HAWICK MSP John Lamont has defended controversial comments he made during a debate on anti-sectarianism laws when he claimed that segregated schools in the west of Scotland were part of the problem.
The Tory MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire – whose party officially supports faith schools – found himself at the centre of a religious row after stating that 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”.
And he added: “The education system in this part of Scotland is effectively the state-sponsored conditioning of these sectarian attitudes.”
But those comments, which made national headlines on Friday, were part of a speech in which the senior Tory also stressed his support for faith schools, and spoke of his own experiences growing up in north Ayrshire.
And although he also stated: “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” – his comments were branded “offensive” and “malicious” by the Catholic church.
And First Minister Alex Salmond even called for Mr Lamont to either apologise or resign as the party’s justice spokesman.
But speaking to the Hawick News this week, the senior Tory (pictured) said his comments were taken out of context and were not intended to offend.
He told us “It is unfortunate that others have decided to misrepresent what I said but I was not elected to shy away from difficult debates. I am a great supporter of faith schools, including those in the Borders, but there are issues in the west of Scotland which we need to address.”
He added: “Sectarianism is a serious problem which blights too many parts of west central Scotland. It is right that the Scottish Parliament is looking at how to address this issue.
“However, as part of this debate we need to look at every aspect of this problem including the role that the education system plays in those communities in the west of Scotland which are affected by sectarianism.
“Unfortunately, I have experienced this problem at first hand so I felt it was important that I shared these experiences with other MSPs.”