BY Ryan McDougall | November 29 2019 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Ringing endorsement for Catholic schools as Education minister calms concerns

CROSS-PARTY support for a parliamentary debate ‘puts to rest’ rumours stating politicians have privately questioned the future of Catholic education, the deputy first minister told Scottish parliament.

MSP John Swinney, the cabinet secretary for Education, was speaking in Holyrood on Tuesday November 26 during a debate on the ‘positive contribution of Catholic schools’, where he addressed recent comments made by a Catholic from Scotland who is now a Netflix executive, that suggest Scottish politicians had privately discussed closing down Catholic schools.

The motion, raised by Labour MSP Elaine Smith, aimed to show the ‘vital role’ Catholic schools have in the Scottish education system since the 1918 Education Act, and highlighted how Catholic schools are not a cause of sectarianism.

Under attack

Mrs Smith said: “Despite being in existence since 1918, Faith schools have, sadly, again come under attack under the guise of ending sectarianism in Scotland. However, the issue in Scotland that needs urgently addressed is anti-Catholicism.

“Roman Catholics are subject to more attacks than all other religious groups combined; indeed, half of all reported religiously aggravated hate crimes are against Roman Catholics. The recent comments by a former senior Police Officer, who claimed that Catholic schools should be abolished in the bid to end sectarianism, are unacceptable.

“That claim not only attempts to blame victims for the crimes, it flies in the face of reality. If sectarianism could be resolved simply be the removal of catholic schools — how do we explain and resolve other forms of prejudice and religious discrimination? There are 2,000 Catholic schools in England and wales. If Catholic schools cause sectarianism, why is it not an issue here?”

As the debate went on, Joan McAlpine, SNP MSP for South Scotland, cited a recent Tweet by Mark Millar, a hugely successful Catholic writer and filmmaker known for working on multiple Marvel and DC comics and films, who last month warned that there is a ‘massive push’ in Scotland to close down Catholic schools.


Mr Millar warned that he had heard ‘several high-profile politicians privately telling me they want them gone. All parties.’

Referring to his comments, Mrs McAlpine said in parliament: “I don’t know who [these politicians] were, because I’ve never heard any of them saying it privately, but I think the turnout today amongst politicians from across the chamber for this debate shows that this parliament is fully in support of Catholic schools and we want to send a really strong message that by supporting Catholic schools we’re supporting a truly equal society that accepts difference and diversity.”

She also agreed with Elaine Smith’s comments, stating those who suggest Catholic schooling is responsible for sectarianism is ‘basically tantamount to victim blaming’ and that Catholics today are ‘still subject to far more sectarian attacks and discrimination than other parts of the population.’

Closing the debate, Mr Swinney added: “Joan McAlpine mentioned the comments of Mark Millar about private conversations amongst politicians questioning the future of Roman Catholic schools and I can say openly, on the record, I have never heard such a conversation taking place and I think the demonstration of cross-party support for Catholic education that we have heard tonight perhaps puts to rest comments of that nature.


“It is vital that our support for Catholic education is expressed without equivocation and I do so positively and enthusiastically in parliament this evening. The Scottish Government remains an unequivocal supporter of Catholic education — we value the contribution Catholic schools and faith schools make and we are absolutely determined to ensure that this tradition is maintained in Scotland as a vital element of the Scottish education system.”

Other MSPs who spoke were: SNP MSPs Richard Lyle, Annabelle Ewing, Fulton MacGregor, John Mason and Clare Adamson, Labour MSPs Jackie Bailie and Iain Gray, and Conservative MSP Liz Smith.

All speakers spoke highly of Catholic schools in Scotland, gaining a round of applause from Archbishop Leo Cushley of St Andrews and Edinburgh, members of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, Anthony Horan, director of the Scottish Catholic Parliamentary Office and pupils of three Edinburgh-based Catholic secondary schools: St Augustine’s High School, St Thomas of Aquin’s High School and Holyrood High School.

Following the debate, a reception was held with Mrs Smith in the parliament for the schools and Church representatives present.


Mrs Smith told the SCO the debate was a ‘real success’ and said it was ‘fantastic to acknowledge the role that Catholics play in Scotland.’

Elaine Smith added: “I think there has been some criticism of Catholic schools on social media and I think it was fantastic that a cross-party group of MSPs got together this evening to praise Catholic schools, to recognise the contribution they make to our Scottish society and to ensure that Catholic schools can go on and flourish in the future, so I think that was the importance of it.

“It was excellent that it took place in Catholic Education week and we were able to put out that positive message about our Catholic schools.”

Anthony Horan, director of the Catholic Parliamentary Office for Scotland, thanked Mrs Smith for bringing forward the parliamentary motion.

“It achieved cross-party support which is fantastic and I think that, coupled with all of the contributions in tonight’s debate was the Scottish parliament giving a ringing endorsement of Catholic schools, and that’s a wonderful thing,” he said.

Gospel values

Prior to the debate, director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, Barbara Coupar said: “Between the feasts of St Margaret, Queen of Scotland, and St Andrew, Catholic schools are celebrating how they promote Gospel values in their local communities and across Scottish society.

“It is fitting that our elected members join in marking Catholic Education Week to share their experiences of the positive contribution the Catholic schools in their constituencies make.

“MSPs have a unique opportunity in this member’s debate to be present and to add their voice to those publicly challenging the untruths that Catholic education cause segregation and separation. In doing so they’ll show those who choose Catholic education, from all faiths and none, that they support them in their choice.”

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