Moves to close Edinburgh’s saunas show centralising and illiberal effects of Scottish Police merger

For the New Year, a story which shows the adverse effects of both illiberal and centralising measures. In Edinburgh, for the past 30 years, “saunas” have been licensed with the unspoken knowledge that it was sex, rather than massages, which were on offer inside them. Even if you don’t approve of sex being sold like any other commodity, there are obvious advantages in giving sex workers a safe environment to work in.

However, this tolerance is set to end after a series of raids on saunas. The City of Edinburgh Council is set to withdraw licences from these facilities within the next few months as this report on Global Post by Edinburgh-based journalist Peter Geoghegan shows. Apparently, the Police and Council leaders have suddenly agreed, the city risks “reputational and financial damage” because of the saunas. Oh, really? I wonder how many of the visitors who bought an unprecedented 1.9 million tickets for Fringe shows this year had the first clue that saunas existed, let alone were bothered by them in any way? Virgin Money doesn’t seem to think there’s a problem given that it’s renewed its sponsorship deal for a further 3 years. The huge crowds who saw in 2014 at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay seemed remarkably unperturbed.

When Scotland’s 8 Police forces were merged into a single force, Police Scotland, we were told that it wouldn’t be the end of local policing and that divisional commanders would be able to set their own local priorities. The Scottish Liberal Democrats, alone, warned that this would not be the case and staunchly opposed the plans from the start. The only police force which was wholeheartedly in favour of the merger was the Strathclyde. Funnily enough, since merger, there have been numerous examples of Stratchclyde’s procedures and policies being forced on the rest of Scotland. It’s been a takeover, not a merger.  Liberal Democrats always argued that policing needs in different communities were very diverse. Policies which might work in Glasgow are not suitable in Aberdeen, or Helmsdale, or on Islay or in Tain.  Sadly the Strathclyde tiger seems to have devoured any sort of local flexibility.

There would be some merit in Edinburgh’s model of a tolerant approach being implemented elsewhere. It is naive in the extreme to suggest that closing down the saunas would make the problem go away. Sex workers would be put in a much more dangerous situation. Police media activity has been sensationalist, moralising and prudish. This report from the Evening News  showed that there were, shock, horror, condoms on offer in some saunas. How outrageous that items which could pr0tect the lives of the workers should be freely available!

Edinburgh’s citizens know perfectly well what saunas are about. It should be no surprise  to have these details revealed.  Saunas have existed peaceably in the community and there is no reason for a high-handed new Police Force to impose its will in this way. The Council should tell them to keep their noses out and ensure that these premises can continue to operate. The meeting of the illiberal forces within the Labour-SNP Council administration and the centralising new “we know best” Police Force is not good for Edinburgh and could put its sex workers at risk.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Tony Dawson 6th Jan '14 - 9:20pm

    I agree that ‘clamping down’ on unobtrusive establishments has no obvious merit. Nevertheless, it is a sad statement on the nature of (part of) humankind that we accept as ‘given’ the apparent need for some men to regularly gain physical satisfaction in this impersonal way and the power relationship which gives them the spending power to buy women to satisfy these ‘needs’ (sic). 🙁

  • Andrew Colman 7th Jan '14 - 10:46am

    This is not about morality, its about freedom

    I expect if there was a proposal restricting motorists eg a proposal for a congestion charge in Edinburgh/Glasgow, many of the same voices calling for the closure of the sauna would be opposing the charge as a breach of their freedom as a motorist, despite clear evidence that pollution from cars causes tens of thousands of premature deaths each year.

    To my knowledge, the sauna does not cause premature deaths, so live and let live

  • The old saying that this is one of the oldest industries in the world is correct. The need for services will not stop because a sauna closes, it will just re emerge in a different, probably less safe way for both user and provider.
    As liberals I feel we should be accepting that the role of sex workers is a reality, making it happen in as safe an environment asossible ( same logic as for abortion) for worker and user. The legalisation of brothels has been undertaken in various countries around the world. In a political context, we do not have to areal to a majority of voters ( never have and never will ) BUT enlightened, liberal policies WILL APPEAL to a significant minority ( GE planners please note!! )

  • The world needs prostatutes beacuse people get bored etc.

  • It is simple legalise prostatution and tax it which will help the economic growth and saunas can just be saunas.

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