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.

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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear