office than the way he looked by the end of his term, barely holding back the anger at how little he had been allowed to do to change things. Knowing that every speech he made was just one more in a long line of speeches about massacres, because the next one would be around any day now.

And there’s what haunts me most.

Somewhere in the US right now, the next collection of victims of the next mass shooting are going about their final weeks. They don’t know yet that they will soon be faces in a mosaic on the front pages of international newspapers, that their friends, family, neighbours and coworkers will be doorstepped by journalists looking for answers about who they were, these latest in a long line of the dead.

Somewhere, they are going through the litany of daily life. I hope their last weeks are peaceful. I hope they have moments of joy. I hope they remember, on whatever day it happens, to tell people that they love them. I hope they don’t have time to be afraid. I hope they are loved.

Sarwar’s ‘Sacrifice’

So let’s recap. The current favourite in the Scottish Labour leadership contest, who has made a career out of being willing to say anything to make people happy without backing it up with actions, has (according to Jackie Baillie) made a brave and noble ‘sacrifice’, thus demonstrating ‘true leadership’.

What sacrifice might that be?

After spending his career telling everyone that Scottish Labour is, like, totally more left-wing than the SNP and the SNP is totally right-wing, it was uncovered that Sarwar’s family business, of which his minority share is worth nearly £5m, was not paying its employees a living wage.

He spent a few weeks waffling about it, even though the business clearly could support a living wage, and now he has made his ‘sacrifice’. Could he have agreed to pay back wages out of the profits? Or maybe even just agreed to pay the living wage from now on? Both of those would demonstrate that he was committed to what he claims are his principles.

Hahaha, nope. He has given up his shares in the business instead, so it can continue as it has been. Maybe he gave his shares away? Nope, again. He gave them to his kids.

So the millionaire exploiting his workers has avoided responsibility by giving £4.8m to his kids.

Sounds like he’s perfect for leading Scottish Labour.

What a fucking disappointment they are.

What Might Have Been

Usually, around this time, I am doing a lot to distract myself from the grief. Still recovering from my hospital stay, however, means I have too much time to think.

My heart aches, folks. I don’t mean ‘I’m a bit nostalgic’, though I am – that summer was such a beautiful part of my life. I don’t mean ‘I wish it had turned out differently’, though I do. I don’t even mean ‘I’m bitter about the consequences’, though I am.

My heart just aches because I keep imagining the Scotland we would have been living in by now. A lot of angst, a lot of rancour, certainly. We’d be angry at each other a lot of the time because we’d all have different ideas of what our new country should look like. We’d have been blamed for the oil downturn, and miscellaneous other Bad Stuff. We’d be fighting all the time about what to prioritise, what to focus on, how best to have dealt with the negotiations with rUK.

But imagine the Scotland we might have had: one where we control our own immigration so we don’t have to kick out the families and graduates who make our country so diverse and strong. We would have full control over the social security system and be rid of the need to mitigate the Bedroom Tax, and rid of the sanction regime and all the misery and waste that flows from it. We’d be able to focus investment in renewable tech and could have dealt with the oil downturn by redirecting expertise and experience there. We would no longer live under the shadow of the weapons of mass destruction which live so close to our biggest city.

We are so lucky to live here. Lucky beyond imagining. Even compared to the other countries in the UK, we are immensely lucky because we do have a Parliament which has stepped between the people and the murderous policies of the government where they can. Imagine if we didn’t have to do that – if we didn’t have to spend all our time and money and effort fixing the ‘human catastrophe’ (the UN’s words) that Westminster has caused. That luck sometimes makes us complacent, though – we think that it’s actually alright, being part of the UK, because things aren’t so bad really. The knowledge that it’s only by the sheer bloodymindedness of a group of people who refuse to allow our citizens to be killed by Westminster apparently escapes a lot of people.

If we didn’t have the Scottish Parliament, didn’t have the SNP in government at the Scottish Parliament, it’s almost unimaginable how much worse off we would be. I know they’re not perfect, and there’s a lot of work to be done, but I just keep imagining us being able to do that work. To be able to decide our priorities and our investments.

What a Scotland we could have had. My heart aches for that loss, for all the dead who could have survived if we had won. There was a cost to losing.

My heart aches for my country. Next time, I hope we’re braver, that we understand what is at stake.

The Line Between Glorifying Murder and Honouring A Death

I have been operating on the basis that my thought processes would be obvious, but realise now that they might not be.

The death of Heather Heyer is not something which should have happened. She did not go to that protest expecting to die. Nobody did. People are used to protesting, used to scuffles, but not used to the risk of death. She almost certainly would have jumped out of the way, given the chance.

Her death is one which should be honoured, because she died standing against Nazis. It doesn’t mean that her death was glorious or necessary. It was a brutal murder by a terrorist.

I have tried (and clearly, at times, failed) to talk about her death with the respect she deserves, because while she should not have died yesterday, she did.

People are not used to the risk, but you have to get used to it. Nazis are empowered in a way they haven’t been in a few decades, and are marching openly and without fear of reprisal. They will not be beaten by nice words and some voting. Standing against Nazis is a risk to your safety, and sometimes to your life, and so the choice to risk that has to be a conscious one. You have to make your decisions about what you are willing to risk to stop the rise of fascism. You have plenty of historical examples to look to for answers to the question, ‘at what point should I stop hoping this goes away?’

In trying to make sure that her death is not the death knell for opposition to the Nazis, we (I) risk glorifying her murder. That’s not what this is about. It’s about ensuring that we undertake this opposition with clear heads and understanding the cost. I do not believe that, if I were to die at a protest, I would want my death to be used to suppress opposition. I would want it to be a rallying cry – do not make my sacrifice in vain. Do not allow them to use my death to scare you into submission. But I am not her, so I don’t know what she would have wanted.

I think that the best way to honour her life is to keep fighting them, taking the necessary steps to ensure your safety as far as possible, but understanding that the risks exist. Nazis do not get beaten without a cost. Organise. Work with established antifa organisations who have been doing this for a long time. Stay in groups. Keep your head about you. If you can’t march, as many of us can’t, provide support and shelter for antifa where you can. Don’t take unnecessary risks hoping to be a martyr for the cause. That doesn’t honour Heyer in any way.

I would like to think that her death will be the end of this, but I doubt it. I think there is worse to come. I think that we will all have to take some risks in the near future if we are to avoid allowing fascism to reign again.

Remember her name. Honour her life. But do it by living to fight the Nazis, not dying for it.

A Short Note on the History of Punching Nazis in the UK: The Battle of Lewisham

When the ‘punching Nazis’ thing somehow became a thing to debate, many people in the UK looked on in bafflement at the people who said that it wasn’t effective. You can make the moral argument if you like, though I’ll refer you to the absolutely brilliant explanation of why ‘tolerance of all ideas’ is a flawed understanding of morality here: Tolerance Is Not A Moral Precept

Punching Nazis is effective. Back when the National Front was becoming a fierce political force in the UK, and the police were largely sympathetic to them, anti-racists and antifa united to ensure that no National Front rally or ‘patrol’ ever went unopposed. The streets of the UK were filled with running battles between punks and Nazi boneheads, and eventually the National Front just faded back to its core support. This is the issue with Nazis – they use tailored propaganda to draw angry, alienated people to their side to inflate their numbers. Most of the people marching with the National Front wouldn’t, if pressed, really agree with the basic principles of Naziism – they just wanted their lives to be less shit and were being told that it was the fault of all the brown people.

When the National Front marches and patrols were met with a bunch of angry punks willing to meet their threat of violence head on, the inflated support melted away, leaving the poor, sad, lonely little Nazi fucks with not much power and not much influence. The National Front still exists, but it’s mainly a laughingstock. They have to travel to each others’ protests and still can only muster about 20 people.

We got complacent, though. The BNP came along, with their suits and their ‘civil discourse’ about how some people were less human than others, and we figured that they weren’t *real* Nazis, so shouldn’t be met with the same reaction. They were ‘just talking’. Then the EDL, who thought the BNP weren’t extreme enough. Then Britain First. And suddenly we have fucking Nazis again, and they’ve taken control of a significant amount of political power, and people are suffering and dying because of it.

I’ll say it again: the existence of a Nazi is a threat of violence. They cannot be considered to be having ‘civil discourse’ at any point, because their entire existence rests on the principle that certain groups of people should be eradicated or subjugated. That is not civil, whether they’re speaking in a level tone of voice or not.

Read about the Battle of Lewisham. About the people who stepped the fuck up when Nazis were on our streets. Who risked their lives to beat back the tide.

And then step up.

Sagamihara: A Year Later, And Still Silence

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Found at https://www.accessible-japan.com/disability-hate-crime-sagamihara-victims/

 

A year on from the Sagamihara Massacre, still the only people I have ever, ever seen write about it or talk about it are disabled people. It was ignored at the time, and its anniversary has gone unmarked.

The killer specifically targeted disabled people, his friends knew of his plan, and he had presented a detailed plan to the government about how disabled people unable to live without need of carers should be euthanised, involuntarily if necessary.

In the days after the massacre, as soon as the victims became clear, the coverage disappeared from view. If not outright support, people in general reacted with either indifference or understanding of his point. The people he murdered in their sleep were ‘better off’. It was a ‘kindness’.

He stabbed 19 people to death because they were disabled. He tried to murder a further 26. It was a hate crime on a massive scale. But just as we report differently when parents murder their children if the victim was disabled, so too was the coverage either non-existent or sympathetic to the killer in this case.

I would tell you to #saytheirnames, but we don’t know them. They were never released. Observers have pointed out that this is, in large part, because of the shame attached to being disabled in Japan.