By Dale Street (also published on the Workers Liberty website):
In January of 2015 Glasgow Shettleston’s SNP MSP John Mason tabled a motion in the Scottish Parliament advocating that creationism be taught in schools. According to the motion, which was backed by two other SNP MSPs:
“Some people believe that God created the world in six days, some people believe that God created the world over a longer period of time and some people believe that the world came about without anyone creating it.
None of these positions can be proved or disproved by science and all are valid beliefs for people to hold. … Children in Scotland’s schools should be aware of all of these different belief systems.”1
There was nothing surprising about Mason’s decision to table a pro-creationism motion. He had already expressed his belief in creationism in an earlier debate In Holyrood:
“We believe that when God made the world he had a close relationship with human beings, that that relationship was broken, and that the reason why Jesus came was to restore that relationship.”2
In fact, according to Mason, creationism is a defining tenet of Christianity, Islam and Judaism:
“The idea of a God that creates the world is a very central belief to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. … Christianity would unravel if creationism was proved wrong. I don’t see how you could be a Christian, Muslim or Jew and not believe that God created the world.”3
And just as the Bible provides Mason with an ‘explanation’ of the origins of the universe, so too it dictates his views on gay sex and gay relationships:
“I am a member of Easterhouse Baptist Church. I believe that the Bible is the word of God and its teachings are God’s direction as to how I should live my life. … The Bible’s teaching is that a follower of Jesus should not have a sexual relationship with someone of the same sex.
I see it as very much secondary whether the relationship is called a civil partnership, marriage, or anything else. … As someone seeking to follow Jesus Christ, I can say that I am clear that people following Him should not be in same-sex marriages.”4
When legislation on gay marriages was progressing through Holyrood (2011-14), Mason claimed – some would say: dishonestly and hypocritically – that he was “relaxed” about such marriages and that his only concern was ‘discrimination’ against opponents of same-sex marriages:
“[My concern is] the legal protections that can be given to those in positions like ministers or priests as well as to public and private sector employees, the third sector, and even volunteers. I am still not sure whether these protections can be guaranteed.”5
The high point of this tactic of counterposing possible ‘discrimination’ against opponents of same-sex marriages to support for LGBT equality came in a letter sent by Mason to constituents who backed gay marriages.6
It began: “I also support full equality for LGBT people in Scotland.” It ended: “I also want a fairer and more equal Scotland and for that reason I plan to vote against the Bill.” The leap in ‘logic’ from professed support for equality to voting against actual equality was the argument:
“This Bill introduces the likelihood of further discrimination against religious people. Amendments were introduced which might have given some comfort for Christians and those of other religions.
Unfortunately, the Government and the [Equal Opportunities] Committee refused to accept any of these amendments. So we are left in the position that discrimination may well switch from LGBT people to religious people.”
Although Mason has written that “church and state are separate and neither should control the other,”7 he has repeatedly used Holyrood as a platform to promote his religious beliefs and the politics which flow from them.
His pro-creationism motion and his parliamentary campaign against gay marriages legislation are two instances of this. And there are plenty of other examples.
In a Holyrood motion entitled “Mental Health and Religion” Mason called for a more “positive relationship” between religion and state:
“Parliament notes a study… which found that joining a religious organisation is more beneficial than charity work, sport or education in improving older people’s mental health. … Parliament considers that religion is a very positive aspect of modern Scotland, and looks forward to an increasingly positive relationship between the Parliament and religion.”8
Mason hailed a Holyrood debate about the Bible, initiated by a co-signatory to his pro-creationism motion, as a major step forward for Scotland’s Christians, but had a less than forgiving attitude towards absent MSPs:
“This debate was a good opportunity to talk about faith, the Bible and our own personal experience of God’s word. It was, however, a little disappointing that no Labour or Liberal Democrat MSPs even attended the debate, let alone spoke.
Surely there are some in these parties who consider the Christian faith to be important? As it was, only SNP and Conservative MSPs attended and spoke in the debate, which marked a hugely significant milestone for Scotland’s Christian community.”9
When the charities’ regulator threatened to scrap the charitable status of an adoption agency which directly discriminated in favour of Catholic couples wanting to adopt within the framework of the Catholic faith, Mason tabled a motion defending the agency and its policies:
“Parliament notes with concern [the threat to the agency’s charitable status]; reaffirms its commitment to a pluralistic Scotland where all minorities are treated equally; believes that it is healthy to have religious and other charities that provide specialised services to specific groups.”10
And when the Tories announced that abortion rights were to be devolved to Holyrood, it took Mason only a week to table a Holyrood motion asserting, to use the language of his fellow anti-abortionists, the rights of the unborn child:
“Parliament recognises what it considers the fundamental rights of babies to be protected both before and after birth as well as the importance of women’s sexual and reproductive rights, and commits to achieving a proper balance between these respective rights.”11
Given that Mason is opposed in principle to abortion (“I am against abortion”12), his call for “a proper balance” amounted to a demand to scrap a woman’s right to choose.
Part-and-parcel of Mason’s religious obscurantism is his across-the-board hostility to Science, made even worse by an obvious aversion to logical argument:
“If God creates miracles, science is out of its depth. I don’t think science can make a statement on where we’ve come from. It is based on the assumption that God hasn’t created a miracle… [Yes! That’s why it’s called: “science”.]
To discover something means finding out things that are already there. My fundamental belief is that God created the world and all the rules of science, so science cannot find out that God does not exist.”13 [Eh? Run that one past me again!]
Mason’s torturous ‘logic’ in defence of creationism and all-round hostility to science were succinctly summed up in a single tweet: “I think science is better sticking to what exists. How and why things came about is probably better not included in science.”14
(Was that a gravitational ripple from the Big Bang I just heard in the background? Or someone muttering that the SNP is a modern, twenty-first-century, social-democratic party?)
And when Mason was challenged on his Facebook page about creationism being disproven by the ‘age’ of light (14 billion years) and by the age of the earth as measured by radioactive decay (4.5 billion years), his response was:
“Radioactive decay assumes no miracles or other changes in the rate of decay. So it cannot be used to prove miracles (including a sudden creation) did not happen.”15
Despite this dark-ages obscurantism, Mason is a longstanding member of the Scottish Parliament Equal Opportunities Committee. He sits on that Committee not as an individual MSP but as a nominee of the SNP.
So, thanks to the SNP, the Equal Opportunities Committee has a member who defends discrimination by Catholic adoption agencies, opposes gay sex and abortion rights, and relies on the Bible to define what constitutes a valid marriage:
“We then asked [Mason] whether it would be all right if same-sex couples who were celibate married, but Mason did not think that the definition of marriage included those who are celibate. He referred to an unconsummated marriage being grounds for divorce.”16
Mason was recently reselected by his local SNP branch to stand again for Holyrood in May. Like other SNP candidates, Mason will want to benefit from a general anti-Labour (“red Tories!”) vote and from current voting patterns based on national identity rather than class identity.
But Mason’s core support amongst local SNP members and voters identifies with his Bible-Belt politics. And Mason deliberately cultivates that core support.
Asked by a Twitter follower whether he visits every pub and every shop in his constituency, Mason was only half joking when he replied: “I am working my way round the pubs! I try to do supermarkets in turn. All churches.”17
Over the past 18 months Mason has tweeted about visits – and not necessarily just one visit – to fourteen different churches in his constituency, plus churches in Ireland and Germany.
Other events which Mason has found worth tweeting about include Good Friday Walks of Witness (“readings and hymns at various locations”18), a church service on Ascension Day (“the day Jesus went up into Heaven”19), and the annual Gatherings of Christians Linked Across the Nation (“I really felt God speaking to me”20).
(Christians Linked Across the Nation is the Scottish affiliate of “New Wine”, an evangelical movement of Christian churches which aims to:
“Change the nation through a network of church leaders, National Gatherings, training events and resources … through Christians experiencing the joy of worshipping God, the freedom of following Jesus, and the power of being filled with the Spirit.”21)
Mason has also tweeted about his reading habits (“Apart from the Bible, my favourite book is John Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’. It speaks of life as a journey towards Heaven.”22) and the divinely ordered nature of the world (“The key thing is that we are each where God wants us to be – you in your small corner and I in mine.”23)
In fact, whereas Mason himself might resort to a veneer of even-handedness in promoting his anti-Enlightenment fundamentalism (“some people believe … some people believe … and some people believe …”), comments from his friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter show no such restraint.
Mason claimed to be “relaxed” about gay marriages? Not so the Facebook friend who commented:
“The scriptures are ABSOLUTELY clear that homosexuality is a perversion and that, same as liars, homosexuals will NOT enter the kingdom of Heaven (unless they repent). BTW, this isn’t my way, this is God’s way of morality: ‘No other sin affects the body like sexual sin’.”24
Another Facebook friend took the line that stopping gays from being gay saved them from eternal damnation:
“I am not homophobic. I believe in a holy God and do not wish to see anyone fall foul of His wrath, resulting in not being able to spend eternity with Him in Heaven. That is the real reason for stating my point of view, not to throw mud or mock other people.”25
Mason claimed to want a “proper balance” concerning abortion? Not so the Facebook friend who commented:
“I’d be interested in your opinions of the many legalised murders of babies that are committed in UK every year. (All because a woman has rights, but a baby does not have any.) I don’t see this as equality. I believe abortion is not an acceptable means of birth control. It is murder.”26
And Mason is ‘agnostic’ on how long God took to create the world (“The key thing is only that God created the world. I don’t get excited whether it’s six days or six millions years.”27). Not so the Facebook friend who quoted Genesis to ‘demonstrate’ that the world was made in six days:
“… Genesis, Chapter 1, verses 1-5 (New Living Translation). Any problem with that? Where is the evidence for this assertion about [the age of] light and [the age of the] earth? The big bang theory? Weird.”28
Mason represents a constituency suffering from some of the worst urban deprivation in Britain. Its inhabitants have more pressing concerns than the origins of the universe. But the politics and the priorities of its SNP MSP are summed up by his promotion of creationism.
If re-elected, Mason is promising more of the same.
His constituency newsletter announcing his reselection carries an endorsement by one of the local SNP councillors: “I particularly respect John’s Christian faith. Church may be a minority interest these days but it is good to see a politician with strong personal beliefs.”29
The elections for Holyrood take place in nine weeks times. Glasgow Shettleston’s voters should welcome them as an opportunity to dump their constituency’s answer to Girolamo Savonarola.
Appendix: Some Words of Wisdom from John Mason MSP
Mason, of course, backed a ‘Yes’ vote in the 2014 referendum. Holidaying in the Borders in May of that year (Mason does not do exotic), he took the opportunity to reflect on the beauty of borders:
“There is something fascinating and attractive about borders. The interest of crossing to visit the ‘other side’. Carlisle and Berwick would be a pretty ordinary towns if it was not for their history linked to the border.
Clearly, many English people are having a break in Scotland. Many Scots are going the other way too. Borders may sometimes be seen as negative. But they can also be very positive, attracting business and tourism.”30
Three months earlier, and much more daringly, Mason had gone to Portugal for a holiday. Here too his thoughts turned to borders and independence:
“Day two in Lisbon and I am learning new things. They were controlled by Spain from 1581 to 1640. But I am puzzled that I have not detected a huge desire for Spain to take over again.
You might think that as Portugal shares a peninsula with Spain, it is Portugal’s only land boundary, and Spain is much bigger, then it would make sense for them to join up. But if Portugal can and wants to be independent, could it be that Scotland could manage to do the same?”31
(Luckily, Mason did not take a holiday in France: “Day two in Alsace Lorraine and I am learning new things. They were controlled by Germany from 1871 to 1918, and again from 1940 to 1944. But I am puzzled that I have not detected a huge desire for Germany to take over again.”)
One of the major issues in the referendum campaign was what would be the currency of an independent Scotland. But this was no problem at all for Mason. In August he tweeted a picture of his restaurant bill with the comment:
“Paying for meal this evening. Can pay pounds or euros. Amazing – clearly using range of currencies not difficult!”32
And while Mason decided that God was probably neutral on the question of independence, he did manage to find support for a ‘Yes’ vote in the Bible:
“But does the Bible have nothing to say on all this? I would maintain there is no one Christian line to take on Scottish independence.
However, there is a principle from the time of the Tower of Babel that God split the peoples up as too much centralisation was a potentially a dangerous thing. So it could be argued that we should be wary of larger national units and supportive of smaller ones.”33
When Holyrood debated an Assisted Suicides Bill in 2015 Mason was inevitably one of its staunchest opponents. But his stated reasons for opposing the Bill implied a very negative view of family life, and an inability to tell the difference between the NHS and Auschwitz:
“What about older person who wants to live but family wants inheritance and NHS wants to save care costs?”34
“There have always been families who wanted to get their hands on the money of elderly relatives. And the NHS is always under financial pressure so they can benefit from some early deaths. Few in this are independent and neutral.”35
Earlier this year Holyrood voted down a Labour MSP’s Organ Donation Bill which Mason himself supported. But rather than blame the Bill’s defeat on the 47 SNP MSPs who voted against it, Mason blamed Labour for the defeat:
“It was poor tactics by the Bill’s supporters. Why choose Jackie Baillie to wind up? Inevitably, that lost votes of waverers. Opposition tactics should not deliberately discourage MSPs from supporting a good Bill. She (Baillie) is known to take aggressive anti-SNP line in debates, so why choose her if you wanted to maximise Bill support?”36
In statements about the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act 2012 Mason has excelled himself in demanding that it be enforced more vigorously:
“It was put to Mr Mason that a fan wearing a t-shirt with ‘Free Palestine’ across it was questioned by police. He said: ‘I think that guy probably knew he shouldn’t be wearing that inside a football stadium.’
Mr Mason was then asked whether a Scotland fan at a match found wearing a ‘Yes’ badge in support of independence should also be susceptible to police action. The MSP replied: ‘Yes’.”37
At a time when the SNP itself is distancing itself from the Act and even considering its repeal, Mason is moving in the opposite direction:
“As only 193 charges were reported to have been made, this indicates that [the Act] has been enforced leniently … repealing this [Act] would send out a message that sectarianism, anti-Catholicism and anti-Irish racism are acceptable, and [Parliament] is therefore firmly opposed to its repeal.”38
To make matters even worse, Mason believes that no fan charged under the Act, and no defendant charged with any offence whatsoever, should ever be found not guilty in a Scottish court:
“Parliament notes the renewed suggestion that the choice of three possible verdicts in criminal trials should be reduced to two; considers that, in many cases, not proven is a more appropriate verdict than not guilty, and urges that, if there is to be a reduction to two verdicts, consideration should be given to these being proven and not proven.”39
Did the Scottish Region Committee of the Fire Brigades Union, one has to ask, really understand Mason’s politics when it donated £500 to his election campaign in 2010???
1) Scottish Parliament motion S4M-12149; lodged: 23/01/15
2) Glasgow SNP website, John Mason, 18/11/11
3) “International Business Times”, 11/02/2015
4) John Mason website, 26/11/11
5) John Mason website, 27/06/13
6) John Mason website, 23/01/14
7) John Mason tweet, 23/08/15
8) Scottish Parliament motion S4M-13903; lodged: 07/08/15
9) John Mason website, 18/11/11
10) Scottish Parliament motion S4M-05488; lodged: 28/01/13
11) Scottish Parliament motion S4M-14542; lodged: 19/10/2015
12) “International Business Times”, 11/02/2015
14) John Mason tweet, 01/02/15
15) John Mason Facebook, 27/01/15
16) “The Skinny”, interview with John Mason, September 2011
17) John Mason tweet, 24/05/15
18) John Mason tweet, 03/04/15
19) John Mason tweet, 29/05/14
20) John Mason tweet, 12/07/15
22) John Mason tweet, 24/11/15
23) John Mason tweet, 25/12/15
24) John Mason Facebook, 19/01/14
25) John Mason Facebook, 04/02/15
26) John Mason Facebook, 05/02/14
27) “International Business Times”, 11/02/15
28) John Mason Facebook, 25-27/01/15
29) “SNP Shettleston Constituency News”, spring 2016
30) John Mason Facebook, 24/05/14
31) John Mason Facebook, 10/02/14
32) John Mason tweet, 06/08/14
33) “Scottish Christian”, 27/12/13
34) John Mason tweet, 27/05/15
35) John Mason Facebook, 21/05/15
36) John Mason tweets, 09/02/16
37) STV News, 04/12/14
38) Scottish Parliament motion S4M-15284; lodged on 11/01/16
39) Scottish Parliament motion S4M-05295; lodged on 21/12/12