Marriage Tax Cuts Should Be Abolished

[Image Description: two wedding rings tied together on top of some US currency]

Marriage tax cuts ought to be abolished. Their existence is evidence that the state prefers humans to be in monogamous, legally-constituted unions over all other ways of living one’s life, and this is an outdated view that we must challenge. Marriage tax cuts discriminate against people who cannot be in a monogamous relationship for whatever reason, and if we want equality, they must go out the window.

Polygamous relationships exist, and can be perfectly healthy. If all partners in such a relationship are consenting to a polygamous relationship, then there is nothing which says this is any less or more valid, or that these partners are any less or more in love with each other, than those in a monogamous relationship. Since polygamous marriage is illegal, the existence of marriage tax cuts necessarily discriminates against people in such relationships who cannot marry.

Asexual and/or aromantic people also exist. While we can be in relationships, monogamous or otherwise, we often choose not to be. People who do not feel attraction, who do not want to be in a relationship and are perfectly happy to remain single throughout their lives cannot benefit from marriage tax cuts. Yet another group these exclude.

Marriage tax cuts are state endorsement of one very particular lifestyle, and they penalise people who do not conform to this specific lifestyle. It is a form of cultural hierarchy, whereby those who live as the government thinks they should live are rewarded while others are excluded. It is government overreach.

For those living in poverty, these probably seem like a lifeline, but what happens if the relationship starts to break down? People may fear having to pay more tax if they leave a relationship that is making them miserable. Coupled with the high cost of divorce, the current system in the UK encourages working class people in abusive relationships to remain with their spouse regardless. If we’re serious about tackling domestic violence, we need to change the system.

The institution of marriage is not, in itself, a bad thing. Yet the way our society places value on this institution to the exclusion of all else is a problem. There needs to be wholesale reform of the legal implications of marriage to bring relationship law into the 21st century, or people will continue to be excluded or trapped when they shouldn’t be. Therefore, we need to look at ending marriage tax cuts, and streamlining the divorce system.

The Hypocrisy of “Gender Critical” Feminists in the SNP

[Image Description: trans flag bearing words “trans rights are human rights”]

On the front page of today’s edition of The National there is a banner proclaiming the return to politics of former First Minister Alex Salmond, who was more recently in the news for being on trial accused of a number of sexual offences. While the court found Mr Salmond not guilty on most counts, and not proven on one, throughout the course of the investigation, he admitted to behaviour directed towards women which, while not criminal, is decidedly creepy.

The article itself describes a post-pandemic recovery plan which seems fairly generic and inoffensive, though I only skimmed the article. The headline is of far more interest than the content. That a newspaper saw fit to celebrate the supposed return to politics of a man who engaged in creepy behaviour towards women (again, you can be creepy without being criminal) is troubling. His ideas for a post-pandemic recovery are far from unique; so logically one can assume that the National chose to feature his name so prominently as they knew it would sell papers.

Salmond is a bully, who spent his political career intimidating those around him, particularly young women. He should not be welcome in Scottish politics, or in the SNP, especially among those who claim to stand up for women’s rights. Yet, funnily enough, those in the ‘gender critical’ wing of the party seem to be lauding his return to politics. Articles celebrating the election of candidates from the transphobic so-called “SNP Good Guys” slate also praise Salmond.

Men who think they can behave in a creepy manner towards women, and a society which decides this is acceptable so long as a court finds them not guilty, are symptomatic of a society where women are unsafe. And yet, the ‘gender critical’ feminists would have you believe that the greatest threat to women is trans people. It is almost as though these people do not actually care about women’s rights, but rather are choosing to demonise trans people out of hatred or for political reasons.

Let me be very clear. Trans rights are human rights, trans women are women, trans men are men, nonbinary people are nonbinary. None of these statements should be up for debate. Denying trans people the right to exist as their gender and to use the spaces they feel most comfortable in is discrimination, plain and simple. Throwing trans people under the bus in the name of “women’s rights” is horrible and disingenuous: giving trans people rights does not take rights away from women.

Their rhetoric in its own right is disgusting and transphobic. But it is also hugely hypocritical, particularly for those in the SNP. If the alleged defenders of women’s rights are willing to ally themselves to men like Salmond, then can they really call themselves defenders of women’s rights? No, they can’t. The Women’s Pledge wing of the SNP does not protect women, or the working class. It provides a platform for transphobes and fundamentalists who care about nothing beyond independence as an end in itself.

I support independence as a means to creating a fairer, more equal society. It is not an end in itself – in fact, I’m a proponent of open borders long-term – but rather a way to create a society in which things like the Tory war on disabled people can’t happen. A society where things are better for everyone regardless of their gender, gender identity, disability, race, religion or any other protected characteristic. And if our goal is not to create a better society, then what are we doing?

Bias, Propaganda & Media

[Image description: a pile of newspapers]

I avoid tabloids, I find them boring and most often inaccurate about political issues. When I choose to read the news, which I often do in spite of how much it upsets me, I choose to read news that focuses on more serious matters. To be clear, if you read tabloids, I have no issue with that, everyone is different and I have just personally chosen not to.

I prefer my sources to be as unbiased as possible, something that almost never happens due to human nature. That goes for bias in favour of my side just as much as against it. The echo chamber is less stressful, but I prefer a more rounded view.

Right now, I imagine if you are one of the people who followed me on twitter during the 2014 independence referendum, you might be putting on your angry comment hat, ready to inform me of BBC bias and why The National is the only good news source out there. Save your breath, because eighteen-year-old me might have joined you. I know all your arguments off by heart.

I don’t believe there is such a thing as a properly neutral news source. News is written by humans, and all humans have bias, no matter how unconscious, and no matter how much they try and fight it. That’s the nature of humanity, and fair enough. So, I believe it is important to seek out news from various sources to counter this, both ones you agree with and ones you do not.

I mean within reason, of course. I don’t advocate going online to seek out far-right propaganda sites or other extremist material. I mean the moderate ‘other side’, not the extremes. I don’t limit my reading exclusively to articles written by verified pro-independence, pro-EU individuals.

Most of the material out there is propaganda, for one side or the other. Such is the way of life, the internet and democracy. Which is why I don’t like to limit my reading to only that which confirms my own beliefs. If ‘my side’ does something wrong, I want to be aware. I don’t want to be the kind of person who believes those I agree with are infallible.

This is especially the case following recent events. Everyone in Scotland has seen the mountain of conspiracy theories put out there by everyone. I will not comment on the situation that started this. It is not my place; this endless discussion is harming abuse survivors and I do not feel comfortable participating in it myself.

Especially about issues such as this, however, I urge people, do not just accept what your friends say. Think critically about everything, it is the only way democracy can remain healthy.

At the end of it all

[Image: group of St Andrews University students wearing red gowns walking past the ruins of the cathedral.]

I have finished university. For so much of my time there, I never thought I would say those words. It has been an incredibly complicated time, leaving me with memories both brilliant and terrible, and more mental health problems than when I went into it, though a scarily large number of students would likely say the same thing.

As someone who had never struggled academically at school, I had huge problems adjusting, and found that my autism made it much harder than I thought it would be. Trying to adjust to all the change was hard, and it didn’t help that there was far less academic support than in my school.

But nevertheless, I made it out the other end. Even with a few moments in there when I never thought I would. University is hard, and when you’re as emotionally fragile as I am, it can legitimately be dangerous. The way students are pressured these days, both academically and financially, is completely awful.

I have been absent from writing for a while due to exams, and I am just so glad they’re over now. I don’t have my results yet, I won’t get them until the 12th June, but I’m pretty sure I passed everything (this time). Now all I need to do is figure out what to do with the rest of my life.

Anyone know of any jobs?

There’s a mix of emotions at this time. One is sheer relief that I’m done, but there’s a lot more fear of what’s next than I expected. I have absolutely no idea what I want to do, and despite how badly most of my undergraduate career went, I’m considering doing a postgraduate in 2019.

For all my previous life stage transitions, I’ve had a clear idea of where I wanted to go next. Things have never gone according to plan, but at least I had a plan back then. This time, there’s nothing known in the future. I have no idea where I’m going, and I have even less idea of where I want to go.

For a while I considered taking a gap year and traveling, then I realised that I would probably struggle to cope with that, given the uncertainties involved, and the fact that most affordable accommodation is also really noisy. Gap years are not the most autistic-friendly activity.

I might still give it a try, but that’s pretty much where I’m at right now. Confused, uncertain, and with no idea of where I’m going from here.

It’s still better than the way I felt at university.

Social Media – Beneficial or Harmful?

Social media has had a lot of benefits for people, particularly in the autistic community. It is a way to talk to others and gain support without having to navigate the sensory hell that is our society. The neurodiversity paradigm has spread through social media, and many have become more aware of autism rights issues and more supportive.

For me, all this is true. But social media is also the home of trolls, cyber-bullies and those who engage in techniques such as gaslighting. Some hide behind the cloak of anonymity to spread hate and hurt others. And in my personal case, the negatives outweigh the positives.

The way companies try to manipulate others’ opinions on social media concerns and frightens me. The targeted advertisements are often creepy, seeming far too closely related to recent searches. And Cambridge Analytica is not the only company using our personal data to be manipulative – expect more scandals soon.

The humans are no better – spreading all their false information and contradictory stories. Everyone has an opinion, and all those who disagree are wrong. People often go to extremes with little regard for considering facts. For example, many people will either say Russia is the source of all evil or that Russia is the best and just unfairly demonised.

In 2012, a social media argument completely broke my heart, and it took years for me to fully get over that. 366 days ago, I lost most of my friends due to something that began on social media. It is the reason I am on antidepressants, and I am far from over it even a year later.

For all the good social media can do, it has done me far more harm. One of my favourite way to relax is to lie on my bed alone and spend hours imagining what my life would be like in an alternate timeline with one difference. Many of these timelines involve me quitting, or never using, social media.

If I had never used social media, the 2012 stuff wouldn’t have happened. Last year, things wouldn’t have fallen apart (if they ever began). I probably wouldn’t have ever had a group of close friends. Then again, I wouldn’t have felt the heartbreak over losing them. Whoever said it’s better to have loved and lost clearly had a very different personality to me.

At the moment, I do not have the choice to delete Facebook as so many have – I am on committees that use it as the primary communication method, and hence will not be able to get rid of it until July 6th at the earliest. On the 7th of July, I sincerely hope I will be able to wave goodbye to a platform that has harmed me.

Of course, for some people, social media is a lifeline. It can be fantastic, and it’s certainly not inherently bad. Certain companies have terrible policies, of course, but for some this does not outweigh the good. But for me, I can’t wait to get away.

We Must Support Clara Ponsatí from Political Persecution

A European Arrest Warrant was issued on Friday for Clara Ponsati, a Professor at the University of St Andrews. As a student at this institution, I am horrified that one of our professors is being persecuted for her political affiliations.

Professor Ponsati and other Catalan ministers face charges in Spain including rebellion and sedition for their role in holding an independence referendum in Catalonia in October 2017, and subsequently declaring independence. These charges are politically motivated and are an attack on freedom and democracy by the Spanish government.

Clara Ponsati was Education Minister in the Catalan government at the time of the referendum when they declared independence from Spain. Following this, she and five other ministers, including Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, fled Spain for Belgium. Many others who stayed behind were imprisoned.

It is shocking and disheartening that there are political prisoners in an EU country in the present day. If the UK extradites Prof. Ponsati, and Germany extradites President Puigdemont, they will be denying the Catalan people the right to express themselves and determine their own fate. The right to hold a referendum is one we have taken for granted in Scotland – in Catalonia, people are being prosecuted for this same action.

The Catalan government was elected with a mandate to hold a referendum on independence. These democratically elected ministers, acting on this mandate, are now facing up to 30 years imprisonment for acting on their political beliefs while representing the people of Catalonia.

The treatment of supporters of Catalan independence by Spain has been horrific and not what is expected from a democratic country. From police brutality on the streets, to the arrest of members of the democratically elected Catalan government, the treatment of the Catalan people has been completely unacceptable.

The independence of the Spanish judiciary on this matter cannot be assured, and if extradited, Prof. Ponsati and the others face inhumane treatment in violation of their human rights. Due to this, the UK judiciary are within legal grounds to reject the extradition request. I sincerely hope this happens.

It is for these reasons that other students at the University of St Andrews and I are organising a demo in support of Professor Ponsati on Monday 2nd April. If you would like to get involved, please like our Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/StASupportClaraPonsati/ to stay updated on ways to support our professor!

This article was originally published on the blog of SNP Students.

Why I Support Striking University Staff

As a student at the University of St Andrews, I am supporting the striking university staff in the dispute over the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS). UUK announced plans to change the pension scheme from one where university staff have a guaranteed retirement income to one where pensions are dependent upon the stock market. In the worst case, this could lead to a reduction in pension income of £10,000 a year. In response, the University and College Union (UCU) announced 14 days of strike action.

A deal was offered to end the strikes on the 12th March, which would have resulted in staff contributing much more of their current income towards the pension scheme for no further benefits. UUK claims the scheme has a deficit; however, this is disputed and some universities, mine included, have been claiming that as fact. Regardless of whether there is a deficit or not, cutting pensions is not the way to solve the problem. The UCU rejected the detail, and a second wave of strike action is due to happen in the future.

While the pensions of university staff are under attack, vice chancellors and equivalent continue to be paid large sums of money, much more than is necessary for anyone to live. Meanwhile, these are the people who want to cut the pensions of staff with much smaller salaries. This kind of pay gap is synonymous with capitalism, an economic system which necessitates inequality.

As a final year student, this could not come at a worse time, as by their nature, the strikes are disrupting students’ education. This is not the fault of those striking, it is the fault of employers for proposing this outrageous scheme and failing to present an acceptable deal at negotiations. University staff have a difficult job, one in which the pay is comparably less to other professions requiring the same skill level. Staff deserve to feel security about their retirement, but under this scheme, that security is eliminated.

As students, we should be supporting our lecturers and the other staff whose pensions are at risk. Some current students wish to continue with academia, and hope to work at a university one day, and these proposals may discourage some from doing so. Those who choose academia do so in the knowledge that they are passing up far more lucrative careers. At the moment, however, they have the promise of a decent pension in retirement.

If these proposals were to go ahead, that promise would not exist. There would be no security, no guaranteed income and no guaranteed retirement plan. It is highly likely then, in that case, that many people would be discouraged from entering academia. Other careers requiring similar education tend to have better pay and are often less stressful. As current students deciding on our future careers, this is very important.

At the end of the day, nobody wants to have to strike. They lose pay for the days not working, and university staff do care greatly about students’ education – they chose that career, after all. But in this case, industrial action is necessary. It is disruptive by its nature, designed to show employers how much they need their employees. It shows employers that their proposal is completely unacceptable, that it is over a line that cannot be crossed without action being taken.

I call on other students to join me in taking action to support the strike. If you are unsure how to do so, the UCU has a guide to students supporting the action. UUK needs to understand that cutting pensions is completely unacceptable, and hardworking staff deserve security in their retirement. I hope a deal that does not leave staff worse off, either just now or in the future can be reached.

Gendered Marketing is Damaging Children

Gendered marketing is restrictive and damaging to both children and adults. For children, those who do not conform to the likes and dislikes assigned to their gender are often bullied and ostracised by their peers. The stereotypes marketing assigns to genders linger throughout and affect the lives of people from birth to death. Gendered marketing limits both men and women, and excludes non-binary people entirely.

Limiting what toys children can play with because of their gender is harmful. Play is an important part of learning for young children, it teaches them how to interact with others, share and learn about the world. Some toys such as construction toys help children develop spatial skills, and role-playing toys help develop social skills. Since the former is mainly marketed to boys and the latter to girls, it is unsurprising that girls tend to have better social skills while boys have improved spatial awareness.

The marketing of toys in this manner also reinforces negative gender stereotypes. Action toys such as cars and toy guns are marketed at “boisterous boys” and dolls and fashion toys at “girly girls”. These stereotypes can be seen most plainly in dress-up costumes. Boys are encouraged to dress as doctors, scientists, firemen, etc. Girls, on the other hand are given the choice of fairy, princess, supermodel and similar. Children can often pick up ideas about what future career they can do on the basis of this.

Appearance centred toys are marketed towards very young girls, putting far too large an emphasis on their outward appearance, while boys are taught that caring toys are not for them and they shouldn’t feel emotion. These stereotypes can lead to mental health problems later in life, such as eating disorders in women who are unhappy with their appearance, and built up negative emotions in men who feel they cannot show them.

Transgender people are also hugely and adversely impacted by this, being forced into playing with something associated with the assigned-at-birth gender they do not identify with and often feel very dysphoric about. This is especially true of non-binary people who are never mentioned on any of the toy labels.

Often people will ask why it matters if something is labelled as ‘girls’ or ‘boys’ – can’t people just buy it anyway? This attitude ignores the huge societal pressure on children to conform and like toys made for their gender – as soon as a child can read, they will think certain things are not for them. Many parents will also not buy an item for their child labelled as being for a different gender.

Other parents simply don’t notice that science kits are all in the boys’ section, and don’t see the problem. The marketing at one gender also clearly suggests that boys and girls are “supposed” to like certain things, and if they like the other, they are somehow abnormal. The marketing of these toys creates social rules that are very hard to break and can often lead to bullying if someone does.

Clothing is another area which is very divided, for both children and adults. Young girls are given tight-fitting flowery, sparkly and always pink outfits, which are often difficult to play in. Boys, on the other hand, are given loose fitting clothes in red or blue. Slogans on girls’ clothing are often along the lines of “little princess”, “pretty in pink” or “future supermodel” while boys’ slogans are “troublemaker” or “future scientist”.

For adults, women’s clothing is often thin and poor quality, needing replaced very quickly. There is also a distinct lack of pockets – often shops will put on fake pockets to give the illusion of a pocket but lacking the usefulness of a real one because it will disrupt the figure. Men’s clothes are designed far more practically. This all feeds in to the attitude that men work and women look pretty. Non-binary people again have no section in the clothes shops and are again excluded.

There are no benefits to gendered marketing – as well as hurting individuals, it also disadvantages businesses by restricting their market. The argument against gendered marketing should not be reserved for the left, both capitalists and socialists should be condemning the practice.

Much of the gender inequality found among adults has its roots in childhood and what is marketed at children. By forcing children into boxes against their will, society is setting the stage for inequality to continue into adulthood and their entire lives. If we truly want a more equal society, tackling gender stereotypes and gendered marketing is a good place to start.

This article was originally published on the Young Scots for Independence blog, at Stephanie Melnick: Gendered Marketing is Damaging Children — Young Scots for Independence

Why Trump’s Mental Capacity is Irrelevant

There has been a lot of discussion recently surrounding the book written about Donald Trump by Michael Wolff, Fire and Fury. The book is marketed as being an inside look at life in the White House. In the book, Wolff alleges that Trump is unfit for office due to his alleged low intelligence and mental health issues, and that all those around him were aware of it. Now, I am no fan of Trump but I take issue with these allegations.

Wolff claims that Trump is “intellectually incapable” of carrying out the duties of the president. He makes claims that Trump does not read and may be “semi-literate”. This is clearly nonsense – Trump has a degree so must be literate and reasonably intellectual. His reluctance to spend time reading documents within view of Wolff may well stem from the fact that the president will be incredibly busy and actually not have time.

Even if these claims had the slightest merit, these claims are incredibly harmful to intellectually disabled people. Some have claimed Trump may be dyslexic, in the context of saying he is unfit for office. Why this is a harmful and insulting claim should not have to be explained. Dyslexia should not be a disqualification for elected office. And while president is a hugely important and stressful job, there should not be some kind of IQ test before someone is allowed to run – claims that only those with a high IQ should be president set the US on a path to this kind of dystopia.

There have been many psychiatrists claiming Trump is mentally ill. Psychiatrists diagnose mental illnesses after examining their patients. A reputable psychiatrist would not make a diagnosis of someone they had not examined – and are we expected to believe all those making these claims have examined Trump in person? Regardless of profession, these people are humans, and humans can make biased claims for political reasons, and those who oppose Trump certainly have political motivations for casting doubt on his fitness for office, thanks to the 25th Amendment.

Many other mental health professionals disagree with these assessments. A common ‘diagnosis’ thrown at Trump is Narcissistic Personality Disorder – but the man who wrote the diagnostic criteria for this condition disagrees with the assessment, saying that Trump does not show the signs of being mentally ill, and stating that:

“Bad behavior is rarely a sign of mental illness, and the mentally ill behave badly only rarely.”

Which brings me to my main point: blaming Trump’s behaviour on mental illness is not only inaccurate, it is actively harmful to people with genuine mental illness. To claim that Trump is dangerous and unfit for office due to his alleged mental health issues is to claim that anyone with a mental health issue is therefore necessarily unfit for office. This is untrue as there are many mental conditions that would not stop an individual from being a good president, and to make claims like this is to exclude these individuals from the presidency for a long time.

Mental health conditions already have a huge stigma – this is evident from Trump’s detractors using them to insult him in itself. These claims do nothing but add more stigma to these conditions, making people with legitimate diagnoses more concerned about being judged as being like Trump, and those who wish to seek formal diagnosis more afraid to do so, lest they be judged unfit.

People with mental health conditions are already discriminated against in societies across the globe. Where there is legislation requiring employers to allow employees to take sick days, many employers do not count mental illness as a legitimate excuse to miss work as they would for physical illness. Those with mental illness or mental disabilities are frequently discriminated against when seeking employment as they are often seen as unreliable, while at the same time being judged fit to work when trying to claim disability benefits.

Donald Trump’s behaviour does not indicate mental illness – rather, it indicates that he is greedy for power and does not care who he hurts to get it. These are not mental conditions – they are part of his character, which does not make him ill. Trump’s periodical twitter threats against North Korea are not a sign of mental illness – rather they are likely to be politically motivated and not as spontaneous as is often claimed.

Trump won the election by being outrageous. It is a strategy that should never have worked, but nevertheless it did. Can we say with certainty that Trump’s tweets are not part of a tactical plan to keep his supporters on side? What looks like ill thought out rants could be part of a strategy of sorts aimed at keeping Trump’s alt-right voter base on side. People say things online for a multitude of reasons, and many of these are not genuine. And if Trump was really going to ‘lose it’ and nuke somewhere, he’d probably have done it already.

Principles, Priorities and Politics

In November, I left the Scottish National Party (SNP) over a multitude of small differences in opinion, the sum of which made me want to leave the party. On Monday of this week, I announced I was re-joining the party. Here, I wish to try and explain why I left, and more importantly, why I chose to return.

To understand the reasons behind both decisions, consider the following two views on general political party membership: members of a political party should agree with the majority of policies, and the general ideology of the party; or members should agree with ALL policies. I believe the former of these two options, but those in my primary social group in November subscribed to the latter approach. And thus, felt that my answer of “I don’t agree with that particular policy” was unacceptable regardless of what was being discussed.

This ultimately influenced my decision to leave far more than it should have. The small differences of opinion I had with the party were easily reconciled in my own mind if I’d had no outside influence from anyone.

Another factor which influenced my decision was my role on the SNP Students National Executive Committee (NEC). While I loved my role, I was and still am struggling academically, and it was a much larger time commitment than I could handle at the time. I was spending far more time than I had on SNP Students events and activities, and it was affecting my academic work. I realised this and felt I needed to sort out my priorities, and I tend to do things like quitting wholly or not at all.

So in summary, the main reasons I left were time commitments and small differences in opinion on minor policies. And the reasons I’ve returned?

I never stopped being in favour of Scottish independence, but I feel after article 50 has been triggered that it is increasingly important that we become independent and make our own path rather than following the inward-looking, right-wing path the UK seems set on following. The SNP still are the best chance we have of gaining independence. For now, though, as part of the UK, it is important we have a voice for Scotland in Westminster as Brexit negotiations begin, and with a general election around the corner, now is the time to get involved again.

The six months I was gone have given me time to reevaluate where the priorities lie in my opinions, as there are a few contradictions in there. In doing so, I’ve realised that those small differences I spoke of are far down my list of priorities, whereas on the major issues that are very important to me*, I do agree with SNP policy.

Being a member of a party, and still disagreeing on one or two things does not conflict with my own principles, even if it would to the principles of my friends. And it is time I stopped allowing myself to be influenced by peer pressure on political issues (or indeed, anything else).

These six months have given me a welcome break in which I have had time to sit down and fully consider what I truly believe, and where my priorities and principles lie. And so, I am now excited to be returning to political activism with greater enthusiasm and understanding of my beliefs than I did before.

Bring on the general election campaign!

 

*Excluding things that receive so little attention, no major party has many policies on them, or any policies that would actually do anything.