The decision to host Scotland’s first HIV hustings event was an opportunity to bring together Scotland’s HIV community, as well as those who work within the sector, to hear directly from the main parties. During his opening remarks, HIV Scotland CEO, George Valiotis, reminded people that HIV remains a relationship issue and that the eyes of people affected by HIV in Scotland would be on this event, as people look for bold solutions to often complex issues.
From their opening statements, all the candidates recognised that progress had been made in Scotland but there remains real challenges ahead. Scottish Greens candidate, Zara Kitson, spoke of the importance of seeing HIV as a human rights issue and added that “HIV is an issue for all of us” . There was also consensus that the Scottish Parliament had a real responsibility to take forward issues related to HIV and work across the political spectrum to do so.
“HIV is an issue for all of us” – Zara Kitson, Scottish Greens
As the debate opened to questions from the audience, there was strong interest in the issue of PrEP. With the backdrop of a recent NHS England decision not to make the HIV prevention drug available on the NHS, there were several questions on what role Scotland had. SNP candidate, Jim Eadie, said he was convinced that there was evidence to suggest PrEP could make a significant difference to people at risk of HIV and said “it’s time for Scotland to go its own way” by introducing PrEP. The audience was clear in its support for PrEP to be made available as soon as possible but a political will was needed to make this a reality.
“It’s time for Scotland to go its own way” – Jim Eadie, SNP, on the introduction of PrEP
The question of whether sex and relationship education should be made compulsory in all schools was proposed by moderator, Gina Davidson. Scottish Labour candidate, Neil Findlay, remarked that “you will likely find cross party support for this” and stated this could be a campaign to take forward in the next parliamentary term. Candidates were unanimous in advocating the need for inclusive LGBTI education that equipped all young people with up to date information on sexual health. There was also a focus on ensuring that the rights of the child are prioritised over other rights considerations.
“You will likely find cross party support for this” – Neil Findlay, Scottish Labour, on making sex and relationship education compulsory
Panellists also recognised that HIV stigma continued to a significant barrier for people living with HIV and needed to be addressed. Scottish Lib Dems candidate, Dan Farthing-Sykes, stated that “we have not moved on as much as we need to” from the AIDS campaigns of the 1980s. The audience spoke of how prosecution rules regarding reckless HIV transmission in Scotland continued to perpetuate HIV stigma.
“We have not moved on as much as we need to” – Dan Farthing-Sykes, Scottish Lib Dems, on HIV stigma
HIV treatment and support available to people living with HIV was discussed throughout, with passionate contributions from members in the audience. Scottish Conservative candidate, Martin Laidlaw, said that “HIV cuts across society” and people must have access to prompt and effective care. The panel also recognised that the devolution of welfare powers to Scotland offered a new opportunity to reset the way social security is delivered and ensure that fairness is embedded throughout in order to better support groups, including those living with HIV.
“HIV cuts across society” – Martin Laidlaw, Scottish Conservatives
The evening reflected the diversity of people who are affected by HIV, coupled with a range of views and opinions, but with one clear message that Scotland can become a global leader in the support and services it provides.
HIV Scotland and the National AIDS Trust have published a series of election calls which can be found here .