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Staff from Edinburgh College celebrate their win

Congratulations to Edinburgh College, founded in October, which has won its first national award since it was created with a campaign to raise awareness for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) youth community. The college scooped the title in the Equality and Diversity category at Scotland’s Colleges Annual Awards for its LGBT History Month which was marked with the launch of its LGBT Society – a support group to address homophobic bullying.

Myra McCabe, Head of Student Services at Edinburgh College, said that she was “delighted to see Edinburgh College win its first award – less than two months since we were created. Edinburgh College is the first Scottish college to launch this kind of initiative and for the campaign to be recognised at a national level is a significant milestone as we believe it can grow and help many people in their constant battles for acceptance.

“It’s been extremely rewarding to see other colleges following our example as to how homophobic bullying can be addressed with a hub like the LGBT Society, where people can share their experiences and talk openly about the issues affecting them.”

To promote equality and diversity for LGBT History Month, a series of events and workshops were organised including a production of the play The Laramie Project; a self-produced ‘It Gets Better’ video and a LGBT Role Model Conference.

Myra added: “Each of the activities was aimed to expose the prejudices often facing individuals due to their sexuality but with messages of how with support from loved ones it does get better and they are not alone. Our LGBT History Month events made an impact on the college as there has been a reduction in the number of reported incidences of bullying against our LGBT community.

“This is fantastic news and I’d like to take the time to congratulate those involved in offering a support network in the college and giving Edinburgh College the opportunity to be nationally recognised for such a rewarding cause.”

Planning is underway for next year’s LGBT History Month event and the college is examining whether the lessons learned from this approach can be used to address and discuss other issues of Equality and Diversity.

Edinburgh College was formed as a result of merger between Edinburgh’s Telford College, Jewel & Esk College and Stevenson College Edinburgh. As a £60m business, it is the biggest FE college in Scotland and accommodates more than 35,000 students – the biggest student body in Edinburgh.

First Minister Alex Salmond <em>Picture: Scottish parliament</em>

First Minister Alex Salmond Picture: Scottish parliament

This address was given to the Scottish parliament by Alex Salmond on his re-election to the post of First Minister for Scotland, 18 May 2011.

When Donald Dewar addressed this parliament in 1999, he evoked Scotland’s diverse voices: “The speak of the Mearns. The shout of the welder above the din of the Clyde shipyard. The battle cries of Bruce and Wallace.”

Now these voices of the past are joined in this chamber by the sound of 21st-century Scotland. The lyrical Italian of Marco Biagi. The formal Urdu of Humza Yousaf. The sacred Arabic of Hanzala Malik. We are proud to have those languages spoken here alongside English, Gaelic, Scots and Doric.

This land is their land, from the sparkling sands of the islands to the glittering granite of its cities. It belongs to all who choose to call it home. That includes new Scots who have escaped persecution or conflict in Africa or the Middle East. It means Scots whose forebears fled famine in Ireland and elsewhere.

That is who belongs here, but let us be clear also about what does not belong here. As the song tells us, for Scotland to flourish then “Let us be rid of those bigots and fools / Who will not let Scotland, live and let live.”

Our new Scotland is built on the old custom of hospitality. We offer a hand that is open to all, whether they hail from England, Ireland, Pakistan or Poland. Modern Scotland is also built on equality. We will not tolerate sectarianism as a parasite in our national game of football or anywhere else in this society.

Scotland’s strength has always lain in its diversity. In the poem Scotland Small, Hugh MacDiarmid challenged those who would diminish us with stereotypes. “Scotland small?”, he asked. “Our multiform, our infinite Scotland, small? Only as a patch of hillside may be a cliche corner. To a fool who cries ‘Nothing but heather!’”

The point is even the smallest patch of hillside contains enormous variation – of bluebells, blaeberries and mosses. So to describe Scotland as nothing but heather is, said MacDiarmid, “Marvellously descriptive! And totally incomplete!”

To describe Scotland as small is similarly misleading. Scotland is not small. It is not small in imagination and it is not short in ambition. It is infinite in diversity and alive with possibility.

Two weeks ago, the voters of Scotland embraced that possibility. They like what their parliament has done within the devolved settlement negotiated by Donald Dewar. They like what the first, minority SNP government achieved. Now they want more.

They want Scotland to have the economic levers to prosper in this century. They are excited by the opportunity to re-industrialise our country through marine renewable energy, offering skilled, satisfying work to our school leavers and graduates alike. But they also know we need the tools to do the job properly.

This chamber understands that too. My message today is let us act as one and demand Scotland’s right. Let us build a better future for our young people by gaining the powers we need to speed recovery and create jobs.

Let us wipe away past equivocation and ensure that the present Scotland Act is worthy of its name.

There is actually a great deal on which we are agreed. The three economic changes I have already promoted to the Scotland Bill were chosen from our manifesto because they command support from other parties in this chamber.

All sides of this parliament support the need for additional and immediate capital borrowing powers so we can invest in our infrastructure and grow our economy. I am very hopeful that this will be delivered.

The Liberal Democrats, Greens and many in the Labour party agree that Crown Estate revenues should be repatriated to Scottish communities. We await Westminster’s reply. Our leading job creators back this government’s call for control of corporation tax to be included in the Scotland Bill.

The secretary of state for Northern Ireland – a Conservative – supports the devolution of this tax, and the cross-party committee of this last parliament agreed unanimously that if the principle was conceded in Northern Ireland then Scotland must have the same right.

But these are not the only issues which carry support across this chamber. There are three more constitutional changes we might agree on. Why not give us control of our own excise duty? We have a mandate to implement a minimum price for alcohol. We intend to pursue that in this parliament come what may.

However, our Labour colleagues agree that it is correct to set a minimum price for alcohol, but they were concerned about where the revenues would go. Gaining control of excise would answer that question. It means we can tackle our country’s alcohol problem and invest any additional revenue in public services. So I ask Labour members to join with me in calling for control of alcohol taxes so that we together we can face down Scotland’s issue with booze.

Another key aspect of our national life controlled by Westminster is broadcasting. All of Scotland is poorly served as a result. If we had some influence over this currently reserved area we could, for example, create a Scottish digital channel – something all the parties in this parliament supported as long ago as 8 October 2008.

We agree that such a platform would promote our artistic talent and hold up a mirror to the nation. How Scotland promotes itself to the world is important. How we talk to each other is also critical.

These are exciting times for our country. We need more space for our cultural riches and for lively and intelligent discourse about the nation we are and the nation we aspire to be.

Finally, many of us agree that, in this globalised era, Scotland needs more influence in the European Union and particularly in the Council of Ministers. At the moment that is in the gift of Westminster.

Sometimes it is forthcoming, more often it is withheld. We in the Scottish National Party argue for full sovereignty – it will give us an equal, independent voice in the EU.

However, short of that, the Scotland Bill could be changed to improve our position. When the first Scotland Act was debated in Westminster in 1998, there was a proposal, as I remember, from the Liberal Democrats, to include a mechanism to give Scotland more power to influence UK European policy. It was defeated then, but why not revisit it now? Let Scotland have a guaranteed say in the forums where decisions are made that shape our industries and our laws.

I have outlined six areas of potential common ground where there is agreement across the parliament to a greater or lesser extent: borrowing powers, corporation tax, the Crown Estate, excise duties, digital broadcasting and a stronger say in European policy.

I think we should seize the moment and act together to bring these powers back home. Let this parliament move forward as one to make Scotland better.

Norman MacCaig observed that when you swish your hand in a stream, the waters are muddied, but then they settle all the clearer. On 5 May the people of our country swished up the stream and now the way ahead is becoming clear.

We see our nation emerge from the glaur of self-doubt and negativity. A change is coming, and the people are ready. They put ambition ahead of hesitation. The process is not about endings. It is about beginnings.

Whatever changes take place in our constitution, we will remain close to our neighbours. We will continue to share a landmass, a language and a wealth of experience and history with the other peoples of these islands

My dearest wish is to see the countries of Scotland and England stand together as equals There is a difference between partnership and subordination. The first encourages mutual respect. The second breeds resentment.

So let me finish with the words of Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, who addressed this parliament in 1706, before it was adjourned for 300 years. He observed that: “All nations are dependent; the one upon the many.” This much we know. But he warned that if “the greater must always swallow the lesser,” we are all diminished. His fears were realised in 1707.

But the age of empires is over. Now we determine our own future based on our own needs. We know our worth and should take pride in it.

So let us heed the words of Saltoun and “Go forward into the community of nations to lend our own, independent weight to the world.”

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Helen Eadie, one of 45 woman MSPs <em>Picture: Scottish Parliament</em>

Helen Eadie, one of 45 woman MSPs Picture: Scottish Parliament

By Karen Dargo

Alex Salmond and the SNP may have achieved a historic victory in the 2011 Scottish parliament elections, but the male-dominated political landscape looks suspiciously like “politics as usual”.

In the latest elections, women took just 45 out of 129 seats in Holyrood (34.8 per cent), compared with previous highs of 39.5 per cent in the 2003 elections and 37.2 per cent in 1999. Although the SNP has a number of high-profile women, including deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon, just over a quarter of the SNP’s winning candidates are female.

The 2011 parliament is made up of 45 women and 84 men. Women comprise 19 of the 69-strong SNP group (27.5 per cent), 17 of the 37 Scottish Labour MSPs (45.9 per cent), six out of 15 Conservatives (40 per cent), and one of five Liberal Democrats (20 per cent). One of the two Green MSPs elected is female and the one independent candidate returned is a woman. Overall, the number of female MSPs has risen slightly since the immediate post-2007 election results, when there were 43 women MSPs.

The 2011 results are a case of “stalling not falling”. For Engender, the election results raise questions as to the future prospects of women’s political representation in Scotland, pointing to underlying trends of further decline in the recruitment and election of female candidates.

Overall, the proportion of female candidates fell from 36.1 per cent in 2007 to 29.5 per cent in 2011, fuelling fears that we would see a significant fall in women elected. While the drop materialised in the constituency vote where only 20 women (27.4 per cent) were elected, the effect was mitigated by the higher number of women elected on regional lists (25 women or 44.6 per cent).

This was the first election to see more women elected from the regional list than by constituency, and here the “zipping” of candidates (alternating one female, one male) on the Labour party lists – the only positive action measure used – delivered.

A report into the election results for Engender found that there were clear gendered patterns of candidate placement in the 2011 elections, with women candidates generally placed in lower positions on party lists and less likely to be selected to contest safe or winnable constituency seats.

There is little evidence that political parties are making any ongoing efforts to reform the norms and practices of political recruitment in Scotland. If political parties are serious about making real advances in women’s political representation, then they must make a firm commitment – including the use of equality guarantees to ensure equal representation at Holyrood.

“Our politicians say they want a parliament that reflects the society it represents,” said Engender director, Niki Kandirikiria, “but appear unwilling to take the measures available to them to get this. When the parties come to review their election strategy they should include a full debate on adopting measures which would deliver a truly representative parliament.”

Engender is a membership organisation that works in Scotland and Europe on an anti-sexist agenda to increase women’s power and influence and make visible the impact of sexism on women, men and society.

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