On 25 February EDI Scotland sent an email to the Director and Deputy Director/Head of Operations of the Scottish Poetry Library raising serious concerns about equality, diversity and inclusion and recent statements published on no-platforming.
The email highlights the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s requirements for voluntary sector organisations to provide equal provision of services to audiences, in line with the Equality Act, and asks if the Scottish Poetry Library has self-reported recent events to the Scottish Charity Regulator.
No response to the email has been received. EDI Scotland feels it is vital for people/organisations with expertise in these areas to speak-out and has therefore decided to publish this communication. We hope the Scottish Poetry Library takes action to respond to the points raised.
25 February 2020
The Scottish Poetry Library’s statement on no-platforming
Thank you for getting back to me, it’s much appreciated.
I went through the SPL’s policies and procedures on equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI), conduct and bullying and harassment over the weekend and, on the whole, they look fairly good. It was therefore frustrating to see statements published by the SPL on no-platforming that appear to contradict the good work that has preceded it.
On 21 February, the SPL published this statement:
What we do not support, and will no longer ignore, is bullying and calls for no-platforming of writers in events programmes and in publishing.
Followed by this statement on 23 February:
To be clear, the wellbeing of our community of poets is a concern. As this article states, we’re dealing with lives as well as livelihoods. No-platforming is damaging to health & harmony and goes against libraries’ core principles of equality of access and freedom of expression.
In terms of EDI, these statements presented a fairly simplistic take on the concept of no-platforming (which has a long history, particularly in anti-fascist and anti-racist activism) that lacked any acknowledgement of the inherent power relations. As an institution, the SPL has a great deal of power over who is provided with a platform to share their views. Whether the SPL agrees or disagrees with the views shared, the provision of a platform provides credibility, legitimises and amplifies these views. This power to platform/no-platform is a privilege that is not available to most minority/marginalised groups. It is therefore the responsibility of the SPL not to permit absolute freedom of expression, providing a platform for anyone who wishes to share their views, but ensure that the library is a welcoming and inclusive space open to poets and audiences from diverse backgrounds.
No-platforming (by whatever name we want to call it) actually supports libraries’ core principles of equality of access and can enable people to access library spaces aware that they are in an environment where they won’t be harassed or targeted because of their protected characteristics. Furthermore, the decision not to provide a platform to people that express hateful and harmful views can improve rather than damage people’s health and harmony. For example, as a gay man I should feel welcome to attend events at the SPL without fear that I will be exposed to a performer who promotes homophobic views.
The SPL’s recent statements on no-platforming also appear to contradict the SPL’s Code of Conduct where it notes:
Where misconduct by an individual is serious, or presents a risk to audiences or the SPL’s reputation, we reserve the right to cancel events, future bookings or terminate voluntary agreements at our discretion.
This is a valid approach in line with good practice in the sector. It is also an example of no-platforming and helps ensure that the SPL complies with its requirements under the Equality Act. For example, as noted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, a voluntary or community sector organisation must not give someone worse terms of service because of their protected characteristic than would normally be offered. As suggested by the SPL’s Code of Conduct, the decision to ‘no-platform’ a homophobic performer would ensure an equal provision of service to audiences whatever their sexual orientation.
The SPL’s Code of Conduct notes that they aim ‘to apply and adhere to the legal and good practice guidelines of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR), to whom we would report any notifiable events’. I wonder if the SPL has made the decision to self-report to OSCR following this weekend’s event, as I’m sure they’re best-placed to provide additional input on these issues?
I also wonder if the publication of FAQs in response to the points/questions raised by people concerned about these recent statements might help clarify SPL’s rationale and approach?
I am happy to talk-through any of these issues in more detail. I’m travelling quite a bit for work the next week but am back in Edinburgh from 4 March.
I hope this rather lengthy email helps clarify my concerns and the SPL takes action to respond to the points raised.
Director, EDI Scotland