Lothian Buses anti-Catholic bigotry claim: SNP leadership must condemn James Dornan's 'baseless slur' (or condone it) – Steve Cardownie

I used part of my column last week to deprecate remarks made by MSP James Dornan during a Scottish Parliamentary debate when he sought to cast doubt on the reasons for Lothian Buses suspending services earlier this year and called for him to make a public apology to the company for his contemptuous comments.

Wednesday, 23rd June 2021, 4:55 am
SNP MSP James Dornan questioned why buses were cancelled on the night of St Patrick's Day, a 'ubiquitous Irish Catholic holiday' (Picture: John Devlin)
SNP MSP James Dornan questioned why buses were cancelled on the night of St Patrick's Day, a 'ubiquitous Irish Catholic holiday' (Picture: John Devlin)

Now my fellow columnist and City of Edinburgh councillor John McLellan has taken the matter further by tabling a motion at tomorrow’s full council meeting which calls for the council to intervene and make its displeasure known to the MSP concerned in no uncertain terms.

His motion utterly condemns the “baseless slur by SNP MSP James Dornan against Lothian Buses management that the decision to suspend services on March 17 (St Patrick’s Day) was motivated by anti-Catholic bigotry”.

The motion “instructs the council leader to write to Mr Dornan to express the unanimous dismay of this council at his accusation and calls upon Mr Dornan to issue a full public apology to the company for casting groundless aspersions on the integrity of its staff”.

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The leader of the council has not referred to this matter in his customary report to the meeting so we are unclear what, if any, action he took to defend Lothian Buses, which is 91 per cent owned by the City of Edinburgh Council.

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It may well be that this issue has been raised behind the scenes but Lothian Buses employees and the public at large cannot be faulted if they would prefer to see some official rebuke coming from the City Chambers.

There may be some reluctance within the SNP group to be seen publicly criticising a Scottish National Party MSP but James Dornan displayed no such hesitation and must have made the offending remarks in the full knowledge that Lothian Buses was publicly owned and that the SNP was the senior partner in the administration of the council that owned it.

Did he stop to think about the potential repercussions of his ill-conceived contribution to a debate? If not, he should have, if he did but still went ahead then he fully deserves every bit of criticism that has come his way as a result.

Section 41 of the Scotland Act 1998 makes it crystal clear that MSPs are protected if they make potentially defamatory statements when it says that “this section confers absolute privilege for the purposes of the law of defamation on any statement made in the proceedings of the Parliament and on the publication of any statement under the authority of the Parliament”.

James Dorman MSP is therefore allowed to accuse Lothian Buses of anti-Catholic bias in the full knowledge that he cannot be held legally accountable for his comments and John McLellan addresses this in his motion which states that the council “further condemns Mr Dornan’s use of parliamentary privilege to make such an allegation without a shred of evidence”.

So it will be interesting to see whether or not the motion attracts unanimous support – for if any political group fails to condemn James Dornan’s statements, they will, to all intents and purposes, effectively be condoning them.

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