I remember very clearly Brian Souter’s obviously homophobic “Keep the Clause” campaign back in 2000. It was one of a number of events that eventually served to define me politically and develop my social conscience. His “referendum” and intolerance-fuelled struggle to retain Section 2a (regrettably supported by such social luminaries as the Daily Record) made a huge impression on me. It was when I realised that institutional homophobia not only existed, but that in its rampant forms had the potential to divide our nation and destroy its social fabric. I also was shocked by how easily Souter and his pseudo-Christian campaign moved away from their supposed aims (i.e. “protection” of children) and turned their fire on gay people and LGBT groups while a large part of the population appeared to support him. I was horrified at the uninformed prejudice masquerading as “family values”. Souter’s campaign was dishonest, based on lies, misconceptions and smears. It was also, in the short term, immensely damaging and for some time was allowed to dictate Scotland’s socio-political agenda.
Around this time, a young gay man I knew committed suicide. The pressure of simply being himself at this time was too much for him. I’m not saying anything more than that, but like the various characters in An Inspector Calls who simply are unable to grasp their culpability in situations that don’t directly concern them, Souter was indirectly responsible for a lot of unnecessary suffering. He certainly played a large role in demonising Scotland’s LGBT community and creating a poisonous atmosphere for debating what should have been a straightforward political issue.
I was very proud of many of our politicians from the Liberal Democrats – and also from Labour, the SNP, the Greens and the SSP – who were determined to stand together to defeat prejudice, even though the cost was a Tory gain in the Ayr by-election. All these years later, attitudes have shifted so much that it’s hard to see the Daily Record ever running with such a homophobic campaign again – or the actions of someone bankrolling a “referendum”, like Mr Souter, being seen as anything other than an expression of intolerant bigotry.
Unfortunately, and quite incomprehensively, Brian Souter is to receive a knighthood in the honours list. I don’t know why. Perhaps its due to his donations to the SNP, although officially it is for his services to public transport and “charitable work”. I can safely say that his dubious business ethic should not merit the honour he is receiving; as for his “charity” – well, he has never shown much of that to people of an LGBT persuasion. I am completely bemused that someone with his record for stirring up homophobia should receive any type of honour, let alone a knighthood. Frankly, it’s an insult to those who he would marginalise and discriminate against.
I was chatting on twitter this morning with a number of people. All but one were predictably appalled by Souter’s knighthood. One, however, took issue with me and argued that all Souter has ever done is “stand up for family values”. If only that was true. Unfortunately, Souter’s defender then made his own rather uninformed judgements about gay people (comparing them to paedophiles, arguing that homosexuality was “unnatural, etc), which neatly summed up Souter’s position and underlined why a man holding such views should never be offered an honour.
I see there is an online petition urging the Cabinet Office to withdraw Brian Souter’s knighthood. It has, so far, 1,066 signatories. I would urge you to sign. I am not simply concerned about Mr Souter’s history and his outspoken prejudice. I am also concerned that he should have been offered an honour in the first instance. As Caron Lindsay observes, it would be unacceptable for someone with overtly racist views to receive a knighthood, so why should exceptions be made for other – equally repugnant – intolerance?
If, however, the decision is not reversed, I am in agreement with one of my twitter friends who suggests we should call him Dame Brian – just to annoy him. Dame Brian Souter MBE (Member of the Bigoted Establishment) seems quite apt somehow.
On a more positive note, I was delighted that Bernard Cribbins was recognised in the honours list. Now there is a man who deserves his gong - a real legend in his own lifetime. Souter, on the other hand, is simply a miserable, bigoted reactionary.
I'm pleased to be back blogging after a short absence. Many thanks for e-mails from people enquiring as to my well-being. I have been taking a break with my family and will be back to what passes for normality next week!