Withdrawal from Depute Leader Contest

I’ve lived my whole life, over six decades of it, in the Southside of Glasgow. As anyone from the West of Scotland will tell you, when someone asks ‘what school did you go to?’, they aren’t wanting to know what area you are from. No, unlike where else, in this part of the country it is a loaded question with religious undertones.

Growing up, sectarianism was something I was almost used to. The dislike, hatred, and often violence between Catholics and Protestants almost felt like it was socially acceptable behaviour, a cultural norm. But of course it wasn’t, it isn’t, and it should never be.

Who we are as people should never be primarily defined by our race, our sexual orientation, our gender, our political preference, or our faith.

We’ve come a long way from my youthful years but there is no doubt that sectarianism is still Scotland’s Shame. Language that we’ve accepted as socially unacceptable, indeed illegal, still appears to be considered ‘just banter’ when it’s sectarian.

In recent weeks and months, whilst strongly defending the OBFA, I’ve become personally aware of an increased use of words like ‘fenian’ and ‘orange’ in a context of hate and aggression. Scotland and its future generations deserve more. I’ve received hate mail, slurs on my character and threats of violence against my person, but I will not be scared away from doing what I believe is right or change how I do my job.

One of the arguments I have heard over and over again from some members of the public and from the opposition parties when I was defending the OBFA and working on Strict Liability, was that we were concentrating too much on tackling sectarianism on the terraces but not where we should be – more deeply within the fabric of society.

Well, I accept that. That is why I’m setting out my stall here and now. From now on, I will be campaigning relentlessly to end the scourge of sectarianism in Scotland. My hope is that it should be treated with the same level of disgust as we rightly treat racism, homophobia and sexism.

I will be conferring with all interested parties to attempt to tackle sectarianism through legislation. Along with a wider campaign, we will hopefully drastically tackle the wider societal issues behind sectarianism, and eradicate the perception that it is still socially acceptable behaviour. The Scottish Government and third sector have already invested heavily in educational programmes, and we have seen a lot of progress over the years, but we need to up our game.

This will entail a lot of hard work, time and commitment and it is for that reason that I have decided to step down from the Depute Leadership race.

I am in the world of politics, and I’m well aware of the chatter and gossip that will come surrounding my withdrawal. Of course, people are entitled to draw their own conclusions.

You know, there is an old phrase ‘you cannot be all things to all men’ and I have decided that what I want to be, even more than Depute Leader of the SNP, is someone who will tackle this shame on our country.

I’m also delighted and confident that as I drop out of the contest there are still three great candidates left in it. As the race opened up, it reaffirmed to me that the SNP has a massive array of talent and natural leaders who want to see and affect change. With each of the remaining candidates being Scotland based with a heart for independence, it’s clear to me independence and the preparation for an early referendum is now front and centre.

Chris McEleny has shown he is a strong local politician and leader with a great social conscience and politics that chime with my own.

Keith Brown is an experienced, polished politician who has already shown his talents through his outstanding record in Government.

However, I have known and worked closely with Julie Hepburn over a number of years and I know that, like the others, she has a heart for the people of Scotland and for social justice. Her work ethic and commitment to people is remarkable. Her organisational skills and ability to get on with everyone is second to none. And it is for these reasons, and many others, that I have decided to give her my full and unwavering support. To combat sectarianism, we have to ask for unity, but it is hard to ask for unity amongst society if that isn’t reflected on our political benches. So my plea to members across the Scottish Parliament is get behind my campaign, to put aside party colours and join with me as we attempt to draw a line under religious hatred in Scotland.

I love what I do. I was elected to serve the people of Glasgow Cathcart and I recognise, that in good conscience, I cannot say I’m doing this to the best of my ability whilst young people continue to grow up in what is for some a ‘divided city’.

It would have been an honour to be part of the leadership of this party, should I have won the contest, however I became a politician because I wanted others to live in a better country than the one I grew up in.

That’s why I support independence but it’s also why, after a great degree of thought and discussion with those close to me, I have decided I can do that better by fighting sectarianism than by becoming Depute Leader of the SNP.

I want to thank all those who have already pledged their support for me. I promise to continue to support the preparation for an early referendum and to be the voice for the activists and members, no matter my position in the party.

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