Archbishop of Glasgow: Labour MP David Cairns died because he was gay

To suggest that Cairns died of anything other than pancreatitis is as bizarre as it is insulting.

Catholic bishop Philip Tartaglia hasn't even taken up his new post as Archbishop of Glasgow yet, but he's already facing calls for his resignation. It's emerged that in a recent speech (11 April) at a religious conference at Oxford University he accused society of being "very quiet" about "the relationship between the physical and mental health of gay men". He went on to suggest that the premature death of Labour MP David Cairns last year was partly due to his homosexuality.

Tartaglia said (fast forward to 1:03:29 for the comments):

If what I have heard is true about the relationship between the physical and mental health of gay men, if it is true, then society is being very quiet about it.

Recently in Scotland, there was a gay Catholic MP who died at the age of 44 or so, and nobody said anything, and why should his body just shut down at that age?

Obviously he could have had a disease that would have killed anybody.

But you seem to hear so many stories about anger at 'hurtful and ignorant' comments, this kind of thing, but society won't address it.

In fact, as was reported at the time of his death, Cairns died of pancreatitis, an illness that, like all others, afflicts homosexuals and heterosexuals alike (although perhaps Tartaglia, a la Brass Eye, distinguishes between "good aids" and "bad aids"). The suggestion from Tartaglia, a vociferous opponent of gay marriage, appears to be that "being gay can kill you". In his defence, Tartaglia would point out that he was responding to a question about the recent suicide of a gay author in the US. But to move from this to suggest that Cairns's death was due to anything other than pancreatitis is as bizarre as it is insulting.

One is reminded of Daily Mail columnist Jan Moir's notorious column on the death of Stephen Gately, in which she wrote:

Healthy and fit 33-year-old men do not just climb into their pyjamas and go to sleep on the sofa, never to wake up again. 

Whatever the cause of death is, it is not, by any yardstick, a natural one. Let us be absolutely clear about this. All that has been established so far is that Stephen Gately was not murdered.

And I think if we are going to be honest, we would have to admit that the circumstances surrounding his death are more than a little sleazy.

Cairns's partner, Dermot Kehoe, who was in a relationship with the former Scotland Office minister for almost 15 years, told the Scotsman:

This is genuinely very upsetting and painful for David's family and friends.

I can't believe that someone who claims to be a man of God and is seeking to give moral leadership should speak from such a position of ignorance.

I don't care what his views on gay marriage are, but to bring in my dead partner to justify those views is wrong.

PoliticsHome's Paul Waugh reports that Ed Miliband, who is in Scotland today, is also expected to respond. Let us hope so, and that Tartaglia's grotesque comments are condemned by all parties.

Archbishop of Glasgow-elect Philip Tartaglia.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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