December 8 2017
The work of Lord Jack McConnell to challenge bigotry and intolerance in Scotland has been recognised by the country’s leading anti-sectarianism charity.
Lord McConnell, who was First Minister between 2001 and 2007, was presented with a ‘Champions for Change‘ award by campaigners Nil by Mouth at a ceremony at the House of Lords in recognition of his work to tackle sectarianism and help build bridges between people from different religious and cultural traditions. The ‘Champions…’ award recognises individuals and groups in society who have taken a stand against sectarianism.
This week sees the 15th anniversary of his seminal ‘Scotland’s Secret Shame‘ speech where he signalled his intentions to force the country to face up to a problem which had blighted it for decades. His administration went on to introduce tough new laws making it a criminal offence to subject others to sectarian abuse, convene several high profile summits with football clubs, religious leaders and cultural organisations, push through the recommendations of the Orr Review of Matches and Parades and deliver the first ever ‘National Action Plan’ for challenging religious bigotry including establishing education programmes such as ‘Sense over Sectarianism.’ Since stepping down Lord McConnell has continued to take a keen interest in peace building and reconciliation work across the globe.
The award was presented by Nil by Mouth founder Cara Henderson. Ms Henderson set the charity up in response to the brutal sectarian murder of her friend Mark Scott in 1995 as he returned from a football match in Glasgow. He was just 16 years old. Since then the charity has gone on to work with more than 100,000 people in schools, colleges, universities, workplaces and communities across Scotland.
Nil by Mouth Campaign Founder Cara Henderson Said:
‘Jack was hugely supportive when we were trying to get Nil by Mouth started and the clear public leadership he has always shown on sectarianism is hugely significant and a ceaseless source of encouragement to those working to build bridges between communities. His ‘secret shame’ speech was a hugely significant and symbolic movement in terms of public debate of the issue and he knew that the first step to solving any problem is to have the guts to admit there is one. I am pleased that his Government’s subsequent work to provide practical measures to challenge this problem has been continued by his successors. It is perhaps the forging of this political consensus that stands as the greatest legacy of his efforts. Since he stepped down Jack has continued to take a keen interest in peace and reconciliation efforts in Scotland and indeed across the globe and has worked in many places where religious tensions and conflict have blighted lives. I am delighted to be able to present him with this award on behalf of our charity in recognition of his commitment and achievements.’
Lord McConnell Said:
‘Receiving this award from Cara Henderson makes the honour even more special. It was Cara who came to see me before I was First Minister, to convince me that something more had to be done by the country’s leadership on the issue of sectarianism. We tried to take a balanced approach but I was always firm that bigotry, abuse and violence were unacceptable in modern Scotland and that eradicating this “secret shame” had required consistent, determined commitment from everyone in football, the education system, at work and in the wider community. Nil by Mouth have been doing that for nearly two decades and, while it is very sad that their work is still needed today, I applaud their efforts and wish them well.’