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Showing posts with label Catholic Church in Scotland. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Catholic Church in Scotland. Show all posts

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Gay marriage – what is proposed, and the root of religious opposition

N.B. I am not either a lawyer or legally qualified – this is my layman’s understanding of the law in Scotland. It may be inaccurate – it is certainly limited in scope. As always, I am happy to be corrected on fact and challenged on opinion.



Any two persons, regardless of their place or country of origin can be married in Scotland providing both persons are at least 16 years of age on the day of the marriage.

They must meet other conditions, as follows

They must not be related to each another in a way which would prevent their marrying – the laws of consanguinity (blood relationship) and affinity (restricted non-blood relationships, including by marriage, civil partnership or adoption). The affinity relationships in some cases are permitted if both parties are 21 or over, subject to some qualifications.

Additional restrictions on affinity relationships

The parties must be unmarried and if previously married, must produce documentary evidence that the previous marriage has been ended by death, divorce or annulment.

They must be capable of understanding the nature of a marriage ceremony and of consenting to marriage.

The marriage must be regarded as valid in any foreign country to which either party belongs.

They must not be of the same sex.


There are two ways in Scotland in which people may be married in Scotland -

by a religious ceremony

by a civil ceremony

A religious marriage, whether Christian or non-Christian, may be solemnised only by a minister, clergyman, pastor, priest or the other person entitled to do so under the Marriage (Scotland) Act 1977.

A civil marriage may be solemnised only by a registrar or an assistant registrar who has been authorised by the Registrar General for that purpose.


The law as it stands requires a couple, who must be a man and a woman, to proceed as follows if they want to marry -

1. Each of the parties must complete and submit a marriage notice, together with required documents and a fee to the Registrar of the district in which the marriage will take place. This must be done at least 15 days before the date of the marriage, but four weeks is customary – and safer – and if either party was married before, the period is six weeks. This is a legal requirement, not a religious requirement.

2. Both parties don’t have to personally hand in the marriage notice at the Registrar’s office, but at least one may be asked to attend, either to finalise arrangements for a civil marriage or in the case of a religious marriage or other belief system, to collect the marriage schedule. These are legal requirements, not religious requirements.

3. The parties then have the marriage solemnised, either by a civil ceremony or by someone representing their belief system, and this may be in a church.  The law specifies who may legally solemnise a religious marriage. These are legal requirements, not religious requirements.

A marriage solemnised by someone representing a belief system or religion, perhaps in a church, is both a legal ceremony and a religious ceremony. The religious ceremony only has validity insofar as it follows the law – the law makes no distinction between belief systems or religions, nor does it make any moral judgments, other than to specify the minimum legal requirements.

Any religious or belief system that claimed as a tenet of their faith, with Divine authority, something as part of the ceremony that conflicted with the law would not be able to legally solemnise a marriage. The law does not recognise Divine Authority or a Divine Lawgiver, or Holy Books or writings, or ancient traditions, for the good and sufficient reason that religions and beliefs systems have no consensus on the Divine intention, and often sharply – and sometime lethally – differ on matters of doctrine. There is no Divine Supreme Court that supersedes the law.

There is no requirement under the law for the parties to a marriage to bear children, or to have an intent to bear children.

There is no legal obligation on any church, or minister of religion to solemnise a marriage. There is no discrimination legislation that imposes such a requirement. There is no intent to create or enforce such a law.


A proposal is being made that the provision under law that only a man and woman may marry legally be amended to permit two persons of the same sex to marry and to have that marriage solemnised.

There is no proposal to require a religion, church, minister of religion or a belief system to solemnise a marriage of two persons of the same sex, even if they meet every specified legal requirement.

It is also proposed that if a church, religion, minister of religion or belief system agrees voluntarily to marry a couple of the same sex, that such a ceremony be regarded as legal solemnisation of the marriage at law.



Opinion on the proposed law differs between and within churches, religious groups and faiths and belief system, and ministers of religion on the desirability of such a change.

Those opposing it argue from one or more of the following standpoints -

1. Divine authority, i.e. God as revealed through holy books and as interpreted by ministers of religion or individuals within sects, defines marriage as being between a man and a woman.

(So does the law at the moment. This reflects a mixture of tradition and the influence of religion on law and political systems throughout history.)

2. A prime purpose of marriage is the intent to produce children. (Stated as a religious belief, this relies on either religious tradition or an interpretation of the will of God, neither of which can be reflected in law in modern time. Stated as a historical tradition and the values of a society, it is undoubtedly true that many laws reflect such factors. But societies change, evolve, and their laws change with them

3. The legalisation of marriage between those of the same sex legitimises homosexual acts forbidden by religious belief, with various authorities quoted for this, all of them religious and none of them legal. (This ignores the fact that homosexual acts, once illegal, have been legal for many years. It is therefore nonsense to suggest that it ‘legitimises’ what is already legal.)

4. The legalisation of marriage between those of the same sex will in some way encourage homosexual behaviour. (This nonsense is on a par with homophobic beliefs that homosexuality is some kind of acquired perversion, contagious, and one that can be reversed or controlled by exhortation, prohibition and legislation.)

5. Legalisation of gay marriage, and the use of the term marriage for gay civil partnerships threatens the fabric of society. (Well, it certainly challenges old, entrenched beliefs and prejudices, just as the ending of slavery, rights for women, rights for children, disabled rights, the right of free speech, general enfranchisement, etc. challenged them. It’s called progress towards human rights and the ending  of the dark night of superstition and dogma.)

But a legal and societal function of marriage as a civil contract undoubtedly is to protect children when they result from a marriage. It has also been very much about property rights and rights to rule, as even a superficial knowledge of Scottish and British history reveals, with the shameless manipulation of infants and children in dynastic disputes and quarrels over kinship, primogeniture, affinity, matriarchal inheritance, etc. In relatively recent history, it was to protect children  from the social stigma of illegitimacy, and its legal consequences. This aspect has evolved and changed radically as society changed, and is virtually irrelevant now.

Lets face it, as well as being homophobic, the churches are trying to protect their rights to control the mechanics of marriage because it is one of the cornerstones of their power. They have never been very happy about civil marriages with no church ceremony involved, and they have similar views over baptism in a church and the legal registration of births. (I was once told by otherwise nice reasonable people and clerics that children who were not baptised “were no better than animals …)


The present opposition to the legalisation of gay marriage is in direct lineal descent from organised religion’s resistance to just about every advance in human thought and extension of human rights under law to women, to children, to minorities, to ethnic groups. Of course, there have always been members of faiths, and individuals within faiths who have displayed great courage and great humanity in supporting such movements towards a recognition of our common humanity, and indeed who have led some of the great liberating movements.

Let Alex Salmond and the broad majority of the Scottish National Party, the Scottish Government, the Scottish Parliament and our elected representatives stand clear and firm for this change, and resist the pressures of some of the churches to bend the law of the land and our democracy to their undemocratic will by threats. Contrary to the rabble-rousing, the fabric of society will be strengthened, not weakened by this move towards justice and equality under law.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Religion and Scotland’s democracy

Bishop Tartaglia – unelected – has tea with the First Minister of Scotland – elected – and gets concessions from him. But so far not on what for the Bishop and his boss, the Cardinal, is the big issue – gay marriage.

The Bishop says ominously that Catholics are wondering if they can trust the SNP. Trust them to do what – sustain a medieval relic of a law that denies two people of the same sex in a loving relationship the right to enter into a legal partnership called marriage, and have it solemnised in a church ceremony if they so wish, and can find a church and a minister of religion willing to do so?

The Bishop does not speak for Catholics, since the Roman Catholic Church is not a democratic body, and does not consult its members on matters of doctrine. Why should it? The Bishop has a hotline to God through the Cardinal Archbishop and the Pope.  And God has spoken? How?

Well, what God has - or more accurately had - to say is set out in various Holy Books, which have remained unchanged throughout the history of mankind – or have they? No, not quite …

God hasn’t dictated anything for about two millennia to Christians, but spoke to Muslims in 610 AD. The writings that are collectively known as the Old Testament date from various pre-Christian eras - i.e. before any Christian religions existed - and  probably date no farther back than about eight hundred years before the Christian era, around the 5th to the 8th centuries BCE

But mankind as we know it has been around for somewhere between 50,000 to 100,000 years, and in earlier forms, maybe five to seven million years. God wasn’t silent for all of those years, but what he said has been safely buried, together with the multiplicity of ancient religions that claimed their hotlines to his minds, with one or two exceptions that can be safely ignored by the three religions that effectively dominate debate, all from the Abrahamic tradition – in order of antiquity Judaism, Christianity and Islam. 

Wikipedia comments laconically as follows -

“The Old Testament, of which Christians hold different views, is a Christian term for the religious writings of ancient Israel held sacred and inspired by Christians which overlaps with the 24-book canon of the Masoretic Text of Judaism. The number of these writings varies markedly between denominations …”

Varies markedly between denominations …” That’s putting it mildly – hotly contested between denominations, usually with hot irons, brandings, floggings, immolations and in the modern era with all the most up to date methods  by which human beings mutilate and destroys other human beings.

What these various writings say about an ancient institution, marriage, in the 21st century is the subject of much controversy within the religions of the Protestant tradition in Scotland, the UK and globally, but the Catholic Church, at least its priest, bishops and cardinals – and the Pope – speak with one voice. What the laity thinks, especially that substantial block of them with liberal social democratic values, and the substantial number of them who are not heterosexual in orientation have to say, is of no interest whatsoever to the hierarchy.

What should be acceptable from such non-democratically elected groups in Scottish society in the 21st century?

1. That they have a right to their beliefs when they do not conflict with the law of the land, and when they do, the right to profess them while submitting to the process and penalties of law.

2. That they have the right to communicate to their adherents what these core tenets of belief are, and to require them to observe them as a condition of membership of their church.

3. That they have the right to be active in politics, and to vote for candidates for political office who most closely reflect their core values.

But what they do not have a right to do – in my view – is demand that a government with a secure and decisive democratic mandate from the people maintains a law that discriminates against the rights of a significant proportion of the electorate, who wish to have that law amended to permit them to enter into a civil partnership in a legal civil ceremony called marriage, and where they so wish, to have that civil marriage solemnised voluntarily by a church and a minister of religion that are willing to do so.

A religious group or church through their spokespersons, that demands that such a discriminatory law is maintained is seeking to impose the beliefs of their particular sect on others citizens of a democracy that do not share those beliefs.

When such a demand is accompanied by a thinly veiled threat to use the unelected power of that group or church to influence the voting patterns of their adherents, it is a blatant attempt to influence the process of democracy.

I do not believe that such attempts should be banned, nor indeed that they could be banned – I believe they should be ignored by the elected government.

And I believe that the government I elected will do just that.

If they don’t, we are heading insidiously for a theocracy and a religious state. We don’t have to look farther than across the Irish Sea to appreciate the perversions of democracy, justice and human values that produced for generations, and its attendant violence and civil disruption. The Republic of Ireland and the Province of Northern Ireland are emerging from that long, dark night. Let’s make sure Scotland does not take the first fatal step to entering it.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Sectarianism, religion and politics

I had hoped to stay out of this debate, since almost anything anybody say makes things worse. But it won’t go away, and in the hope that most of Scottish population are rational and fair-minded, whatever their background and beliefs, and still display the healthy scepticism and willingness to question the hidden agendas of those who seek to persuade them that characterised Scots for most of my life, here is how I see it.

You can skip the next section (800 words) if you like, and jump straight to my views on the sectarian debate, but reading it may help you understand my position. To any religious bigots about to consider my views I would suggest that it will save you a lot of trouble later. Some of you won’t get beyond the first paragraph, perhaps even the first sentence. To others, it will induce a misplaced confidence that I am about to endorse your prejudices. I’m not ..


My background is that of a Glasgow East End Scot from a devoutly Catholic family with their roots in the Republic of Ireland. My mother was born in Glasgow, but my father and all my grandparents were Irish. I was educated in a cradle of Irish Catholicism in Glasgow, St.Mary’s Primary School in the Calton, fondly know by its historical name of St. Mary’s Ragged , with the church just round the corner in Abercrombie Street, the old South Witch Lone, renamed in 1802. St.Mary’s Church was built 40 years later in 1842. I attended its centenary celebrations in 1942 as a seven year old, the year of my first Communion. St. Mary’s was the cradle of Celtic Football club, founded by a Marist Brother, Andrew Kerins, known as Brother Walfrid. All of the males in my family were keen Celtic supporters.

I followed the natural progression for many St.Mary’s boys and went to St. Mungo’s Academy in early 1948, where I remained until 1950 when I left.

From the age of seven I had serious doubts and questions about religion, and at the point I left school, I was simply going through the motions of church observance for the sake of my mother and family. When I started my National Service in 1953, I was an atheist, and more than that, formed the belief that has stayed with me ever since, that organised religion, together with inequality, racism and greed was the root of much of Glasgow and Scotland’s problems and most of the world’s problems. I also believe that secret societies, organisations and clubs that include or exclude based on religious belief, ethnic origin, gender, or sexual orientation are inimical to democracy and a free society. I believe that totalitarian states and dictatorships are almost always structured on principles similar to those of organised religion, even when they are nominally secular, and are equally destructive to human values.

I was a Labour supporter and internationalist in my political beliefs for most of my life, but the progressive failure of the party in the post-war period to address Glasgow’s problems and the needs of the poor, the deprived and the under-privileged, eventually led me late in life to the Scottish National Party. I am totally opposed to nuclear weapons, but I am not a pacifist. I believe in defence and the concept of a just war, even though such a thing is an extreme rarity historically. I saw the Second World War as a just war, and one that had to be fought, but was appalled at the use of nuclear weapons to end the war with Japan.

My friends and social contacts cross religious, ethnic, sexual orientation, political and social boundaries, and such distinctions have never mattered to me in choosing friends nor in selecting employees when I was engaged in recruitment in industry, either as their boss or on behalf of another. In my recruitment and managerial roles over the years, in common with all who hire people, I have been accused of every kind of discrimination imaginable, the range of alleged discriminations effectively cancelling each other out.

I have never been interested in spectator sports, and support no football club, although like all Scots of my generation, I played street football, played school football and rugby, albeit  under duress. For a brief period in the late 1950s I was involved in judo and the old Osaka Club in Glasgow.

All of the above – especially the lack of interest in football - should be enough to make me an object of suspicion and instinctive distrust by both sides of the sectarian divide in Scotland, and to cause them to dismiss anything I have to say out of hand.

But all my old Glasgow street experience - and experience of more subtle sectarian bigotry in industry - tells me that it is better to get it all up front than leave it to the kind of sordid speculation and nose-tapping that otherwise ensues. The old Belfast question can, of course, still be asked - “You say you’re an atheist, but are you a Protestant or a Catholic atheist?”


Let’s start with a few facts, ones that are accepted as fact – I hope – across the range of opinions on the subject.

1. Sectarianism is a significant problem in Scottish life.

2. No government, national or devolved, passed any legislation to combat it until the Scottish Government’s 2011 legislation.

3. The Scottish police believe there is a need for such legislation, and have welcomed the new powers it gives them to deal with sectarian behaviour.

4. The most egregious examples of sectarian behaviour have been at football matches, especially Old Firm matches, or have been directly related to football, e.g. the bombs sent to Neil Lennon and others. That is not to say that they are the only manifestations of sectarian behaviour, nor to say that other, less visible instances of such behaviour may be damaging Scottish life in even more fundamental ways, e.g sectarian behaviour in employment, in the Police and in the Law.

If you don’t accept all of the above as facts, then little that I have to say will impress you, and vice versa. To misquote Sydney Smith – “We will never agree, we are arguing from separate premises (sic)”

Here are a six additional things that I believe - in addition to beliefs set out in my preamble - and I don’t expect general agreement on these, because there is abundant evidence that many religious believers and their spokesperson don’t accept them, or pay only lip service to them, and indeed the UK Government and the Scottish Government do not accept all of them.

The state and the apparatus of government should be secular and not religious-based, and should not favour any religious group over another, or over people of no faith.

The government of a country should permit all faiths to worship and believe as they choose, and should protect that right by law, except where the behaviour of any group seeks to impose a belief, or belief system, or practice by law on those who do not share it, or restrict their freedom within the law.

Individual and groups who are not elected by the democratic will of the people may be consulted about their views, providing they do not seek to bypass the democratic will of the people as expressed by the government they have elected.

There should be no such thing as an established church in a country or state, e.g. The Church of England.

A state or country should not be described as, or present itself as, or see itself as one specially linked to a specific religion, or indeed to religious belief, e.g. “The UK is a Christian country” etc..

There should be no such thing as faith schools or schools segregated on a religious basis or on the absence of belief, e.g “Only atheists children will be admitted to this school, and we will inculcate atheist values.”

But I start from the assumption that the Scottish Government accepts at least the first three as principles of government, tries to govern by such principles, and has consistently adhered to them throughout the debate on sectarianism, and will continue to do so.



Certainly since Henry VIII, the history and politics of Britain and its monarchy have been inextricably bound up with, and distorted by religion, and the history of Scotland has been even more influenced by it. Central to all of this was the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy, which claimed supremacy over all secular authorities and all nations. After the Reformation, the Papal worldwide influence progressively declined, but it still bulked large in relations between Scotland and England, and between England and Ireland. Monarchs and politicians ruthlessly exploited religion for their own ends, and organised religion reciprocated with enthusiasm, and exploited monarchs and politicians, in an unholy – in the truest sense of the word – set of alliances.

The effect of the Reformation and the ideas of Martin Luther were adopted with energy in Scotland, especially by those attempting to shift power to the people from prelates and priests, and there is no doubt that we owe much of our democracy to this great religious and intellectual movement, but with dreary inevitability it produced another kind of undemocratic autocracy of the mind, with the Kirk becoming the thought police, and proving themselves just as capable of the torture, hangings and burnings as the previous Catholic hegemony. On the credit side, the Kirk undoubtedly was also a binding force in Scottish society, vital in education and poor relief, and in defending the rights of ordinary people, up to a point. Such are the contradictions inherent in religion when it supplants democratic politics. But democratic politics as we know them are a comparatively recent thing, with for example, the full vote for women coming as late as 1928 in Britain.

But the fatal flaw of deference infected the Kirk too, and some of the writings of Scottish Presbyterian ministers on the fate of their flocks during the Clearances make depressing reading, with expressions of sanctimonious concern mixed with nauseating obsequiousness to landlords and clan chiefs and fatalism in the face of a gross injustice masquerading as faith in the Lord. During the Enlightenment, this fog of almost medieval superstition began to lift, but even a great thinker – and atheist – such as David Hume had to be circumspect: the Kirk still had people hanged for questioning religion, including a teenage boy.

In the late 17th century the Irish dimension began to exert the baleful influence it has had on Scottish politics and Scottish life ever since, and it is a sad fact of life that generations of Scottish children have grown to adulthood able to name only a couple of dates in British history – the Battle of the Boyne, or the Easter Rising,  and have a greater identification with, and knowledge of Irish politics than the 21st century politics of their native country. Football clubs founded in the 19th century – Glasgow Celtic and Glasgow Rangers - with predominantly working class roots, admirable intentions and the wish to play a great game are now international money-making machines – or were up until recently – with players and managers who are often entirely unrepresentative of their native city, Scotland or indeed the UK. They are now the focal point for religious tribal loyalties based on ancient history that is largely irrelevant to modern Scottish life.

Since I do not aspire to be the poor man’s Tom Devine, I must move on …



sect: a body of people subscribing to religious doctrine different from others within the same religion, a group deviating from orthodox tradition, heretical, body separated from an orthodox church, nonconformistConcise Oxford dictionary.

The definition also covers philosophy and politics, but we can confine ourselves to the religious dimensions, although there is an irony in the fact the sectarianism is now being used in a thoroughly contemptible way by unionist politicians in Holyrood as a tool of opposition, just as they used minimum pricing for alcohol in the last Parliament.

sectarian: bigoted or narrow-minded in following the doctrine’s of one’s sect. COD

(In these definitions one might argue that Roman Catholicism and Protestantism are sects of the Christian religion, and Protestantism undoubtedly has sects within its total body.)

Here is an unpalatable fact for the Scottish churches – there would be no religious sectarianism without religion. Sectarianism is a product of the religious mind, just as pogroms, persecution, burning of heretics, torture, the auto da fé, the suppression of scientific discovery, the suppression of free expression and free speech, homophobia and almost all of the key conflicts in our tortured world are a product of the religious mind.

In that, religion has its mirror image in totalitarian creeds such a Nazism and the Stalinist regimes of Soviet Russia, and their up-to-date versions around the world, which displayed and display all the characteristics of religious dogma – the Great Leader whose word must not be challenged, the acolytes who are uniquely gifted with the power of interpreting it, the sacred texts, the censorship, the intolerance of any alternative political view or religious challenge, and the whole apparatus of punishing the deviant.

The Scottish National Government is committed to governing a country, Scotland, that has many religions, historically Christian religions, but in the 21st century, other faiths as well, and also has many who claim no specific faith, but profess to believe in a God, and some who do not believe in a God.  (If regular churchgoing and active participation in a church are the measures, Scotland is not a Christian society. If highly visible interventions into the ordered life of Scotland by religious groups and their spokespersons, either by violent or disruptive and sometime criminal behaviour, or statements by senior clerics to the media and to government are the measure, it is a Christian society.)

The SNP government tries, as any Scottish government of whatever political colour must, to balance these groups within Scottish society, firstly to protect their rights to believe and act -and worship where appropriate - in accordance with their beliefs, to ensure that they are not discriminated against for these beliefs, whether of faith or no faith, and to protect their rights to free assembly and free speech. They must also recognise de facto, the power of these groups, but also the limitations of that power, because in the case of organised religions, they are not representative of a majority of the population or anything like it, and they are, in their own organisation and structure, only partially democratic or completely undemocratic in the selection and appointment of the leaders. Where a form of election does takes place, it is by a small and unrepresentative group.

Let’s look at the dynamics of the situation that led to this legislation. Prominent Catholics had been calling attention to what they perceived as discrimination and actual violence directed against them as a minority group in Scottish society for some time. The behaviour of a minority of football supporters, notoriously those supporting the two Old Firm clubs, Celtic and Rangers,  before, during and after games, on the streets, in the pubs and on the terracing had become increasingly inimical to public order, criminal and eventually lethal to a young man wearing a Celtic strip, who was stabbed to death for no other reason than his dress, an act that led to the establishment of Nil by Mouth, an organisation campaigning against sectarian violence, and its two close companions, alcohol abuse and domestic abuse.

The attacks on Neil Lennon, the Celtic manager, and the explosive devices sent to his home and that of others associated with Celtic, including an MSP and a prominent lawyer, led to a major police investigation and prosecutions.

On acts of violence that came with the definition of breach of the peace legislation, the police were and are adamant that the existing breach of the piece legislation is inadequate to combat such behaviour, especially the singing of  partisan songs with with unacceptable religious and violent associations, offensive banners and chanting  and deliberately provocative gesture calculated to inflame violence. (In this regard, there is a conflict with the Human Rights Act, and it has now become central to the dispute.) The flying of flags also presented certain difficulties, with no easy answers. Leaving aside the question of the violence itself, the cost of policing these games, cradles of violence, threatened the game itself, and the reputation of Scotland internationally.

Other political parties had talked about doing something – the SNP Government decided something must be done, but on the basis of cross-party consensus. After initially supporting the legislation, the other parties had second thoughts, and claimed that the legislation was being rushed through Parliament without proper debate: it was certainly being expedited with some urgency, in the hope of avoiding even worse scenes in the new football season than those that had disgraced the previous one.


There are two ways of viewing the opposition to the legislation. One is to say that it is soundly rooted in fears about the adequacy and the clarity of the legislation, and genuine concerns over its legality under the Human Rights Act and freedom of speech and expression.

The second perspective is mine, and I offer it as a personal viewpoint. Others may share aspects of it, but I doubt that any consensus supports my view. It does not represent an SNP view, since I can only judge the party and the Government’s view from their public statements.

I believe that the opposition to the legislation - leaving aside legitimate points on the drafting and implementation in practice, points that will be addressed in the review stages – is rooted in the same destructive opposition politics that lost the unionist parties the last election, namely, oppose blindly any legislation or initiative by the SNP Government that might actually succeed in addressing long-term problems in Scottish society, e.g. alcohol abuse and violence, on the basis that the SNP cannot be seen to succeed where unionist parties have failed for generations.

I believe it is also rooted in wish of small, innately undemocratic and violent minorities on both side of the religious divide, under the guise of football support, to retain their right to behave appallingly and illegally, to foment hatred and violence and perpetuate ancient and irrelevant feuds that feed their perverted sense of identity and tribal loyalty.

I believe that these groups are being exploited by both political and religious forces in Scotland, and perhaps beyond Scotland, in a manner that is at best short-sighted and misguided, and at worse, calculated and extremely dangerous.

I believe that a wider range of bodies have been sucked unwittingly and naively into this agenda, and with the best of motives, e.g. freedom of speech and human rights, are being manipulated.

I believe that the Catholic church hierarchy, having called repeatedly and forcefully for action against sectarian behaviour, discrimination and violence directed against them as a minority religious group in Scotland, are now behaving extremely unwisely in attacking the legislation and the Government, and run a grave risk in so doing of exacerbating religious tension and violence.

I find it extraordinary, to the point of being deeply sceptical, that two groups of supporters should suddenly, in what was virtually a synchronised protest, display elaborately crafted banners with closely similar core messages attacking the SNP Government’s anti-sectarian legislation.

I believe that the religious divide in the West of Scotland has been exploited for well over a century by political parties, especially the Labour Party, and that sectarian divisions have been used in complex and arcane ways to maintain the power of certain groups, especially in local government. (This is an open secret in Glasgow, and has been for all of my lifetime – in American cities run on similar lines, it isn’t even a secret, it is open and blatant, and an accepted fact of political life.) These political groups know which buttons to press, and are determined not to surrender the sordid apparatus of football loyalties mixed with tribal and religious loyalties and its associated provocative and polarised behaviour that underpins their power.


I am loyal to my traditions and my faith – the other side is bigoted, discriminatory, and is determined to destroy all that I believe in. I want Government, the Law and the police to control and act against the behaviour of the other side. Since I never behave badly, such actions should never impinge upon my rights to proclaim my beliefs.

Democratic government is all very well, but I am answerable to a Higher Power. That higher power speaks uniquely to me, and through me, and other faiths and creeds claiming to interpret the Higher Power are mistaken if their interpretation conflicts with mine. I claim the right to demand that the secular, democratically elected government ignore the mandate of the people where I deem it necessary, and respond to my undemocratic and unelected religious principles and precepts. When the chips are down, I will use my undemocratic power to influence the democratic process.


The beliefs outlined above were taken to their profoundly destructive and violent conclusions in Northern Ireland for generations, distorting the democratic political process that tried to address the real inequalities and grievances. But the bitter experience of what such tribal religious divides, exploited by unscrupulous politicians, actually resulted in has led the Northern Irish people, painfully and agonisingly, into true democratic politics – the bullet and the bomb have begun to lose their lethal potency and rational debate, negotiation and compromise – and above all the ballot box – have gradually brought the Province back to sanity.

But the Scottish sectarian groups who have identified with one side or another in that long conflict, and who got their kicks vicariously from the agony of another people without actually having to experience the pain, are frozen in time, and politically and emotionally immature, unlike the Northern Irish people, who have achieve political maturity by actual hard experience. Of course, at the extremes, there are those on both sides of the religious divide who have been and still are actively involved in the old destructive ways, and they represent an ever-present danger not only to Scotland but to the stability of Northern Ireland’s new democracy.

The phrase moral equivalence is much bandied about at the moment in the sectarian debate. The spokesperson for the Catholic Church and the Catholic community feel that there is a conspiracy by government and the forces of law and order to conceal the fact that the statistics on acts of sectarian violence do not show a balance of illegality – acts of violence against Catholics are far more prevalent than sectarian actions against Protestants.

Michael Kelly, in an article in The ScotsmanSNP will pay a heavy price ... claims that over an 18-month period, 64% of acts of violence were against Catholics and 36% against others, and draws two conclusions from this – one, that since Catholics only form 16% of the population, the ratio is much higher than 2:1, and that “any anti-sectarian campaign must focus on stopping attacks on Catholics …”

Whatever the validity of these statistics, the reality is that the new legislation can only focus on sectarian attacks and unacceptable and inflammatory behaviour wherever it occurs and on those who break the law. Any other approach would be the religious equivalent of racial profiling, i.e. targeting police action on Protestants.

I believe that Michael Kelly’s article is profoundly damaging to the debate and to the cause that he espouses, namely the Roman Catholic cause, because he conflated it with Labour Party and Unionist politics and an attack on the SNP. At all times when listening to a West of Scotland Labour apologist commenting on sectarian behaviour, we must remember that such behaviour has always been concentrated in the West of Scotland under a Labour fiefdom that goes back for over half a century, and Labour-dominated local government, of which Michael Kelly is a former leading light.



I also question the moral priorities of senior religious figures in Scotland. At a time when the world is a more unstable place than it has been for a long time, when our economy is in a state of near collapse, the poor, the sick, the underprivileged face an attack on the very fabric of their lives, while weapons of mass destruction are based in our country, draining our limited finances and posing a threat to millions and to the environment, the Scottish churches are obsessed with gay marriage, alleged discrimination and the right to bawl out sectarian songs and fly the flag of the UK and the Irish Republic at football matches in the name of freedom of speech. This is a strange sense of values, and if moral equivalence must be trotted out, there is a distorted sense of morality at work.

I have a last word for the Catholic hierarchy. I found this news report disquieting – if anybody else did, I have not yet come across their comments. Cardinal O'Brien present papal knighthood at Red Mass

The Papal Knighthood is an award by the Vatican – a legally constituted foreign state – to prominent Catholics who have distinguished themselves in their field of endeavour. (I am not aware that it is ever conferred on non-Catholics, but am happy to be corrected on this point.)

This award was made at a special mass to Lord Gill, the Lord Justice Clerk of Scotland by Cardinal O’Brien representing Pope  Benedict XVI. Present at the mass were the Lord Advocate, the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, and the vice president of the Law Society of Scotland. (I do not know the religious affiliations of those attending.)

The report from The Catholic Observer quotes Cardinal O’Brien as follows -

“In his homily at Sunday’s Mass, Cardinal O’Brien urged Catholic lawyers in Scotland to remain strong and true to their religious beliefs.

“There is no doubt that one of the biggest challenges facing Catholic lawyers in Scotland today is a challenge which has faced many people and different groups in society down the ages: how do you live and act out your professional lives while at the same time remaining true to the teachings and doctrine of the Church?” Cardinal O’Brien said. “Specifically for lawyers the challenge must be how can you represent your clients’ interests to the best of your abilities while applying the law of the land, when at times these two pressures may be in conflict with your own Catholic Faith.”

I can only say that I am deeply uncomfortable with such an award and such statements at a time when religious divides in Scottish society are problematical and legislation to combat excesses produced by them is being attacked by prominent religious leaders, including Cardinal O’Brien. I can only speculate about how such an event and such statements are interpreted by extremists in Scottish society.

I do not believe they serve the interest of the Catholic community in Scotland well, nor do they accord with my ideas of how the relationship between religious groups and a secular democracy should work. At worst, they can exacerbate religious tension.

I have to say that the award, and the status and roles of those attending does not suggest a Catholic professional population being discriminated against, at least in the legal profession. I can only express the wish that lawyers in Scotland, of whatever religious persuasion, remain true to the principle of the rule of law and the secular state of which they are a part.