Row erupts after MP appears at Westminster with ash cross

Row erupts after MP appears at Westminster with ash cross March 5, 2017

Glasgow MP Carol Monaghan was attacked for ‘promoting sectarianism’ after she appeared at a Westminster committee with an Ash Wednesday cross daubed on her forehead.
This prompted Scott Nicholson, a Labour parliamentary candidate at the 2016 Holyrood elections and until last week a member of its National Executive, to accuse the Scottish National Party MP of attempting to stir sectarianism.
Nicholson, according to this report, was in turn accused of displaying:

A frightening level of intolerance.

In a social media post, Nicholson linked an image of Monaghan wearing ashes on her forehead with religious bigotry.
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent and many Christians attend a church service at which their foreheads are marked with ash in the shape of a cross.
Nicholson, a senior figure in the Fabian Society, tweeted:

The SNP’s actions aim to foster grievance with UK but I believe there are members who plan to promote sectarianism.

He later deleted the tweet and apologised:

For any offence that may have been caused by my previous tweet regarding the SNP.

But Monaghan, who represents Glasgow North West, said:

This is not an apology. This was a personal attack on me and in doing this man has sought to politicise my faith for his agendas. Ashes are not a political symbol and this has absolutely nothing to do with the SNP.
I went to Mass as I do every year and got my ashes as I do every year. I was not making any point or any attempt to get a reaction. The overwhelming reaction I have had though has been wholly positive and from people of all faiths and none. To attempt to make a political point and accusations of sectarianism is really desperate stuff.

Nicholson’s comments have sparked fury among party colleagues, with one nationally prominent member stating:

I’m really taken aback by this. Why would you have a problem with someone having been to Mass on Ash Wednesday? This is pretty distasteful.

A spokesman for the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland said:

To suggest that a Catholic MP wearing ashes on her forehead on Ash Wednesday is an act of sectarianism displays a profound ignorance of Christian tradition and a frightening level of intolerance. Presumably, Theresa May’s decision to host a reception for Christian leaders at 10 Downing Street 24 hours earlier when she talked about her planned Lenten sacrifices was also an act of sectarianism?

Theresa May said at the reception that people must feel able:

To speak about their faith, and that absolutely includes their faith in Christ.

A Scottish Secular Society spokesman added:

There is no problem with people making displays of their faith at work or on particular days. It is not a call for sectarianism, attempts to create splits or create a dark shadow or religious bigotry. This is about someone attempting to tie a political party to religious divisions and that cannot be welcomed.

Labour MSP Elaine Smith said her party colleague’s comments breached equalities expectations, adding:

Mr Nicholson should apologise and reflect on what is a deeply offensive comment about Catholics who have been witness to their faith.

A Scottish Labour spokesman said:

Scott Nicholson has apologised for the offence he has caused with his inappropriate comment. Scottish Labour is very clear that all members have a responsibility to conduct themselves respectfully at all times.
This generation can be the one that stamps out sectarianism for good, and Scottish Labour firmly supports a renewed push towards tackling sectarianism in classrooms and the communities.

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  • remigius

    “Theresa May’s decision to host a reception for Christian leaders at 10 Downing Street 24 hours earlier when she talked about her planned Lenten sacrifices…”

  • Prior

    Carol Monaghan is guilty of inappropriate ostentatious display of bigotted ‘humility’. The pious always have to flaunt their divisive dogmatic beliefs in public regardless of the sensitivities of other people. “Look at me every one … look at me … I am gods humble servant”.
    Yeah right … I’m looking and I see a deluded self obsessed fool. Go wash your face.

  • Stuart H.

    Now if she’d turned up to the committee on Shrove Tuesday with a tray of pancakes……

  • Angela_K

    We are long overdue for a constitution that enshrines separation of state and religion, to include the ban of wearing any overt religious symbol or dress by parliamentary members or public employees.
    Or ….Let’s make all religious types have the symbol of their cult tattooed on their foreheads, that would make it easier to identify them and thus ignore them.

  • sailor1031

    “I went to Mass as I do every year and got my ashes as I do every year”
    Every year? Obviously a committed catholic then.

  • Gui

    The complaint would have sense if the refered woman was pursuing to obligate others to mark the ashes cross in their foreheads by state’s power. Outside this, it’s only pointless outrage.

  • Cali Ron

    Much ado about nothing, literally, since their god doesn’t exist. I suggest all christians who practice Lent to give up Lent for Lent and end that silly charade.
    Angela K.: How about a 666 for christians? That would be some delicious irony.

  • John the Drunkard

    I’m 61 years old, and I don’t think I’ve EVER seen a Catholic with such a dramatic smudge on their forehead on any Ash Wednesday.
    Maybe they make a bigger fuss in Scotland, maybe a snarky priest decided to make a billboard of this MP?

  • Vanity Unfair

    It is quite usual for politicians, when visiting meetings of their electorate of whatever minority sector, to adopt some form of whatever identity even though they, themselves, might be non-whatever in what passes for real life. Very rarely is this cynical performance even the subject of the mildest critical comment. Ministers who reduce expenditure on the armed forces or on physical and mental rehabilitation of former soldiers (widely defined) still turn out wearing poppies, to give only one example.
    Few people today seem to be happy in public with besmirched faces but it still happens, both with RC and CofE congregations, even children cannot always escape it. (2014) (2017)
    As Ms. Monaghan undertook this voluntarily and no lasting scars were inflicted there seems to be little cause to complain especially as she has now given her constituents notice of a possible conflict of interest.

  • Paul

    Well like most religious symbols it is simply ridiculous and immature.
    It seems there are far too many MP’s who behave or hold views that are incompatible with the modern electorate who have put them into these privileged positions and therefore the electorate knows what to do for her come the elections.

  • StephenJP

    Never mind Carol Monaghan, the crucial question at the moment is why Theresa May has given up crisps, specifically salt-and-vinegar,for Lent. Even the Today Programme failed to get to the bottom of this knotty theological conundrum. The Times suggested that it might be a coded response to Donald Tusk’s remark about the Brexit negotiations, that “there will be no cakes on the table. Only salt and vinegar”. Will we ever know the truth?

  • barriejohn

    StephenJP: I think you may have rather misunderstood something there. Easily done!

  • External signs of Christianity in Glasgow, trouble. External signs of Islam in Glasgow, welcome…
    … why, it’s almost a if Christians are known not to run riot when they don’t get their way.

  • Graham Martin-Royle

    This whole practise is silly and she looks silly (and dirty) wearing this. That said, if she wishes to carry on with this habit then I see no problem with it. It’s her head after all.

  • Cali Ron

    Yes, it is her head and no matter how devoid it is of reason she can do with it whatever she wants. Like I used to tell my children when they did something stupid “use your head for something other than a battering ram”.

  • 1859

    What’s the difference between wearing an ash cross and a Hakenkreuz (the swastika)? They are both overt symbols of affiliation to a belief system? Yes, one is religious, the other political – yet both cause extreme elation in their adherents and have caused and still cause untold suffering for millions.
    I’m with Angela_K with this one:the organs of the state should not be used as a platform for advertising one’s religious beliefs. Religion ought to be relegated to one’s own home or place of worship.

  • 1859

    Oh and by the way – she looks so fucking stupid.

  • T

    Cali Ron.
    No she can’t. She should not display such token of primitive belief when she is doing a job she is paid for, representing her constituents, in a government building. Her actions are deliberately divisive and disruptive. When we are looking for agreement and compromise her action is the exact opposite. She should be officially censured.

  • T

    And we will soon have the Catholic State of Scotland. I say stop all the time wasting … just cut them off … from the Islamic disunited kingdom. Chinless Charlie can be head muff of englandistan. The scotch can have the queen and the duke of e. What a fucking mess. Another once great country wasted by religious bigotry and hate and divisiveness. I’m emigrating to Wales.

  • Broga

    A prime characteristic of the posturing religious is their overweening smugness.

  • barriejohn

    @1859: That’s a slippery slope, to say the least. Are you going to ban political campaigning as well, because you could easily do so on the same grounds. Also, I see big differences between Nazism and Christianity, or even Islam (despite its fascistic nature), and if we start calling for a ban on religious symbolism it plays right into the hands of those who claim that secularists want to take away people’s right to religious belief.

  • Newspaniard

    “…Did Magna Carta die in vain?,,,”

  • Angela_K

    @barriejohn. I disagree about the “slippery slope” argument. Nobody is suggesting that religious types be banned from practising their religion, however, overt displays of religiosity in public office and using religion to interfere with the political process should be banned on the grounds of sectarianism. Religion is a perversion that should be carried out in private.

  • remigius

    I have never understood the slippery slope argument. People put it forward to suggest that once something starts it would be very difficult for it to stop – whereas the exact opposite is also true.
    Slopes go up as well as down.An object at the base of an incline with the same friction coefficient is governed by the same principle of inertia as an object at the top.The less traction the object has, and the steeper the incline, the less likely it is to change its state of motion, whether in an upward or downward direction.
    Why do people bother to advance an argument that also implies the exact opposite of what they mean?

  • barriejohn

    He said: Religion ought to be relegated to one’s own home or place of worship.
    I am unrepentant; I think that that idea is fraught with dangers. I don’t want to ban street preachers or tract distributors any more than I want to ban all the speakers, religious or political, sane or insane, at Hyde Park Corner. We should be proud of our tradition of free speech in this country, and do all in our power to defend it.

  • Daz

    I’m mixed on this.
    Ideally, if the situation is such that an “I love the Sex Pistols” symbol would be inappropriate, then “I love Jesus” or the equivalent should be considered equally inappropriate.
    On the other hand, some religious symbols—the Sikh turban, for instance—are mandatory to believers. A ban on those would be a de-facto ban on members of such religions having access to politics; and the solution becomes far worse than the problem.
    The obvious answer to the conundrum is to only allow mandatory symbols, but that’s a: impractical (a person has only to say, “Well it’s mandatory to my sect.) and b: amounts to little more than a religious test (which, again, leads to a solution which is worse than the problem).

  • remigius

    “The obvious answer to the conundrum is to only allow mandatory symbols…”
    But what happens when the mandatory requirement to wear such apparel comes into conflict with the mandatory requirement not to?

  • Daz

    Hmm. I’ve made the same point regarding UK law which allows Sikhs to wear turbans on motorcycles.
    First off, I think we can all agree that access to politics is something of a special case: the removal of such access is tantamount to the creation of a second class of citizenship.
    Secondly, health and safety should over-rule personal beliefs. If you believe that wearing a turban is more important than abiding by the safety-laws pertaining to an activity, then you should be willing to forgo that activity, be it a job or a pastime. Don’t want to take the turban off?—get a car instead of a motorbike. Want to wear a necklace (with or without a cross) at work?—don’t become a nurse. Etc. Same applies to company uniform codes.

  • Cali Ron

    So if an ash cross on her forehead is too overt of a religious statement what about an I heart Jesus T-shirt or a shirt with the ubiquitous fish. Where does freedom of speech end and restrictions on displays of religion begin? Is having an ash cross really to divisive and disruptive for her to fairly represent her constituents while wearing it? Are we getting petty? Are atheists going to become whiners about overt religious symbols like christians are always whining about being persecuted?
    I always fall on the freedom side of this issue. I strongly disagree with the message and belief system, but will defend their right to proclaim it (or wear it) because if you limit that right you limit my right to proclaim my differing opinion.

  • Edwin Salter

    Being wilfully odd in this way is self-important – at the least a social offence. It might be arguable that a world where all possible identities (sexual, political etc etc) were flamboyant had its merits, but in actuality it rather tends to trouble.
    (Some T-shirt slogans for example. And canvassers have just been trying to tell me about the political views of various neighbours – bad idea.)

  • Matthew Carr

    All this fuss over a woman who chooses to look foolish from the country that invented the punk rock scene. Next week she’ll probably show up with half her head shaved because that’s somehow in style now.

  • Broga

    @Matthew Carr : I’m with you. I don’t care if she daubs ash on her face. I think our precious freedom of speech is now taking a hammering. Not too long ago a Nobel winning scientist and professor lost his job because he made a silly comment about women in the laboratory.

  • John

    I think she is an idiot, as is May too.
    What is really worrying is that religious nutters get to decide future government policies and legislation.
    Her constituents should be made aware of her stupidity.
    If they want an idiot to represent them, then that is up to them.

  • barriejohn

    John: Regarding St Theresa of May, no money to plug the £3 billion gap in education funding, but £320 million for 140 more “free schools”. Now I wonder why that would be?

  • This is what I put on her facebook page. Carol, you had no business going to work with ashes on your head. You are to represent people who believe in kindness but do not see moral issues in terms of sins and crimes against God not just Catholics. The ashes accuse of sin and evangelise for the Church. We would like to see the proof for God before we add to the condemnation of a person by saying not only have they hurt man but have broken God’s law. In fact for the likes of you, as God is supposed to come first that amounts to worrying more about God than a baby that is hurt by a criminal. The cross is an offensive symbol and accuses sinners of having murdered Jesus by their sins. Any good done by the faith does not justify nonsense for nothing justifies nonsense. And nonsense leads to evil nonsense. Your support of the Church because it is “good” is unjustified for people in the Church are no better or worse than anybody else. And Jesus warned fasters to hide their fasting so he would not like the likes of you going around with ashes to display yourself as humble. There is no excuse for you giving money and support to the manmade Catholic faith. And as for the “my faith” you go on about it is not your faith but collectively the faith of the Church and that makes you prone to being manipulated by foolish men who think they can filter God’s alleged revelation by deciding what we are to believe. Just grow up.