Born out of American evangelical Pat Robertson’s aborted deal with the Bank of Scotland; widely blamed on liberals and gay activists, Stagecoach bus company multi-millionaire, Brian Souter bankrolled a campaign to prevent the Labour administration from repealing Section 28, (which forbade local authorities from ‘promoting’ homosexuality). He was defeated. Since then, this member of the Church of Nazarene has turned his attention to the Scottish National Party (SNP) where his money is having considerably more success.
£500,000 of Souter’s money helped Alex Salmond become Scotland’s First Minister by one vote.
Brian Souter’s so-called ‘referendum’ on the repeal of Section 28 disenfranchised young people and students who were more likely to change address, by using an out-of-date electoral register. With fewer young people bothering to vote and with the co-ordinated action of churches at election time, Alex Salmond must know that his religious MSPs stand a very good chance of being elected. However, Salmond’s encouragement of MSPs to wear their religion on their sleeve is something I think he might already be coming to regret.
Alex Salmond not only ‘does religion’, he chastises those like Tony Blair for remaining quiet about it. Salmond confesses that religion is the driving force in his thinking and seeks to accommodate Catholic thinking on every level, supporting (like the English Tories) more sectarian or ‘faith’ schools and lobbying Whitehall for Catholic adoption agencies to be given an ‘indefinite’ exemption from legislation on gay adoption (special exemptions administered, of course, at our expense).
After hiding in the seams of political parties’ frocks, proselytising through religious friends in the Scottish media or interrupting the morning news with a ‘moral’ message, religion is climbing in bed with the SNP.
Since gaining power, Alex Salmond snubbed a debate on gay equality which was attended by all Scottish political parties, even the Tories. When the Equality Network wrote to the SNP’s deputy leader, Nicola Sturgeon imploring her to answer if they were in favour of equality; she didn’t respond. Alex Salmond is a consummate politician and has trumpeted his belief that the matter of abortion - some nine times higher than in the Netherlands where religionists have been unable to stall progressive sex education - should be left to the conscience of MPs. But when the party is spilling over with religionists, Salmond and his religious cronies surely know; their agendas are safely in the bag.
As a member of Easterhouse Baptist Church, the SNP proudly chalked up another outspoken religionist to its ranks at the Glasgow East by-election in 2008. Won by John Mason for the SNP, he thanked everyone “who prayed for him”. Later that year, the SNP were not so lucky. The by-election in Glenrothes was lost to Labour despite 70-year-old Cardinal Keith O’Brien writing letters to be read out in the constituency’s three Catholic parishes in support of Peter Grant who stood for the SNP.
In 2009, in the forthcoming by-election in Glasgow’s North East, former BBC journalist David Kerr was selected to stand for the SNP. Kerr admits he is a member of the controversial Catholic sect: Opus Dei. Labour’s so-called ‘equality minister’, Ruth Kelly was also a member of Opus Dei; refusing to give support to Government legislation on gay and abortion rights. She would also absent herself from the chamber when votes on these issues ever came up.
Catholic SNP MSP Roseanne Cunningham has railed against steps to allow gay people to adopt and Catholic SNP minister Fergus Ewing held private talks with Brian Souter’s charity, the Souter Charitable Trust (STC) - whose declared aim is “the advancement of religion” - to discuss a return to the discredited, pro-abstinence drug policy similar to one promoted by Souter’s ‘Keep the Clause’s’ David Macauley, only this time Souter’s charity proposed the administration of neuro-electric therapy – sending an electric current to the brain - to addicts, a controversial treatment developed in the sixties by Scottish neurosurgeon, Dr Meg Patterson.
Has helping the pious SNP into power reaped benefits for Brian Souter? After a lavish, taxpayer-funded reception for SNP supporters attended by Souter and his friend, Sir Tom Hunter - a wealthy sponsor of Souter’s glorified opinion poll on Section 28 - the SNP quickly dropped its resolution to do away with bus de-regulation and faced chastisement for not putting out to tender plans to offer a hovercraft service across the Firth of Forth. Stagecoach had looked likely to benefit, seeking £3.3m of funding until the service became profitable.
After releasing on compassionate grounds the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, Abdulbaset Ali al-Megrahi, Kenny MacAskill, Scotland’s Justice Secretary announced that al-Megrahi was already suffering under a sentence “imposed by a higher power”. So now you have it from a Justice Secretary: Cancer is a punishment from God! Against a tide of international condemnation, his controversial action was backed by the Catholic Church and the Church of Scotland before the morning news was interrupted by the Church’s propaganda machine, Thought for the Day, in his support.
Despite research linking homophobia with homosexuality and the continuous exposure of sexual aberrations amongst their numbers, religious militants continue to pour time, money and energy into blocking the progression of gay equality. It’s taken privileged access to the political process to properly indulge their obsession. But since 9/11, the protests of sexual minorities are joining an ever-growing clamour from the ‘silent majority’ of secularists, humanists, agnostics, atheists, religionists and people of no religion at all who are bravely standing up to ask some very pertinent questions… Why should clerics cream £42m a year off of a cash-trapped NHS? Why do we cough up £10m a year for religious services on the BBC? Why do religionists need their own courts? Why do we need church-run schools, old folks’ homes and other essential services? And why, when they assure us they are just peace-loving, ecumenical organisations with common values do we need to pump so much money into ‘Interfaith’ initiatives to sort out their squabbles?
Religionists will undoubtedly accuse me, as a writer of ‘militant secularism’ and ‘intolerance’ toward religion. On the contrary, I simply despise religious privilege, and, as a secularist, defend my right to criticise religion; something guaranteed to arch the back of religionists. Such a response was evident when a senior SNP councillor in the Borders and Nationalist constituency party chairman, Kenneth Gunn exposed his ‘beliefs’ during a BBC Radio Scotland phone-in when he was asked why non-believers should have to treat the Bible with reverence. He confessed: “Well, non-believers are damned to Hell anyway, so why should we bother?” Presenter, Graham Stewart suggested he might “live alongside other people and have mutual respect”, but he was having none of it: “No, I don’t think so”, he gushed. “When we all went to church on a Sunday morning and we all prayed to the Lord Jesus Christ every Sunday morning, this was a much better country. Look where it is going now. We have got so-called gays who are really very sad people and we have non-believers and heathens, you know, running the country and running down Christianity. It seems that, you know, it’s offensive to run down Islam, but it’s not an offence to run down Christianity. This is supposed to be a Christian country”. The SNP were quick only to dismiss his remarks as ‘personal’.
Following behind-the-scenes talks with Catholic leaders, and at a lecture in the name of Alex Salmond’s close friend, Scotland’s most notorious homophobe, the late Cardinal Winning, Salmond unveiled his vision of what appeared to some as a new theocratic Scotland, attacking opponents of sectarian schools, warning them “it is time for that attitude to be finished in Scottish society”. He promised “unswerving support” for more “faith” schools. Instead of addressing a resistance to tackle homophobia in Catholic education, Salmond lectured the rest of us to accept sectarian education and “celebrate – not just tolerate – diversity and distinctiveness within our education system”. Writing in the Scottish Catholic Observer, he went on to promise the Catholic Church he would do all he could to secure them exemptions from equality legislation – already passed by Parliament into law - that some Catholics saw as forcing them to treat gays equally in their quest to become prospective parents in publicly-funded, Catholic adoption agencies.
Then, in a deal struck between the Church and health and education officials, a vaccine against cervical cancer for schoolgirls – caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), passed on during sex - was to be administered without any accompanying safer sex advice that made it clear condoms offered protection against other sexually transmitted diseases. In addition, the mention of condoms was to be removed from leaflets going out to all Scottish schools, even non-denominational ones! Even Scotland on Sunday was rattled: “Alex Salmond’s administration should take particular care in matters such as these, given that the SNP’s biggest donor is a man well known for his conservative views on sexual education in schools. The health of Scotland’s young people is too important to be the subject of any horsetrading”. And they should know! Under a former editor, the broadsheet was a vociferous supporter of the ‘Keep the Clause’ campaign.
After his meeting of Muslim leaders at Bute House and in a nod to demands for separate schools for Muslims, Salmond promised: “My advocacy for faith-based education extends beyond Catholic schools”. Divisions amongst Muslims, the treatment of women, forced marriages, female circumcision were all conveniently brushed under the carpet in the SNP stampede toward religious solidarity. In 2008, Salmond awarded £215,000 in public funds to the Scottish Islamic Foundation (SIF); a company the SNP helped set up and led by Osama Saeed, the SNP’s religious parliamentary candidate for the Glasgow Central constituency who was campaigning to secure the support of its large Muslim population. The organisation also included other SNP activists and members of Saeed’s family. Osama Saeed had been heavily criticised for urging Dundee’s Muslim community not to cooperate with Tayside Police’s Special Branch community contact unit and for supporting the restoration of an Islamic Caliphate, which would absorb existing states around the world into a Shari’a “superstate”. Saeed was also a strong supporter of separate Muslim schools. Most of the SNP’s funding was earmarked for an IslamFest in Glasgow. SIF later received a further £190,000 from the Race, Religion and Refugee Integration Fund (RRRI) which supported organisations assisting ethnic minority communities despite being the only one of 33 organisations that was neither a company nor charity at the time they applied for funding.
Osama Saeed not only promotes the homophobic ex-gay Muslim group The StraightWay Foundation but posted on his blog a recommendation for an anti-gay blog: Eye on Gay Muslims. Against sound professional advice, the site says: “You cannot justify homosexual activity in the light of divine revelation, and no doubt it is all sinful. Understand Islam properly, realise that even the identity of being ‘gay’ is problematic and un-Islamic, and repent to Allah, who is Forgiving, Merciful”. None of this has deterred the SNP from offering Saeed the opportunity to contest the Glasgow Central seat in the next General Election.
Along with funding for SIF, in July 2008 alone, the SNP-controlled government had awarded £100,000 for Connecting and Empowering Communities run by Glasgow’s Scottish Council of Jewish Communities; £130,000 for the Festival of Spirituality and Peace organised by the Church of St John the Evangelist in Edinburgh; £130,000 for Edinburgh Interfaith Association’s Interfaith Development Project and £190,000 for Glasgow’s Youth Community Support Agency for its Faith Exploration Services.
If not state-funding Islamic festivals, foundations and education, the SNP have given their tacit support to Shari’a courts, Halal meat preparation and courted theocratic countries in the Middle East for funding.
We haven’t elected any of the clerics that sit in the House of Lords as of right. (No other western democracy would permit it). Neither do the majority of us want religionists running our schools, welfare services or shaping our laws. But it looks like we are going to get them anyway, doesn’t it?
Garry Otton’s book ‘Badge of Shame’ - The Repeal of Section 28 in Scotland, is currently being serialised in ScotsGay magazine and on the Scottish Media Monitor website.
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