Apparently speaking for the whole SNP group on the Council, Mason responded... .
The SNP has been asked what its view is of the Labour Group Leader's announcement that he is gay. John Mason replied, "We will be spending our time attacking Cllr Purcell's destructive policies, not his personal life. Steven Purcell has broken down the committee system, sidelined many councillors from decision-making, and now is hiving off parts of the Council into unaccountable trusts and companies. All of that gives us plenty of ground to attack Labour on. We do not require to attack Labour councillors on a personal basis."
Frankly, I'm astonished that the SNP group would have selected John Mason to respond for them on this issue. And, having selected him, I'm still more surprised that they allowed him to release these remarks in their name. Mason's remarks remind me of the ambitious Christmas elf caballing against his tippling employer, who assures his local rag, the Lapland Chronicle that...
"Santa Claus' chronic alcoholism and obesity are a matter purely for him. It would be quite, quite inappropriate for me to dwell on his ravaged liver, his intravenous mince pie use or the numerous drink-sledging bans which the courts had made against him. Moreover, if he is in the habit of interfering with Donner and Blitzen when the nights draw in, well, that is entirely a matter for him, and is not a topic I feel comfortable bringing up, never mind discussing. Honestly, it's his declining facility for manufacturing bespoke grenadier nutcrackers which is really concerning us all."
Some may disagree with the assessment of Mason's comments as homophobic. They may not be blatant and littered with the epithets of casual abuse, but the effect is more subtle, more telling and perhaps best identified by asking, what sort of person, if blandly asked about their views on someone's newly publicised homosexuality, immediately assumes they are being invited to attack that person's character? Unlike my climbing and Machiavellian elfin subordinate, there is little indication that Mason is aware of the casual homophobia which informs and makes intelligible this response to the question of Purcell's sexuality. By suggesting that the SNP does not need to resort to personal attacks on Purcell, Mason clearly implies that Purcell's homosexuality is something which could furnish the basis for just such an attack, which the benevolent nationalist Councillors decided to abstain from. The ugly homophobic logic is quiet, but undeniably present.
Remarks from a good while back, certainly, but interesting in the context of John Mason's motion on the "Equal Marriage Debate", which has caused a stir. The media have particularly picked up Pete Wishart's criticism of its terms as a "nasty little anti-gay marriage motion". It reads as follows:
That the Parliament notes the current discussion about same-sex marriages and the Scottish Government’s forthcoming public consultation concerning equal marriage; further notes that, while some in society approve of same-sex sexual relationships, others do not agree with them; desires that Scotland should be a pluralistic society where all minorities can live together in peace and mutual tolerance; believes that free speech is a fundamental right and that even when there is disagreement with another person’s views, that person has the right to express these views, and considers that no person or organisation should be forced to be involved in or to approve of same-sex marriages.
Cue a number of sneering, look-I-told-you-so suggestions (often, I'm afraid, from the Labour-sympathetic) that, despite every declaration to the contrary, that the SNP is really a party of enthusiastic bigots, and that overtures to inclusiveness and tolerance are simply cultivated rather than sincere. This is wearying predictable and, as the following will demonstrate, simply inaccurate. Curiously, over the last couple of days, MSPs who had originally been recorded as supporting Mason's motion have deleted their endorsements. There has been some suggestion of technical glitches, although that may not strike the mind as immediately plausible. While SNP MSPs Gil Pateron, Dennis Robertson and Mike McKenzie initially appeared to support Mason's position, their names have now been removed from the motion, leaving only Richard Lyle and Bill Walker. Only Dave Thompson's has been added since. By contrast, Patrick Harvie's amendment has accumulated several more supporters in the meantime, at the time of writing including Jamie Hepburn (SNP), James Dornan (SNP), Sandra White (SNP), Kevin Stewart (SNP), Maureen Watt (SNP), Dennis Robertson (SNP), Joe FitzPatrick (SNP), Gil Paterson (SNP), George Adam (SNP), Alison Johnstone (Green), Aileen McLeod (SNP), Joan McAlpine (SNP), John Finnie (SNP), Drew Smith (Labour), Willie Rennie (Liberal) and Mark McDonald (SNP). Given the condescending commentary from many Labour supporters about what they see as the unmasking of SNP reactionariness, and their own egalitarian credentials, the relative dearth of Labour signatories to this amendment must strike the fair minded observer as somewhat ironic.
However, in terms of clear political commitments, it is undeniably the case that the SNP's official line on marriage equality is profoundly limp, and we can certainly expect a few of our parliamentarians to articulate views that many in the party will profoundly disagree with. In the final analysis, however, I expect most SNP parliamentarians to support the equalising measure, however regrettably coy we might have been about making a clear party commitment to the policy. On page 16 of the manifesto, under the heading "a more equal Scotland", we say...
"We recognise the range of views on the questions of same-sex marriage and registration of civil partnership. We will therefore begin a process of consultation and discussion on these issues."
During the Holyrood campaign in May, Alex Salmond let it be known that he supports gay marriage. Although one might suspect that the timing of this declaration was prompted by the potentially alienating Souter factor, we have no reason not to take Salmond at his word that he'd vote for equalising marriage in Scotland. Similarly, at a hustings in Queens Park Baptist Church during the campaign, Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that she too supports gay marriage. Amusingly, her Labour opponent in Glasgow Southside, Stephen Curran, gave such an elaborate and circuitous answer (in the end, supporting gay marriage), that a wee auld wifie I met later that week actually believed that he'd insisted that a marriage is between a man and a women. Either that, or she had muddled him up with the skelf running in the constituency for the Tories, Councillor David Meikle, who insisted the marriage is a knot betwixt Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.
Although it very likely signals his personal approach to equal marriage for same-sex couples (and incidentally, I hope the consultation will also consider the possibility of civil partnerships for couples who are not of the same sex), the implications of much in Mason's motion are not immediately clear. Is he arguing some people oppose gay marriage, therefore it must not be permitted to go the statute book? His comments have been read like that, though he doesn't explicitly say so. Is he putting it to the parliament that marriage is exclusively a theological concept, "instituted by God" and thus limited to men and women, which the civil authorities should "recognise" and "uphold"? Maybe, but again, he doesn't explicitly say so. Surely, however, he is correct to identify this as a complicated issue, commingling law, social policy - and for some, theological positions.
What's more, it strikes me that the answers to the questions raised in and by Mason's motion are by no means straightforward or unerring deduced from accepting their premises. For example, I am not myself a religious creature, but I can imagine one of the faithful who believes that marriage is exclusively to be understood in theological terms, but who would be willing to recognise the right of civil authorities to bind same-sex couples in wedlock. These unions may not resonate in the divine sphere, for her, but would accept that that religious conception of marriage need not determine the approach taken by Scottish civil authorities. Others will disagree, demanding that marriage remain exclusively between men and women, while substantially agreeing between themselves on the idea that marriage is to be understood in primarily religious terms.
I for one very much welcome the disagreement and discourse which this has already prompted in the SNP group - which I fancy will, in due course, be felt in other parts of Holyrood too. I doubt the issue prompts a uniform reaction from either the Tory or Labour groups, for example. It is quite right for these issues to be discussed in parliament, for disagreement to be aired where disagreement exists, and the arguments and conceptions relied upon explored, and where necessary, dissected and rebutted. If we are going to get into these issues, understand one another, and hopefully, convince folk of the virtues of the state affording its citizens equal right to institute their relationships on equal terms, we should dispense with discussion-foreclosing responses which loftily dismiss alternative positions as "ridiculous", and leaving that intolerably brief characterisation as the last, trite word on the topic.