Leader comment: Gaffney's weak censure sends wrong message

Labour MSP Anas Sarwar is right to say that a plan by his party leader to tackle discrimination and harassment is 'an important first step'.
Labour should have made an example of Hugh Gaffney.Labour should have made an example of Hugh Gaffney.
Labour should have made an example of Hugh Gaffney.

Mr Sarwar, who recently revealed the extent of the racism he has suffered throughout his career, is someone who must be heard on this issue and his support for Richard Leonard’s proposal of a new equality policy suggests the leader is moving in the right direction on this issue.

But we are bound to say Mr Leonard’s position is rather undermined by the ongoing case of MP Hugh Gaffney, who remains a party representative despite making homophobic and racist remarks during a recent Burns Supper. Mr Gaffney shocked attendees at the Edinburgh University event with remarks that surely belonged to a different era.

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Mr Leonard had the opportunity to show just how seriously Scottish Labour takes discrimination by taking disciplinary action against Mr Gaffney beyond merely requiring him to attend a training course. Instead, the MP for Coatbridge, Chryston, and Bellshill remains a Labour representative.

This is simply not good enough. In 2018, an MP who does not know – without undergoing special training – that racism and homophobia are not only unacceptable but that they require our forecast condemnation is not fit to serve.

A new policy outlining Scottish Labour’s opposition to discrimination will mean little if the message from the leader’s office is that offenders will be gently shown the error of their ways.

Time after time, high profile cases of discrimination have failed to lead to the cultural changes they might have because the sanctions against those who transgress are pitifully weak.

Friends of Mr Gaffney may talk of the mistake he made, Mr Leonard may talk of his confidence that his party is taking this matter seriously but while the MP remains a Labour representative, these words sound rather hollow.

The case of Hugh Gaffney is a mess – a very public one – for Labour but the attitudes he displays exist in parties across the political spectrum. And those who lead, whether Richard Leonard or anyone else, must do all in their power to drive unacceptable attitudes out of public life.

It’s not too late for the Scottish Labour leader to do the right thing and suspend Hugh Gaffney. This would mark another important step.