Once upon a time there was a very rich Scottish homophobe....


Don MacKeen reports.

‘[I]f there was one element that lent the conflict a tone of the inauthentic and the invented, it was the swiftness with which all values were forced in months to reverse themselves.’

-Arthur Miller on the Anti-Communist witch hunt of 1950’s USA

Brian Souter is Scotland’s richest man. With his sister, Ann Gloag, Scotland’s richest woman, he started Stagecoach, which is now Europe’s largest transport company. Souter operates buses throughout the UK, Sweden, Portugal, New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, and the USA. He is in partnership with Virgin Rail, he owns SouthWest trains and Supertram in Sheffield.

This very successful businessman built up his empire when Margaret Thatcher deregulated the buses in the 1980s. The UK Monopolies and Mergers commission has called his methods ‘predatory, deplorable and against the public interest’.

In common with many successful businessmen in the USA, he is also an evangelical Christian. When the Labour government announced that, in accordance with its manifesto commitments it was going to abolish a piece of Thatcher’s legacy - Clause 28 (called ‘2A’ in Scotland) which prevents the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ in schools - Souter decided to fund a campaign to keep the legislation. He spent £500,000 - funnelled through his charitable ‘Souter Foundation’ - to fund an advertising blitz and a poll. He sent 3,970,712 ‘ballots’ throughout Scotland asking whether people wanted to keep or scrap the clause. While many people wrote letters to Scottish papers complaining that they either got too many ballots or none at all, the poll went ahead, with about a million Scots ‘voting’. 13.0% voted against and 85.2% voted to keep the clause. However, 68/65% did not take part, many boycotting the ballot (as Labour, the Scottish Socialist Party and the STUC called for). Yet Souter and his campaign declared victory, with the tabloid press (particularly the Labour supporting Daily Record ) cheering him on. And the government has caved into his pressure. Although Clause 28 will be repealed, new ‘guidelines’ will be brought in stressing the importance of ‘marriage’. The whole fight was about the ‘promotion of homosexuality’, yet Souter and his followers are happy with the new language about ‘marriage’. Gays have been stigmatised; now it’s the turn of the children of single mothers.

So while Souter the privatised politician, didn’t really show the pro-Clause 28 faction were Scotland’s ‘silent majority’ (as his ally, Cardinal Winning called them), he has shown himself to be a force in Scottish politics. And, as in America, his small band of right-wing Christians are going to force debate and policy to bend to their doctrine. Only a concerted effort by trade unionists, gay and lesbian organisations and socialists will put a stop to it, and they should start first by educating themselves on the activities of the ‘evangelical’ movement in the USA, and what it has achieved since it came to power along with Ronald Reagan. Otherwise, this very organised and political ‘Christian’ force will continue moving east, maybe to a city near you.

‘Ethics are not irrelevant but some are incompatible with what we have to do, because capitalism is based on greed.’

-Brian Souter

Don MacKeen is Spectre’s cartoonist. A US citizen and member of the Socialist Party USA, he lives in Glasgow, Scotland.