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Saturday, 11 June 2011

Brian Souter receives a knighthood – an insult too far.

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!

10 comments:

Jennie Kermode said...

This sums up my own feelings on the matter very effectively. Perhaps it is difficult for those who did not experience the increased prejudice resulting from his campaign first hand, or did not know people directly harmed by it, to understand quite how hideous it was; but everyone should be able to see that there is no room for hatred in Scottish society. Mr Souter's actions made things much harder for the charities working to protect lgb people in Scotland, and he attempted to have funding withdrawn from those which helped people with HIV and AIDS, so to call him charitable is a sick joke. Mr Souter may be accorded a title but until he sees the error of his ways and makes recompense he will always be without honour.

Jenny Douglas said...

I never thought that I would be agreeing with a LibDem but I am. Brilliant article & sums up exactly what Souter is & stands for. This award is an insult to those who work tirelessly for charities & do so without prejudice.His previous "ethics &work practises" when Stagecoach was first formed were dubious to say the very least. As a trade union member I know the way that workers were asked to carry out their duties. He tried to use money to get his goal & as the previous poster has said his attempts to stop funding for HIV & Aids work was appalling. Many lgbt people, those with HIV & Aids etc use or have no choice but to use his transport services. Me personally would prefer not to give this pathetic excuse of a man one more penny.
Honours should go to those who have genuinely given to society. He will never have that honour in my eyes. Strange that not long after giving the SNP a massive donation the plans to de-regulate bus services etc was dropped...mmm?
I will glady sign any petiton to voice my disgust at this honour, shame I don't have millions to bankroll it. Perhaps Mr Souter will hand back the money that his lgbt customers have given him every year or he could do something charitable by donating it to a charity/organisation that helps lgbt.Hiv,Aids etc or perhaps give free buses to all Pride Parades. I won't hold my breath though.

Richard T said...

Far be it from me to suggest that crossing the SNP's paw with silver had anything to do with it. After all they are a party dedicated to freedom and free expression aren't they? Still look on the bright side, they could have made his sister a lady.

Andrew said...

Richard - All I can say is that I HOPE Souter's donation to SNP funds had nothing to do with his knighthood. I really don't want to think our First Minister or any senior figure in the SNP would seek to reward "generosity" in that way. I also HOPE it's purely coincidental that plans to deregulate the bus services were dropped shortly after Souter's donations were made public.

Jenny - thank you for your fantastic comment. I find myself agreeing with people of many political affiliations and I sometimes even say positive things about other parties! I'm sure there might be other things we agree on! I am myself a union member and a former UNISON rep and am in complete agreement with you in regards Souter's business practices. Why such dubious and ethically questionable dealings should bring him a knighthood is a mystery to me. I'm sure Stagecoach employees will agree.

I personally try not to use his bus services but unfortunately sometimes I have little choice. His knighthood is, as you say, not only an insult to charities but also to the many people who do so much real charity work. To describe Souter as a charitable person really is stretching the point a bit. He's never been remotely charitable to either his employees or those in the LGBT community.

Honours really should go to the right people, and I think next year I'm going to nominate two local campaigners who I know have worked pretty hard and have given so much of themselves to their causes, not simply thrown vast sums of money around.

I am pleased to see the outrage that Souter's knighthood has generated though - proof enough that the majority of Scottish society will no longer tolerate homophobia.

Andrew said...

1852 signatures so far! In just over a day! A fantastic start!

Andrew said...

There is also a facebook group campaigning for withdrawal of Souter's knighthood: http://tinyurl.com/6e29sbo

Anonymous said...

HI Andrew, I dont remember much about Souter's campaign to keep the clause, as I would have been 13 at the time but his reputation goes before him and he has never apologised for offence or hurt caused. I like your intelligent post and have just found your blog which I will look through because it seems you have an interest in lgbt rights. Like Jenny Douglas I don't always find myself agreeing with Libdems but on this you're spot on. Souter should never have been given any kind of honour but a knighthood really is f***ing insulting. it's an absolute joke. By the way, who is responsible for nominating him, is it Alex Salmond or David Cameron?

Anonymous said...

Hey Andrew, why don't you contact Brian Souter via his website? http://www.briansouter.com/ There's some interesting pics of him wearing various uniforms, you don't think he's a closet gay by chance?

Anonymous said...

I am starting a facebook blog for all to congratulate Sir Brian Souter on his long-overdue Knighthood. He is the voice of the moral, silent, mass majority of the country. Well done Sir Brian Souter.

He is not homophobic but paedophobic.

Andrew said...

To the last anonymous contributor: of course you can set up a facebook group to congtratulate Brian Souter if you so wish. I imagine you won't find too many supporters though, especially as even groups like the Church of Scotland and the Episcopal Church have distanced themselves from the kind of attitude Souter expressed back in 2000.

I will disagree that he is the voice of the "moral majority". I believe the evidence is that the vast majority of Scots have no ill-will towards people of LGBT orientations. I would contest that Souter is the unacceptable voice of a minority view - it's clearly even a minority view within the Christian church! But you are entitled to your opinion and I'm sure Brian will appreciate your congratulations.

One final point though - I think you should buy a dictionary. I would accuse Brian Souter of many things but I wouldn't suggest that he was paedophobic (i.e. child-hating)!