FORMER First Minister Jack McConnell has been honoured for his work challenging bigotry in Scotland.

The Lanarkshire politician, now a British peer, was presented with a Champions of Change award by Glasgow-based anti-sectarianism charity Nil by Mouth.

The group was set up by former Evening Times Scotswoman of the Year Cara Henderson when she was a teenager, in response to the brutal sectarian murder of her best friend.

Lord McConnell, who was First Minister between 2001 and 2007, was presented with the accolade at a ceremony in the House of Lords.

It recognises individuals and groups in society who have taken a stand against sectarianism, helping to build bridges between people from different religious and cultural traditions.

This week marks the 15th anniversary of Lord McConnell’s seminal Scotland’s Secret Shame speech where he announced plans to force the country to face up to a problem which had blighted it for decades.

His administration went on to introduce tough new laws, making it a criminal offence to subject others to sectarian abuse; convened high profile summits with football clubs, religious leaders and cultural organisations; pushed through the recommendations of the Orr Review of Matches and Parades; and delivered the first ever National Action Plan for challenging religious bigotry including establishing education programmes such as Sense over Sectarianism.

Since stepping down Lord McConnell has continued to take a keen interest in peace building and reconciliation work across the globe.

Cara Henderson, whose friend, 16-year-old Mark Scott, was stabbed to death on a Glasgow street in 1995 as he returned from a football match, presented the award to Lord McConnell.

She said: “Jack was hugely supportive when we were trying to get Nil by Mouth started and the clear public leadership he has always shown on sectarianism is hugely significant and a ceaseless source of encouragement to those working to build bridges between communities.”

Lord McConnell said: “Receiving this award from Cara Henderson makes the honour even more special.

“It was Cara who came to see me before I was First Minister, to convince me that something more had to be done on the issue of sectarianism.

“I was always firm that bigotry, abuse and violence were unacceptable in modern Scotland. While it is very sad that Nil by Mouth’s work is still needed today, I applaud their efforts and wish them well.”