Friday 10 February 2012

Christian opposition to independence

Well, that's the headline in last Friday's Scottish Catholic Observer anyway....

THE Scottish Government’s campaign for independence was dealt a blow this week with the announcement that the new Christian democratic political party coming to Scotland opposes it.

Michael Elmer, leader of the Centre Democrats in England and Wales, was in Scotland last weekend to meet with leading Scottish Catholics and Christians—including internationally renowned composer James MacMillan—to discuss working to launch the Scottish Centre Democrats in the autumn.

“There needs to be a party for those who embrace Christian values and are willing to claim the centre ground: In economic terms those who reject both planned economies and naked capitalism,” Mr Elmer told the SCO. “I think Scottish voters will be interested in a party that is pro-life in the broadest sense—against poverty and the death penalty as well as abortion—and against independence.”

In the end, I think there are two stories here. First, there is the attempt to create a centre right, socially conservative party in Scotland. James MacMillan has blogged about his desire for such a party before, back in September, when Murdo Fraser was suggesting a reinvention of the Scottish Conservatives:

It is not just traditional Tories who have abandoned the Conservatives in the search for a viable centre-Right opposition (and ended up voting ruefully and frustratedly for the SNP and their Leftist project) but a lot of traditional Labour supporters have been cast aside contemptuously by the new middle-class Leftist urban elites who have taken over Labour with their foreign dogmas of lifestyle libertarianism/libertinism/liberalism. Huge swathes of Scottish ex-Labourites are now desperate for a political voice for their social and moral conservatism. I feel, therefore, that you have to prove your pro-family, pro-marriage and pro-life credentials. If you do this successfully, a lot of people who would never have dared vote Tory could be attracted by a radical alternative to the "culture of death" merchants and moral relativists who infest the other parties.

As I've discussed before, here and here , the current rush towards lifestyle liberalism  as the plat du jour of every major political party in Scotland leaves orthodox theists and particularly Catholics with little place in current politics. Although my suspicion is that this is more likely to lead to apathy and an alienation from politics and the independence project, Catholics less Eeyore-ish and less given to duvet decades than myself might well instead respond with the sort of frenetic activity required for a new political movement. I wish them well.

But the obvious space for such a party or movement in modern Scotland doesn't mean that it is necessarily an 'opposition to independence' as claimed by the SCO. James MacMillan makes this clear in a comment on the SCO website:

I hate to say it, but the title of this article is misleading. The new party will not be keen to “major” on the constitutional issue. Although it is a UK party it will want to operate in any given constitutional context and would want to attract interest from previously SNP-inclined voters as well as others. Political life will get back to normal after the referendum which most objective commentators believe the SNP will lose anyway. Meanwhile life, and politics has to go on, and Scotland would benefit from a new perspective borne out of the Christian Democrat experience common in many countries around the world. The Centre Democrats are not interested in causing yet another fruitless row about separation.

Putting aside the prediction of the referendum result, this makes more sense. Whatever happens in the referendum, but particularly if it goes in favour of independence, there will be a shake up in the Scottish political scene. In particular, the unionist parties -and perhaps above all the Conservatives- will have to reinvent themselves. Moreover, unless we are to assume a Scottish political scene frozen into parties defined by an increasingly remote historical question, the internal tensions within the nationalist project between liberals and conservatives might also suggest a realignment within the SNP. So in post-independence (or even devo-max) Scotland, such a new party might well find a place, putting aside detailed questions about the viability of this particular, Centre Democrat, project.

But this leads on to the second story: why is the SCO running such a story under such a headline? I have absolutely no idea in detail what has been going on behind the scenes, but I'm quite sure that, in particular, the consultation on same sex 'marriage' and the clear intention of the current political class to drive it through willy-nilly has caused consternation among serious Catholics and among the Scottish hierarchy. As I have said, one possible response is an alienation from political life in Scotland and, as a consequence, a disenchantment with the potential of the independence project and a resigned support for the unionist status quo. That appears to be behind the 'spin' of the SCO headline. On the other hand, there is a more 'activist' response, and the attempt to reclaim Scottish politics from lifestyle liberalism. That, in itself a project compatible with any possible results of the referendum, is (rather ironically given MacMillan's own clear unionism) perhaps in practice rather more compatible with the fluidity which would be consequent on a vote for independence rather than the status quo.

Expect even more anguish as it becomes obvious that the consultation on same sex marriage needs scare quotes around not just 'marriage' but also 'consultation':

Labour’s Johann Lamont, Ruth Davidson of the Conservatives, Willie Rennie of the Liberal Democrats and the Greens’ Patrick Harvie all signed a declaration saying that they would ‘campaign to beat the ban on same sex marriage’ on Tuesday night despite unprecedented opposition to any change in the law, led by the Catholic Church.

John Deighan, parliamentary officer for the Scottish bishops, said Scotland deserved more from its political leaders.

“It is disappointing that party leaders have been so cavalier in joining the bandwagon for redefining marriage,” he said. “We deserve a more reflective approach from those in a position of political leadership.”


  1. You beat me to posting on this but you posted better than I would have.

    You have to ask how the SCO could give such coverage to such a nomark party, even with a semi-endorsment by one of our famous sons in James Macmillan. Unless it was an excuse to use the headline.

    The SCO has been excellent at promoting Catholic Scotland's historic Scottish Catholic identity in recent times though so credit where it is due for that.

  2. Sorry to have got in first!

    The SCO headline is odd, isn't it? (And I can't even find a website for the Centre Democrats so it's clearly a long way from being a viable force.) Other than a straightforward 'unionist plot' explanation -the headline writer simply wanted to put a unionist spin on a bit of a non-story- my best guess is that it's another sign of a sense of betrayal and desperation that exists among many Catholics at the wholesale endorsement of the same sex 'marriage' nonsense by Scotland's politicians. Whatever else we may think of it, MacMillan is right to say, '...there is a place for conviction politicians in the centre ground who will recognise that marrriage and the family are the core bedrock of our society.' And there don't seem to be many of those around at the moment in Holyrood.