21 January 2008

Let he who is without sin...

Interesting, isn't it, how senior Labour apparatchik John McTernan criticised Scotland for being narrow, and for racism and "Presbyterianism", in a six-year-old e-mail to Karen Gillon?

Last time I checked, Presbyterianism was a denomination of the Christian faith, and the Church of Scotland - whose members account for 42% of Scotland's population according to the last census - is a Presbyterian Church.

I don't wish to get into the 'talking Scotland down' debate - Scotland is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, (no country can ever be perfect) and bigotry of all forms, including racism, is a problem.

But to dismiss an important part of Scotland's religious (and so cultural) life as a problem holding Scotland back is one of the most appalling examples of sectarian bigotry I can think of from someone who has played such a key role in public life. The irony is that his own narrow views prove his point: he reveals his own prejudices in his patronising rant. He displays aspects of the problems he identifies with Scotland - except the Presbyterianism, of course - in that message.

I'm not a Christian myself, and I'll be happy to attack any Christian leaders who spout utter rubbish (that would be quite a few of them), but to attack an entire Church?

No, this cannot stand. McTernan is wrong: he is just as narrow-minded as the rest, and a hypocrite to boot. Why is it OK to dismiss the religious views of more than 42% of the population - the Kirk is not the only Presbyterian game in town - and at the same time attack the rest of the country for bigotry?

One more point: has anyone else seen this row in this light? And if not, why not?


Anonymous said...

It was my first thought on the matter. He has obviously been drinking in the same pubs as James McMillan. It is fairly common for people of Irish Catholic descent to support Irish nationalism but despise Scottish nationalism, as they equate Presbyterianism with Scottish identity - and the kirk was not exactly kind to immigrants of Irish Catholic descent in the 19th and early 20th century (or, since the Plantation of Ulster, to native Irish). Their support of the union is basically a kickback against the fear of a chauvanistic, uninclusive Scottish identity which - who knows? - if Scotland were independent in the 1920s, may well have come to pass. I don't think there is a danger of it today thankfully, and the SNP is about as inclusive a party as you can get.

Fortunately things have been changing recently, and sectarianism and the victim/victor mentality are finally dying out. But not quickly enough - I still have friends in their 30s in the west coast who believe they are being passed over for jobs because of the primary school they went to, or who like singing the Sash.

Kezia Dugdale said...


Your argument stands if you start from the base point that everything John said was a criticism.

By your logic, stating that Scotland is Presbyterian is simply stating a fact. It need not be read as a subjective adjective.

In my view, John's simply stating that a more secular country is a more tolerant one.

You also seem to brush over the reference to Racism. I've written about it in my post which you've an equal right to criticise!



p.s. I've got an tantalising offer to put to you which I will do via the medium of facebook soon...

maccoinnich said...

Oh, for God's sake. I'm not a Labour supporter by any stretch, but I think the whole thing is such a non-story. I could imagine myself saying a similar thing as an off-hand joke, and no one would care in the slightest. But because he's in public office, it's suddenly a hanging offence.

Will said...

Well, Kez, I think it's a logical basis to start from when he said, "You'll like Sweden, it's the country Scotland would be if it wasn't so narrow, racist, Presbyterian..." so I infer from that several things:

1. Sweden is good.

2. Scotland could be good too.

3. Narrow-mindeded is a factor holding Scotland back (Hard to disagree with that).

4. Along with narrow-mindedness, racism is also a factor holding Scotland back (I'm taking it as read that that's true, but not unique to Scotland... more can always be done, hopefully the way things are panning out on hate crime law will make things slightly better).

5. Along with narrow-mindedness and racism, Presbyterianism is also a factor holding Scotland back (I disagree).

It's a matter of context: yes, Presbyterian can be an objective adjective but it's in an adjectival phrase with two other adjectives which have highly negative connotations. And given the tone of the sentence, why would he mention Presbyterianism at all, if it were just an observation of fact?

Having said all that, fair play to you for stating a case for the defence... it's always tough, but it needs to happen so even if you're the only one not demanding his head on a stick, I can disagree with you but I won't criticise you.

(By the way, you've intrigued me!)

And Maccoinnich, of course he gets criticised for saying this as a figure with influence... precisely because he is a figure with influence. Assuming that any of the negative readings of his message are correct, he's basically slagged off 42% of the Scottish population and he's high up in the hierarchy of the Labour party, which is in charge in London and was in charge in Edinburgh until May. I am perturbed by that.

maccoinnich said...

It's funny, I'm part of that 42%, and I don't feel offended. I guess I'd feel more offended if I was an SNP supporter, and it was politically convenient for me to be offended.

It's a flippant line in a 6 year old email. Who really cares?

Will said...

I just find it telling, that in a party that supposedly prides itself on equality, supposedly opposes sectarianism and spoke happily of 'One Scotland' could be so flippant and dismissive of another faith.

I can't help but wonder what response I'd get, if I were to reproduce that message, only with a different religion in the sentence each time. Would all of them be quite so sanguine about the line?