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John Lamont

A guy named John Lamont got himself in deep shit yesterday in the Scottish Parliament during a discussion over the proposed bill to impose severe penalties, including serious time jail sentences, for sectarian behaviour related to football. He was silly enough to claim that the existence, indeed the prevalence of faith schools in the west of Scotland, has contributed to the religious rivalries and outright hatred that has blighted that part of my country for a couple of centuries, and had conditioned the people whose behaviour the new laws are out to curb. Lamont’s remarks were greeted with instant outrage by the Catholic church, and by the Scottish Government’s community safety minister Roseanna Cunningham, who I saw on television gazing in scornful astonishment at him as he spoke. I’m not going to get into the argument, other than to say that I thought the guy was reckless and intemperate, but I would suggest that Ms Cunningham should stay out of it as well. She might have been born in Glasgow, but she was brought up in Australia and so has no idea of the realities of school education in post-war Scotland. I do, because I was there. (I’m not so sure about Mr Lamont, but I’ll get to him later.)

The term ‘faith school ‘ is misleading in a 1950s context; if the term existed, it was never used. Officially, local authority schools were Catholic or non-denominational, but don’t let anyone kid you about the latter; for ‘non-denominational’, read ‘Protestant’. The division was absolutely clear, and the society of the time did nothing to blur it. I remember going to an inter-schools swimming gala in Motherwell Baths as a pupil of Knowetop Primary, the top ‘non-denominational’ school in town. The Catholic kids booed our swimmers and we booed theirs. It was a matter of routine, but I don’t believe there was true malice in it, not among children. In Fifties Motherwell I was nine years old before I ever met and played with a Catholic coeval. He joined our gang in the park during the summer holidays and he fitted in perfectly. His name was Phil McKeown and we never thought to ask him what school he attended, (one of two Central Scotland code questions, the other being ‘Did you play for the Boys’ Brigade?’) not until the end of August and it was time to go back there. When we did, and he said ‘Park Street’, my pals and I were more pleased than anything else, because he was a good lad and we’d liked him. I don’t know what Phil thought, for we never saw him again, but I do know this; our summer friendship proved to me even then that people are more important than ministers of any religion, and that good will always out, if given the chance.

That is why, ultimately, issues aside, I believe that Mr Lamont is a fool to have opened his mouth in the way he did. He was born in 1976, and thus if he was educated at Kilwinning Academy, as he claims, he didn’t get there until the late eighties, when things had moved on. I say ‘as he claims’ because according to his official Scottish Tory biography, he is a Borders worthy, the son of a Berwickshire farmer and a local teacher. That’s a hell of a long way from Kilwinning, but the man has a first class law degree from Glasgow University, so let’s assume he was telling the truth yesterday about his secondary education. And yet he chooses not to mention any of it on his party website. Just as he didn’t mention yesterday the fact that things have moved on, and that Bishop Joseph Devine is correct when he points out that many parents from other denominations do now choose to send their children to Catholic schools, possibly because they prefer an education that has a moral foundation, than one in which political correctness rules. (Will I be in bother for saying that? Probably. Do I care? No.)

Hell, I said I wasn’t getting into the argument, and what have I gone and done? Lamont is a fool, end of story. They don’t teach bigotry in modern faith schools and they didn’t in the Catholic schools of my era or in the Proddy versions either. The venom that has been spewed for decades at Rangers-Celtic football matches, didn’t begin in the schools and they haven’t perpetuated it. Where did it begin? God might know, but I’m sure He lost interest a while back, just as the brain-dead who chuck insults and bottles have no interest in Him either. My guess? It’s a flaw in our physical makeup, a defective gene in humanity that has implanted in the great majority of our species the compulsive need to have someone to hate.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Joy Chatters
    June 24, 2011 at 7:56 pm

    I moved my son to a Roman Catholic school many years ago because I found a more caring, family environment there than in the state school he had been attending. He had been baptised in his father’s faith, although I was an Anglican, which gave us the option to choose which school he attended. John Lamont was wrong to suggest that separate ‘faith’ schools created sectarianism although In the days of traditional school assemblies the Anglican, Roman Catholics and non conformists were at least all united in prayer and those who were not of Christian faith opted out for the 15 minutes the assemblies took and were never, in my school at any rate, made to feel different. By the way, John is from Ayrshire, although his family have been in the Borders for many years. In spite of this slip he is an excellent constituency MSP and will usually have my full support.

    • June 24, 2011 at 11:29 pm

      Still a fool. Don’t poke a bear, even with a very long stick.

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