Since forming the Scottish Government in 2007, the SNP have led the way in making Scotland one of the most LGBTI-friendly nations across the globe.
Now the Scottish Government’s announcement that it will bring forward legislation to pardon all gay and bisexual men who were convicted for same-sex sexual activity under past homophobic laws that are no longer on the statute book, is another historic action taken by the SNP government to forward LGBTI equality in Scotland.
Under the Scottish Government’s proposed legislation all those who have convictions for same-sex sexual activity that is now lawful will automatically be pardoned. Separately the Scottish Government has also been engaging with Police Scotland to identify the most effective way to ensure those discriminatory convictions no longer appear on a person’s criminal record.
This Scottish ‘Turing Law’ will see Scotland once again leading the way on LGBTI equality – building on the huge progress we have made in recent years from the passage of equal marriage, to our inclusive hate crime protections, and dramatic improvements in social attitudes towards the LGBTI community.
It is amazing to think how far we have come as a country on LGBTI equality since homosexuality was finally decriminalised in 1980. The progress we have made since the Scottish Parliament was re-convened in 1999 has seen Scotland become ranked as the best country in Europe for LGBTI legal rights.
With the Scottish Parliament we have been able to change laws and attitudes for the better, but despite this welcome and hard-won progress we must never forget the appalling way that LGBTI people have been treated in the UK throughout our recent past and for many centuries.
The criminalisation of gay and bisexual men, who were cautioned and convicted under homophobic laws that banned sex between consenting adult men is a blemish on our history and it is right that we now address this injustice with an automatic pardon and a system that allows people to have these discriminatory convictions removed from their records.
I am proud that the Justice Secretary Michael Matheson, is taking the lead on giving a full pardon to gay and bisexual men while the UK government continues to drag its feet. My version of the Turing Bill, supported by organisations like Stonewall, could have delivered that for men in England and Wales. Yet despite the promise of no dirty tricks from the Tories, the UK government’s minister talked my bill out so it never even received a vote. Thank goodness we have a Scottish Parliament and government that can push these important issues forward, rather than being held back by Westminster.
While we can never fully make up for the huge damage these convictions caused to LGBTI people’s lives – or the wider negative impact these homophobic laws had on society – I hope and believe that this full pardon by the Scottish Government can at least provide some sense of closure for these men and their families. I hope it can also send a signal out about the kind of country Scotland wants to be and is becoming renowned for.
And while there is still more to do before LGBTI people have full equality, this is yet another important step taken by the Scottish Government towards that fair and equal Scotland we all want to see.
John Nicolson is SNP MP for East Dunbartonshire and Westminster Spokesperson for Culture, Media and Sport.