Labour official sorry for 'sectarian' joke branded 'appalling' by Nicola Sturgeon

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One of Labour’s most senior party officials has apologised after being accused of making anti-Catholic comments during a televised session at the party’s conference in front of hundreds of delegates.

Andy Kerr, the chairman of the Labour National Executive Committee, joked that a woman selected to address the conference in Liverpool should not have been called because she crossed herself.

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Mr Kerr, who is also a deputy general secretary of the Communication Workers’ Union, apologised “unreservedly”, saying: "I was trying to be lighthearted but what I said was ill-judged and wrong."

He was criticised by Nicola Sturgeon, who called the comment “appalling”, and by Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard, who said there was “absolutely no room” in the party for “unacceptable” sectarian remarks.

Mr Kerr’s son Matt is a Labour councillor in Glasgow and a candidate for Westminster in Glasgow South West. On Tuesday afternoon, the NEC chairman told a woman called to the stage: "Did you cross yourself, there? In that case, I might not [call you]."

Ms Sturgeon posted on Twitter: “The Catholic community is an integral and valued part of Scottish life. Everyone who stands for a Scotland where bigotry and sectarianism have no place, and where we positively embrace diversity, must unite to condemn - regardless of party."

And Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson added her condemnation, saying: "People from all parties and none will be appalled by this and by the casual dismissal of concerns."

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Mr Leonard told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland: "There is absolutely no room inside the Labour Party for that kind of remark, whether it's meant as a form of humour or not.

"It's completely unacceptable and Andy Kerr has unreservedly apologised for the remark that he made."