Tuesday 14 February 2012

SNP membership oppose Catholic schools

                                        Sorry, girls, not much to celebrate in this survey...

One of the interesting statistics on the views of SNP members which appeared in the print edition of Scotalnd on Sunday but didn't make it to the web version is that on the attitude to Catholic schools. In response to the statement, 'Separate Catholic schools should be phased out', 36% strongly agreed and 28.4% agreed. (As some comparison, the last survey (2003) of the general Scottish population that I could find from a quick google showed only 48% against.)

I'll leave it to others to draw any conclusions they want to on implications for Independence and, in the interests of balance, point out that Alex Salmond has previously been explicit in his support for Catholic schools whilst other parties, including the Tories have previous form on this issue. But in any case it does emphasize that the retention of Catholic education is something that is likely to remain under attack and there is not exactly a reservoir of support for it in what, independence or no, is likely to be the party of government for a good while yet.

A good defence of Catholic education by Tina Beattie is here. (I know that Professor Beattie has had her run ins with the Catholic blogosphere previously and I certainly wouldn't agree with her on her understanding of (eg) authority in the Church -but credit where credit is due, she did a good job on this one.) The key issue remains our understanding of rationality and how the virtue of practical wisdom is passed on to the next generation. Secularists tend to assume that there is just one rationality, uninformed by culture and tradition. Catholics will assume that any education worth its salt will involve induction into a specific tradition of thought and rationality.

Philosophers and theologians who, roughly, can be described as 'post modern' (and I'd put Professor Beattie into this category) will tend to agree with the claim that any rationality is bound to a certain specific pattern or history. As such they will tend to agree that the idea of commitment-less universal rationality taught in non-sectarian schools is a chimera. Where they will go wrong in principle is in downplaying the Catholic claim that the intellectual tradition of Catholicism is not just one among many traditions, but the tradition which, by dint of divine guidance, is objectively the best. In practice, though, when engaging with the wider, secular society, it would be unreasonable (and certainly impractical) to expect an argument based on the objective superiority of the Catholic intellectual tradition to win much support. However, it should be possible to argue the goodness of the tradition: not that it trumps all other forms of education, but that it has a distinctive and helpful contribution to make to Scottish society. In that practical aim, the sort of post modern analysis contributed by Professor Beattie has its part to play in the process of political persuasion, even if it does not embody the fullness of the Catholic claim.


  1. Deary me.

    Point 1. this analysis of SNP membership is 4 years old. SNP Membership has increased by x 3 or x4 since that particular survey. (lots of Catholics joining and voting for them during that period.)

    you shouldnt be reading too much into what the SOS writes about the Nationalists these days.

    Point 2

    This is probably one of the lowest % you will get in Scotland. Do you want to compare it against he Tories? Labour? Athiests? Gays? Rangers fans?

    Alex Salmond. "Without the Catholic Church there would be no Scotland" or words to that effect.



  2. 1) Thanks for pointing out the age of the survey –which I’d missed. And you are also right to suggest that the make up of membership particularly among Catholics will have changed since then.

    2) a) On the membership of the SNP, judging by the content of the Nationalist blogosphere, I was surprised by how low opposition to Catholic schools was in the survey. My main worry about the activist SNP membership is that, again judging by its internet presence, it is relentlessly hostile to and uncomprehending of religion and, in particular, the sort of unapologetic Christianity you find in the Catholic hierarchy. I’m quite sure that the First Minister is sincere in his wish to have good relations with the Church: is there any evidence that this wish is much reflected in the lower levels of the party hierarchy? (A genuine, not rhetorical question! I’d love to have my mind quieted on this.)

    b) In terms of comparison with other parties etc, there simply isn’t the data –so far as I’m aware- to provide comparisons other than with the 48% figure for opposition in the general population in 2003. (I’d hoped that this posting might flush out some more up to date figures: I find it hard to believe there has been no polling on this issue since 2003.) Even if –as I accept is quite possible- other parties are as bad or worse on this, this would in some ways be even more damaging for the Independence case. If political, activist Scotland across the parties is almost uniform in its hostility to serious religion –and that is very much the impression I get from (eg) the media coverage of same sex ‘marriage’- then that might cause more doubts about the quality and potential of Scottish politics than the opposition of just one party.

  3. My point is, in fact, that the SNP Party, and Alex Salmond has backed "faith schools". I do not believe other parties have.

    I am still adamant that a majority of every organisation you surveyed in Scotland (and England?) is against catholic and faith schools except maybe the Catholic Church and the Church of England! That is more a reflection on our societies than particular political parties.

    I know this comes across as blind SNP-ism on my part. But for me the SNP is a means to an end. I have no loyalty to them post independence. But i will back them if I think they are getting a raw deal in blogosphere.

    If I can be slightly cheeky. Maybe the SNP membership is just full of the concerned Catholics who want to know what Catholic schools actually do for the faith in Scotland anyway?


  4. Im just gobsmacked to see the SCO have made the same mistake describing it as "NEW RESEARCH has revealed the clear majority of SNP Members.." It has got so bad now it is time to cancel my subs?

  5. Not sure anyone's made any mistakes, CT! The news item in the Scottish Catholic Observer (not online) is under the title, 'SNP quizzed over education stance' and allows an SNP spokesperson to reply to the research. All perfectly straightforward journalism. (And interestingly the spokesman doesn't use your argument about the outdatedness of the data but simply reiterates the party's commitment to Catholic education.)

    The research has only just been published and provides a unique, academic insight into the membership of the SNP. Surely newsworthy? You're quite right to speculate on the relevance of data derived from polling in 2007/8. Your speculations suggest that the views might have changed since then due to the influx of Catholics. Fair point. Others might speculate that it may have even got worse since then due to the influx of younger, and thus more secularized voters. But these are all speculations: the only hard figures are the ones referred to.

    The parties all need to be constantly pressed on 'Catholic' issues. If similar research had been published on any of the other parties, I'd have treated it in exactly the same way as, I've no doubt, would the SCO.