A SENIOR SNP MP has been recorded outlining plans for the piecemeal eradication of Catholic schools in Scotland.

The remarks by Tommy Sheppard, MP for Edinburgh East, have been condemned by the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland as “chillingly intolerant” and have been rejected by the Scottish Government.

Mr Sheppard, who is a humanist, spoke of the plans at a Humanist Society Scotland (HSS) Fringe event at last year’s SNP conference and a recording of the event has now emerged in which Mr Sheppard said he wanted a “secular school system” in Scotland.

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The event was promoting the Scottish humanist society’s Enlighten Up campaign which seeks to end mandatory religious representation on local authority education committees, the Scottish Catholic Observer (SCO) reported.

Mr Sheppard, SNP Cabinet Office spokesman in the House of Commons, said the way to achieve a fully secular school system in Scotland was to conduct the process “bit by bit”.

He said: “Chip away at the power organised religion has within our school system.”

Mr Sheppard, who is a member of the Humanist Society Scotland, said opponents of Catholic schools should “take those little victories and use them to move onto the next campaign”.

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Ian Dunn, editor of the SCO, said: “Catholic families in Edinburgh and beyond will be very worried by this story.

“Catholic schools remain exceptionally popular with the families who use them.

“At the last election abolishing faith schools was only endorsed by the parties at the political extremes – the Greens and UKIP.

“This is a clear attempt to bring these ideas into the mainstream, which I suspect will be vigorously resisted by moderate, thoughtful Scots.”

A senior Church source said: “Though the Scottish Government’s ongoing support for Catholic schools is appreciated, there’s growing concern in the Church that Nicola Sturgeon is not making the same efforts to reassure the Catholic community the SNP has their best interests at heart that her predecessor did.”

A spokesman for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Scotland said: “This is a blatant attack on religious freedom and chillingly intolerant.”

Mr Sheppard said the comments - made one year ago - had been taken out of context.

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“At no stage did I ever criticise Catholic schools,” he said. “I have several in my constituency which are excellent. I was talking at a meeting about the composition of education authorities and whether it’s right that unelected people should sit in those boards and make education policy in Scotland.

“That is a wholly different matter I believe than the control of public policy on education and should be done on a secular rather than a religious basis.”

The SNP distanced itself from the comments, saying: “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.”