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Richard Leonard: Catholic social justice helped shape Labour’s values

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard addresses the Catholic community after furore over senior official’s anti-Catholic comment

I want to take the opportunity to speak directly to the Catholic community in Scotland and make absolutely clear—Labour is on your side and will always stand up for Catholics in Scotland.

The remarks made by Andy Kerr at UK Labour Party conference were completely unacceptable and I condemn them unequivocally.

It is vital that people of all faiths challenge casual sectarianism. It should not be brushed off as banter or a poor attempt at humour. Failing to challenge this behaviour normalises it, and we must not allow such culture to take root.

The Labour Party has had a long relationship with Scotland’s Catholic community precisely because Catholic values on social justice helped shape Labour values.

We stand steadfast in our opposition to poverty and inequality, we will always strive for a fairer society, it is what the Labour Party was founded to do.

Indeed, Pope Francis has been ahead of most politicians and world leaders in his critique of modern capitalism, which he says encourages speculation over entrepreneurship and gives what he describes as a ‘moral cloak to inequality.’

There is the sense of solidarity and community. Labour encourages a society where we work together for the common good to help the less well off, meanwhile at parishes across Scotland and the whole UK this week Catholics will put what they can afford into the collection plate to help those in need.

It’s true for climate change too. Labour is committed to ensuring we leave our planet in a fit state for our children and grandchildren, that’s why we oppose fracking, want zero net emissions by 2050 and believe our economy should be built on a green jobs revolution.

Pope Francis has spoken many times of the need to protect our planet, calling for ‘care for our common home’ and telling the bosses of big oil and gas companies about the need to transition to a more sustainable model to cut emissions.

At the Scottish Parliament and at Westminster, Labour has challenged the austerity which is dragging people into poverty.

Labour MSP James Kelly delivered a landmark Member’s Bill at Holyrood to repeal the discredited Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act.

That law, now consigned to the dustbin of history thanks to Labour, broke down trust in our communities, and flew in the face of the progress the last Labour led Scottish Government made tackling sectarianism a priority, with the then First Minister Jack McConnell correctly labelling it Scotland’s shame.

The age of austerity also initially saw large cuts to the funding for anti-sectarianism projects—Labour pressure started a reversal in that and we made clear that the place to tackle sectarianism is in our class rooms and communities, it is too complex a problem to be solved on 90 minutes on a Saturday.

We will continue to press for a fairer, more sustainable and more tolerant society, based on these shared values. Scotland’s Catholic community can be assured that under my leadership we will always challenge bigotry and we will always strive against inequality.

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