Tommy Sheppard, MP for Edinburgh East, said he wanted to introduce secularism 'bit by bit'

A recording of an MP planning how to end Catholic education in Scotland has been condemned as “chilling” by the Scottish bishops.

According to a report in the Scottish Catholic Observer, remarks by Tommy Sheppard, the MP for Edinburgh East, have emerged from a Humanist Society Scotland (HSS) Fringe event at last year’s SNP conference in which he said he wanted to introduce a secular education system.

The event was to promote the Scottish Humanist Society’s “Enlighten Up” campaign which aims to end mandatory religious representation on local authority education committees.

Speaking at the event, Tommy Sheppard said the way to make education secular was to introduce it “bit by bit.”

“Some of the things in the Enlighten Up campaign are, I believe, exactly the way to do that,” he said. “Chip away at the power organised religion has within our school system.”

Mr Sheppard said campaigners should “take those little victories and use them to move on to the next campaign where we actually advocate that the role of religion in schools is for people to learn about it but not for it to define the value system in the school.”

But a spokesperson for the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland has condemned the remarks saying they are tantamount to an attack on religious freedom. They said: “This is a blatant attack on religious freedom and chillingly intolerant.

“While members of the Humanist Society claim to be proud of their belief system, they don’t seem sufficiently proud of it to argue for humanist schools which would be underpinned by humanist beliefs,” he said. “It may be a belief system with few adherents in Scotland but that should not prevent state recognition for schools that adhered to it. The registrar general already categorises humanist weddings as part of the ‘religion and belief’ marriage statistics. There’s no reason why their schools couldn’t be similarly categorised. Advancing the rights of humanists by demolishing the educational rights of Catholics is hypocritical in the extreme.”

He added that Mr Sheppard should know that “religious belief is a protected characteristic and when it is expressed through educational choice it should not come under attack.’

“Currently over 20 per cent of the school population choose Catholic schools,” he said. “This parental choice reflects the educational value of Catholic schools, consistently documented in HMIe reports.”

The SNP has distanced itself from the comments. A spokesman said: “These views do not represent the position of the SNP or the Scottish Government and are simply the personal views of Mr Sheppard.

“The SNP is a strong supporter of faith schools. They play an important part in Scotland’s education system, and the SNP Government believe it’s important for parents and pupils to have the choice to attend a faith school if they want to.”