#SNP17 conference passes "Scottish model" amid grave concerns from sex worker charities

SNP conference votes for a “Scottish version” of the Nordic model as party policy on sex work

A “SCOTTISH MODEL” for “legalisation” of sex work has been passed by the SNP conference today (Friday 17 March) in Aberdeen.

Proposing what it termed a “Scottish model of legalisation of prostitution”, the resolution sought to decriminalise sale of sex, criminalise purchase of sex and provide “appropriate support for those wishing to exit commercial sexual exploitation.” 

Based on the “Nordic model”, it was put forward by John Mason MSP for Glasgow Shettleson, Ash Denham MSP for Edinburgh Eastern, George Kerevan MP for East Lothian, Philippa Whitford MP for Central Ayrshire, Joan McAlpine MSP for South of Scotland and Kate Forbes MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch.

“Ask yourself if this is a job you’d want your daughter or son doing.” Ash Denham

The resolution passed after an initial split vote which did not go to number count afterwards but left advocates of the policy in a joyous mood that it had passed.

An impassioned Ash Denham MSP told the conference: “There is no evidence whatsoever that the Nordic model has lead to a greater amount of violence against women. Powerful forces want you to reject this resolution. We must resist them.

“Look at Germany where their legalisation has resulted in 17 storey mega-brothels. That’s not the future I want for Scotland.

“Ask yourself if this is a job you’d want your daughter or son doing.”

The Nordic model, based on 1999 Swedish law, criminalises the purchase of sex but decriminalises the person selling and is seen by its advocates as a progressive way to deal with violence against, trafficking and monetary exploitation of women. Versions of the Swedish law have been put in place in Norway and Iceland earning it the popular term, the Nordic model.

Yet Sex worker-led charities have long argued that any approach that is based on the much vaunted Nordic model would hurt sex workers resulting in higher violence against those with addiction, mental health issues, migrant women and those identified as trafficked.

“The evidence from Amnesty International and others is just dismissed out of hand.” Luca Stevenson

For example, when Scotland criminalised the purchase of sex on the street in 2008, violence against street-based sex workers went up by 50 per cent in just six months.

They argue that the law is often proposed by those who fail to listen to sex workers and charities themselves and that criminalising the purchase of sex backfires on those who sell it. Scot-pep, Scotland’s own sex worker led charity, in its analysis of the effects of the model with Swedish charities found stated that there had been an increase of ‘middle managers’ or pimps as sex workers could not operate in a safe open framework. It also found that sex workers were more likely to be put at risk of HIV and violence due to the lack of ability to openly assess clients. This is described by critics as the effect of driving sex work underground.

Swedish charities have also pointed to the harassment and monitoring of migrant women by police through the legal measures and powers of the legal framework.

“I’m very disappointed that my f**king safety seems not to matter given this vote.”

Responding to the passage of the resolution, Luca Stevenson of Scot-Pep told CommonSpace: “It’s very disappointing that the views and voices of sex workers are not represented. That the evidence from Amnesty International and others is just dismissed out of hand. It’s a question of safety and our voices.”

An anonymous sex worker also told CommonSpace: “You know we’ve had a very positive response from so many delegates. It gives you confidence. But then this. I’m very disappointed that my f**king safety seems not to matter given this vote.”

This view has been countered by groups such as Encompass network which wants to “end prostitution completely”. These advocates believe that prostitution or sex work in Scotland is a form of sexual violence against women and is inherently sexual exploitation. Despite Amnesty backing decriminalisation, opponents have pointed to a reported increase in sex trafficking in Germany following its 2002 legalisation. The Republic of Ireland became the latest nation to adopt a set of legal measures surrounding sex work based on the Nordic model and has been criticised by organisations such as Scot-pep and the Sex Worker Open University (SWOU).

“Once, again an ideological commitment to abolition trumps the demands of sex workers and actual evidence about what keeps us safe.” SWOU

Additionally, a report by the Norwegian Government released in 2004 found that violence had increased against sex workers after the change of the law in Sweden which pioneered the approach in 1999. 

Some Scottish politicians, such as Jean Urquhart MSP, have pointed to the position of the law in New Zealand where the testimony of sex workers themselves has advocated full decriminalising of sex work as the best way to protect them and their communities. They argue that such an approach would allow co-operation instead of conflict with the police and judicial system, improve the health and safety of sex workers, and create the best possible environment for the eradication of coercion, trafficking and underage sex work.

New Zealand has what’s known as “decriminalised sex work” meaning that rather than focusing on creating bureaucratic hoops for sex workers to jump through, advocates say it prioritises sex workers’ safety and health.

“Police and politicians in these countries have admitted that its underlying aim is to make life difficult for sex workers.” SWOU

For example, up to four people can work indoors in an informal collective without needing to do any paperwork and without fearing targeting by the police. It has been extensively praised by the U.N.

The SWOU told CommonSpace: “SWOU is deeply disappointed by the SNP resolution. Once, again an ideological commitment to abolition trumps the demands of sex workers and actual evidence about what keeps us safe. Don’t believe the rhetoric: no implementation of the ‘Nordic model’ in any country has actually repealed laws criminalising sex workers.

“Police and politicians in these countries have admitted that its underlying aim is to make life difficult for sex workers, via police harassment, withdrawal of services, evictions, deportations and reduced income. This is why the law is opposed by UNAIDS, the WHO, Amnesty International, not to mention sex workers around the world. 

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