Alex Salmond being boxed in by God?
In spite of his political skills, Alex Salmond is being forced to come off the fence as some of his SNP team members sing off a different hymn sheet from the party line on sexuality.
Alex Salmond worried by John Mason's line
In what could become a repeat of a controversy which almost killed the new Scottish Parliament at birth, Scotland could again be rocked by a political crisis over gay issues.
Last week, an MSP found himself on the receiving end of attacks from many quarters – including some from within his own party. John Mason, a committed Christian, tabled a parliamentary motion which said that no-one should be forced to approve of same-sex marriage.
Mr. Mason's position led to criticism from SNP MP Pete Wishart who wrote on his Twitter site: "John Mason's nasty little anti-gay marriage motion is just wrong, and really disappointed that other colleagues have signed it."
Meanwhile the Labour party, in the form of deputy leader Johann Lamont is keeping the First Minister on the rack by requesting from him a clear timetable from the SNP administration’s promised consultation on same-sex marriage. Lamont said: "If Alex Salmond is serious about equality and equal rights for gay people, then he should publicly distance himself from John Mason's coded attack on gay people and name the date."
Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said regarding the motion: “All it does is serve to emphasise again the prejudices and intolerance that still exists in Scotland surrounding same-sex marriage.”
Green MSP Patrick Harvie who prior to his election in 2003, worked within the Gay Men's Project at the sexual health organisation PHACE Scotland, said the motion was “specifically anti-gay”. [ Harvie came to prominence at the time of the national furore over the repeal of Clause 2A (aka Section 28) in the year 2000 which was designed to prevent school children being taught that homosexuality was a valid lifestyle choice.]
|Unison equalities officer Eileen Dinning said: "John Mason's motion opposing gay marriage is ludicrous and out of step with a modern and progressive parliament".
The problem for Mr. Salmond is that he has in the past been effusive in his praise of Mr. Mason and described him as having run one of the “sharpest campaigns in political history” at the time of his election victory in Glasgow East at a previous by-election.
But now the SNP leader will be under severe pressure to distance himself and his party from the motion which said that no person or organisation should be “forced” to be involved in – or approve of – same-sex marriage.
The motion was sparked by a campaign launched by the Scottish Youth Parliament for legislation which would also give mixed-sex couples permission to enter into civil partnerships if they want to.
First Minister being forced off the fence
The situation is very much reminiscent of the Clause 2A/Section 28 furore which saw Stagecoach boss Brian Soutar and the late Cardinal Thomas Winning publicly and vigourously oppose the new Scottish Parliament’s agenda. Ms Lamont said: "Alex Salmond needs to make clear with whom he agrees with. Is it John Mason's thinly-veiled attack on gay people or is it Pete Wishart?" On the Labour Party's web site she writes: "Alex Salmond cannot sit on the fence any longer."
So the situation is forcing individuals and political parties to state clearly where their opinions lie.
Dave Thompson MSP
Some MSPs signed up to support Mr. Mason’s cause, but some who signed are now saying they signed “in error”.
Aberdeenshire West SNP MSP Dennis Robertson and his party colleague Highlands and Islands list MSP Mike MacKenzie have removed their names from the list of signatories.
However another nationalist MSP who shares Mason’s Christian convictions is standing by his colleague and against the party view. Dave Thompson, the MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch has pledged his support.
It looks as if the battle lines are again being drawn over this most contentious of issues. Whether the public mood, which saw the country split at the time, has changed since the early days of the Scottish Parliament remains to be seen. After the party’s election victory in May the process of consultation would begin “later this year”.
John Mason MSP In the surprise Westminster by-election in July 2008 John Mason was elected as the first SNP MP for what had traditionally been seen as the safe Labour seat of Glasgow East. At Westminster he was the SNP's spokesperson on Work and Pensions.
John was returned as the Member of the Scottish Parliament for Shettleston in May 2011.
His other interests include involvement in Easterhouse Baptist Church, walking and camping, and watching Clyde FC.
The late Derek Prince has been quoted as saying "when God determines to revive the church He first of all electrifies the fence." What Prince meant by the expression is that folk find themselves totally unable to sit on it.
The issue of sexuality has polarised the nation before; it is doing so again — both in the political and religious spheres. It is thus obliging Christians to stand for what they believe in and face the consequences.
Pray for John Mason, Dave Thompson and other Christian politicians who are now finding themselves in opposition to the run of the tide in the media, society and the political realm.