The Bill that was struck down by silence 

5 July 2013

Rhoda Grant’s Bill was a serious solution to a serious subject, to make the purchase of sexual services illegal in Scotland.

It was based on  the experience of Sweden where a Bill had been passed into law in 1999, the basis of which regarded prostitution as an obstruction towards sexual equality and a form of violence against women. 

Over a decade later, with easier means of movement across the European Union and with countries collaborating to tackle the trafficking of women across national boundaries for the purposes of prostitution, the Bill was timely and appropriate.

Public opinion of women in prostitution is, to some extent, mistakenly shaped by their glamorised portrayal in TV drama and films as the career choice of, at least a few, independent-minded women.

But this is a far cry from real life where women are prostituted  through sexual abuse, drugs, alcohol , and very low self-worth, and live with the constant fear of being raped, and  indecently and violently assaulted. 

Rhoda’s consultation on her proposed Bill gathered in around 1,000 submissions, around 80 per cent of which supported the Bill. 

It was also backed by several health bodies, charities and health professionals.

To proceed  with a Private Member’s Bill to criminalise the purchase of sex , cross-party support in the Scottish Parliament is needed.

The Tories agreed to support it.

The Greens sat on their hands along with the Independent group of MSPs, as did the Liberal Democrats.

However, what determined the fate of Rhoda’s proposed Bill was the attitude of the SNP Government.

A three-line whip, normally reserved for formal votes on business submitted by the political parties, was imposed on all SNP MSPs not to support the Bill.

Unanimity had been achieved, creating  the sound of silence.

If the SNP had been true to their position that prostitution is a form of violence then Rhoda Grant’s Bill was an opportunity to demonstrate it and debate it, not to stifle it .

As Rhoda said,

“They now need to explain how they will tackle this problem.

“Laws surrounding prostitution will continue to penalise women and only deal with public nuisance while allowing the punter – the perpetrator of this crime – to get away scot-free.

“These issues will not go away as women continue to be coerced into prostitution.”

At the same time as her Bill fell due to lack of cross-party support, the First Minister attempted to present himself as the Conscience of Scotland, on the side of women, saying that he would not attend the Open Golf Championship at Muirfield this month because of its policy of men-only membership.

He said, “ I don't think it helps the game to have the suggestion of a bias against women, and the greatest tournament on this planet should have this impression that somehow ladies, women, girls, should be second class citizens.

" I don't think that's right."

In this Alex Salmond is absolutely correct.

However, this stance became somewhat ambivalent when it was revealed soon afterwards that the SNP Tourism Minister Fergus Ewing would be representing the Scottish Government at the very same Muirfield championship that Alex Salmond was not attending.

Further revelations showed that in 2011 Mr. Salmond attended the Open Golf Championship at Royal St George’s, another men-only membership club. 

From now till the Referendum serious issues such as those which Rhoda Grant’s Bill addressed will be put on hold. 

Any issue that is not on the  Salmond Government’s agenda of projecting a vision of an ideal, post-Referendum Scotland from now till September next year will be sidelined. 

It seems that on that basis, and on that basis alone, Rhoda Grant’s Bill was allowed to fall, and prostituted women are left to fend for themselves once again.



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