Hosting Scotland’s first HIV hustings let us bring together Scotland’s HIV community and those who work within the sector to hear directly from the main political parties.

HIV Scotland CEO George Valiotis opened by reminding the audience that HIV remains a relationship issue. Those affected would be watching this event as people look for bold solutions to often complex situations.

Scottish Greens on HIV & human rights

All the candidates recognised that progress has been made in Scotland, yet significant challenges remain. Scottish Greens candidate Zara Kitson spoke of the importance of seeing HIV in relation to human rights, adding: “HIV is an issue for all of us”.

HIV stigma continues to be a major barrier for people living with the condition

There was consensus that the Scottish Parliament has a responsibility to take forward issues related to HIV and work across the political spectrum to do so.

As the debate opened to questions from the audience, there was strong interest in pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), HIV medication taken by people who are HIV negative to lower their risk of acquiring HIV infection.

Following NHS England’s recent decision not to make the drug available on the NHS, there were several questions on what Scotland could do.

The SNP on PrEP

SNP candidate, Jim Eadie, said he was convinced there was evidence to suggest PrEP could make a significant difference to people at risk of HIV, adding: “It’s time for Scotland to go its own way”.

The audience was clear in its support for PrEP to be made available as soon as possible, but political will is needed to make it a reality.

Scottish Labour on sex education

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, said: “You will likely find cross party support for this” and suggested that a campaign could take it forward in the next parliamentary term.

Candidates were unanimous in supporting inclusive LGBTI education to help young people keep up-to-date on sexual health information. There was also a focus on making sure the rights of the child are prioritised over other rights considerations.

Scottish Liberal Democrats on stigma

The candidates recognised that HIV stigma continues to be a major barrier for people living with the condition. Scottish Liberal Democrats candidate, Dan Farthing-Sykes, stated: “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 on reckless HIV transmission in Scotland continued to perpetuate HIV stigma.

Scottish Conservatives on treatment & support

HIV treatment and support for those living with the disease was discussed throughout, with passionate contributions from the audience. Scottish Conservative candidate, Martin Laidlaw, said: “HIV cuts across society” and people must have access to prompt and effective care.

The panel recognised that the devolution of welfare powers to Scotland offered an opportunity to reset how social security is delivered and ensure that fairness is embedded throughout in order to better support groups, including those living with HIV.

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.