NUS Scotland are campaigning for the founder of the Stagecoach company to have his knighthood withdrawn after his attempts to repeal anti-homophobic legislation.
Over the weekend it was announced that Brian Souter, a high profile financial supporter of the SNP had been awarded the knighthood, as part of the Queen’s birthday honours, for services to transport.
However campaigners have voiced concerns at the move, arguing that Souter’s bank rolling of the Keep the Clause campaign, to repeal legislation in Scotland forbidding local authorities to “intentionally promote homosexuality”, (known as Section 2A in Scotland and section 28 across the rest of the UK), proves an intolerance that should not be rewarded in this way.
Speaking in 2000, Peter Tatchell said of Souter:
“Brian Souter’s support for Section 28 is the moral equivalent of the business-funded campaign to maintain racial segregation in the Deep South of the USA in the 1950s.”
Souter went on to organise a postal ballot of all those Scots registered to vote from 1999, which, on the basis of a return rate of 31.8%, produced results seeing 86.8% of respondents preferring to keep section 2A with 13.2% against its continuation.
While Souter dubbed it a “tremendous result”, the then communities minister, Wendy Alexander, said of the result:
“I think what is significant about today’s ballot is that two out of three voters rejected, or binned or simply ignored this glorified opinion poll.”
And writing in the Herald during the campaign on the poll, one mother said of Souter’s campaign:
“I am the mother of two young children, not yet at school age, and I am appalled by the advertising and publicity thrown in my face telling me to ”Keep the Clause”. I will be doing my best to bring my children up to be secure in the knowledge that whatever they choose to do, respectful of others, my husband and I will always love them and encourage them.
“If my children grow up and are gay nothing will change that. This is the start of a new millennium – show me the normal house now? Nuclear family? I don’t think so. Do the pro-Clause campaigners think they can buy their own agenda into the curriculum? I would prefer that their bigotry did not reach my children, but unfortunately I know that’s not possible. Having the cash to fund a campaign helps to disguise their narrow-minded, outdated agenda.
“Anyone who encourages an atmosphere where a child may feel threatened, isolated, or lonely should be condemned. I am all for healthy debate and differences of opinion; freedom of speech in a democratic society, equal rights for all. So let them campaign. But please don’t let them get away with it.
“As for the Clause – it’s not about promoting anything, but it’s about living together and not judging other people – a valuable lesson for young children in a fast-changing society.”
Asked on an edition of Question Time in May 2000 about weather wealthy individuals should be allowed to fund referendum in the way Souter had on section 2A, Souter responded:
“Guilty as charged. The Labour Party would not be able to function without the substantial contribution it gets from trade unions and from wealthy individuals. The Tory Party functions with the contributions that its members make to it. There’s absolutely no difference between that and what I’m doing here except I am not obtaining a knighthood in return for it – that’s the difference, there’s nothing coming back on the turn.”
The Liberal Democrat/Labour administration in Edinburgh at the time subsequently went on to repeal section 2A.
Having been given the knighthood Souter said he was not obtaining, the NUS in Scotland has launched a petition seeking to have his knighthood withdrawn, with the petition reading:
“Mr Souter ran a campaign of fear and misinformation which was deeply hurtful to the LGBT community in Scotland.
“The ‘Keep The Clause Campaign’ increased hatred towards an already victimised group and saw a corresponding increase in violence against LGBT people.
“We believe that it is wrong for such a person to be given such a high honour by Her Majesty The Queen and call on HM government to withdraw this award.”
The Scottish Sun has reported that Souter has refused to comment on the matter.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.