Venue backs down in row over Rutherglen hustings

Voter ID: pilots in English councils could be extended to all UK for general elections
Voter ID: pilots in English councils could be extended to all UK for general elections

A community trust in Rutherglen has backed down in a row with a gender-critical feminist group over a planned by-election hustings.

Number 18, operated by the Healthy n Happy Community Development Trust, had taken a booking from Women Won’t Wheesht for the event on September 21.

According to the group, they were told their meeting had been cancelled because it would not "present a balanced view to the local electorate".

Women Won’t Wheesht said they were taking legal advice as they believed they were being discriminated against because of their “beliefs and views pertaining to sex-based rights.”

Late on Tuesday, the community-owned organisation, said they would now honour the initial booking.

A spokesperson for Healthy n Happy said: “As a community organisation, it has never been our intention to quieten the voices of any group wishing to use our premises.

"Due to the intense level of interest in this local by-election, we have reconsidered our decision to cancel the hustings scheduled for September 21st and are in discussions with the organisers to reinstate the booking."

Neither of the two frontrunners in the contest looks set to take part in the hustings. Both Labour’s Michael Shanks and the SNP’s Katy Loudon have yet to respond to the invitation from Women Won't Wheesht.

Of the 14 candidates declared, six have so far said agreed to participate: Colette Walker from the Independence for Scotland Party, David Stark of the Reform Party, Niall Fraser from the Scottish Family Party, the independent Andrew Daly, Bill Bonnar from the Scottish Socialist Party, and Thomas Kerr, the Conservative candidate.

A spokeswoman for the group said: "We're delighted that candidates from across the political spectrum have responded to our invitation but disappointed that SNP, Scottish Greens, Labour and Lib Dems have not responded so far.

"Particularly as a number of our audience members may have questions about the current court action between Westminster and the Scottish Government on GRR."

A second hustings has now been by Healthy n Happy, which will be broadcast on CamGlen Radio and on their YouTube channel on October 2.

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Meanwhile, the SNP’s Depute Leader at Westminster, Mhairi Black, will be back in the constituency on Wednesday night.

With fears over low turnout at the by-election on October 5, the MP has penned an open letter to young voters urging them to come out and vote.

In her missive, she said that “Westminster has shafted young people across Scotland.”

She added: “The cost-of-living crisis has forced prices up and squeezed incomes – turning the goal of home ownership into a pipe dream for many young people who are blocked from getting on the property ladder.

“Then there’s Brexit.

“Brexit, supported by both the Labour party and the Tories, has ripped away so many opportunities from young people in Scotland.”

Ms Black pointed out that in South Lanarkshire voters overwhelmingly chose to stay in the EU by 63.1%.

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In other by-election developments, Labour has urged Ms Loudon to “break her silence” over the future of the neonatal unit at Wishaw General Hospital.

The Scottish Government recently put forward new plans for three specialist neonatal intensive care units located in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

The decision was based on evidence that care for “babies at highest risk is safest in units which can treat a high volume of patients.”

Other neonatal units across Scotland will remain in place, but those born at less than 27 weeks, lighter than 800 grams or who need complex life support will be treated in one of three centres.

Mr Shanks described the plan as a downgrading of the services available at Wishaw University Hospital.

He said: “Thousands of people in Rutherglen and Hamilton West are appalled at the SNP’s plan to downgrade neonatal care at Wishaw - but Katy Loudon has been shamefully silent on the issue.

“The neonatal service at Wishaw University Hospital plays a vital role in the community but faced with the actions of her government, Katy Loudon has indulged in a conspiracy of silence.

“Scottish Labour is holding the SNP to account on this vital issue in the Scottish Parliament.

“I will always oppose moves to take vital health services further away from the people of the area.

“What the people deserve to know is what side Katy Loudon is really on - the people’s or that of her SNP party bosses.”