Beating bigotry

16th February 2001 at 00:00
Two steps forward, one step back. Cardinal Thomas Winning's promotion this week (page 6) of a new apologia for Roman Catholic schools ought to strike a chord with those in the Labour Party, led by Tony Blair, who are looking for greater variety and individualism in education. Catholic schools offer an extra dimension of choice.

They are, as the statisticians have been showing for some years, also educationally successful. But then along comes the Carfin story to rekindle Scotland's reputation for sectarianism, to which, in some people's minds, Catholic schools contribute. It is little wonder that politicians would rather not be asked to take sides on the future of denominational schools.

The obloquy that descended on MP Frank Roy after he successfully kept the Taoiseach away from the ceremon at the grotto shows how most Scots shudder at the slur on the country's reputation. The attitudes and conduct of a minority of bigots cannot be allowed to dictate national policy any more than racists should be given their head. In the west of Scotland there is a temptation, part joking, part serious, to call up memories of old dissensions. If the Lanarkshire Labour Party has to find succour in that kind of history, stirring up bogeymen, it is in need of fresh thinking. Cardinal Winning wants to elevate the argument and it is hard to deny Catholics the right to the educational choice given them since 1918. The Church would, however, win more friends outwith its ranks if it was less hardline on social and moral issues where its stance does not accord even with that of many of its adherents.

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