Scotland politics

Tory spokesman John Lamont in 'sectarian' school attack

John Lamont
Image caption John Lamont warned of problems in the west of Scotland school system

The Scottish Tory justice spokesman has accused the west of Scotland school system of overseeing "state-sponsored conditioning of sectarian attitudes".

John Lamont's comments came as MSPs debated emergency laws to increase jail terms for sectarian-related behaviour connected to football.

He said segregating children in Catholic and non-denominational schools contributed to the problem.

The Catholic Church branded the comments "offensive" and "malicious".

Community Safety minister Roseanna Cunningham also attacked Mr Lamont's remarks, describing them as an "astonishing diatribe".

His comments came as MSPs backed the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Bill at its first vote.

The bill aims to stamp out abusive behaviour from football fans whether they are watching matches in a stadium, in the pub or commenting online.

The legislation, which ministers now want to see passed by the end of the year, would raise the maximum jail term from six months to five years.

It came in the wake of several high-profile football-related incidents.

These include trouble at Rangers/Celtic games and the sending of suspected bombs to Celtic manager Neil Lennon and two other high-profile supporters of the club.

Recalling his time growing up and attending a non-denominational school in Kilwinning, North Ayrshire, Mr Lamont said tensions with a local Catholic school resulted in pupils spitting and throwing stones and eggs at school buses.

"This segregation of our young people has brought them up to believe that the two communities should be kept separate," he said.

The Tory MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire - whose party officially supports faith schools - said the education system of west central Scotland had, "produced many, if not all, of those who are responsible for the shocking behaviour which we have witnessed in recent months".

He went on: "The education system in this part of Scotland is effectively the state-sponsored conditioning of these sectarian attitudes.

"And I say this as someone who believes, as a Christian country, we should do more to promote Christian values in our young people and support religious education in schools.

"Clearly these attitudes are being entrenched at home and the wider community in these small pockets of west central Scotland."

But the Bishop of Motherwell, Rt Rev Joseph Devine, said evidence pointed to an overwhelming majority of Catholic parents, as well as many parents of other denominations, choosing to send their children to Catholic, rather than non-denominational, schools.

"The claim that Catholic schools are the cause of sectarianism is offensive and untenable," said the bishop, also president of the Catholic Education Commission.

"There has never been any evidence produced by those hostile to Catholicism to support such a malicious misrepresentation.

"Is Mr Lamont really claiming that he knows better than parents what is in the best interests of their children? Is it arrogance or ignorance on his part?

"Let him either produce the hard evidence to support such irresponsible claims or withdraw them."

Ms Cunningham, said: "After listening to John Lamont's astonishing diversion into a diatribe against Scottish education, I really do think that perhaps they (the Scottish Conservatives) need to reconsider how they are going to approach the whole issue of sectarianism in Scotland.

"Because that would suggest to me that they are reckless as to whether or not actually it gets stirred up even further."

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