Monday, 30 April 2012
Catholics in an independent Scotland
The 20 April edition of the Catholic Herald contained an article by Glen Reynolds supportive of a pro-independence stance in the referendum. As it didn't make it to the Catholic Herald's online content , I'll give a summary below.
Dr Reynolds begins by sketching his move from a Labour Party activist to an SNP supporter prompted by a growing sense of suffocation within the Scottiosh Labour party and a changing relationship between the SNP and Catholicism which 'is no longer referred to as Scottish No Pope as Scotland has increasingly confronted and defeated its anti-Catholic sectarian past'. Noting Alex Salmond's strong Christian background, Reynolds describes him as 'someone Catholic can do business with'.
The basic message of the article is that independence would allow a Scottish understanding of social justice and moral issues to be determined within the nation 'without a leash being constantly reined in from Westminster'.
To give just one Catholic moral perspective by way of example, the protection of the rights of an unborn child arguably better placed in the context of a debate within a sovereign self-determined state, focused upon by the people of Scotland in a Scottish context, as opposed to inherent problems faced with engaging on this and other deeply held Catholic values within and under the control of a Westminster forum. Perhaps this long-distance approach appealed to Scottish Labour as it could argue anti-Catholic sentiments behind the protection of a secular Westminster facade.
Reynolds isn't precise about why we should expect better decisions from an independent Scottish Parliament than from a Westminster Parliament. A partial answer to this is given in his claims that:
Twenty per cent of SNP members are currently Catholic (not far off the national percentage) and rapidly increasing. Salmond is the leader of a national movement that's had Catholics integral to it from founding days. Indeed, the first elected nationalist, the writer Sir Compton MacKenzie, was a Catholic convert. On becoming national convener of the SNP in 1990, Salmond made building even stronger bridges with the Catholic community a top priority.
Much of the article seems directed at combating the idea that in principle nationalism and independence are incompatible with Catholicism. That much seems certain: it's very difficult to see why Catholicism in principle is at odds with Scottish independence given that mediaeval, Catholic Scotland was independent. It's much less clear on why nowadays Catholics might find independence a better option than the continuation of the union. Too much of the argument is focused on the sort of point noted above: in broad terms, that the SNP isn't as much of a Protestant, anti-Catholic party as it may have been in the past.
Personally, I don't need convincing of this. I've never thought of the SNP as any more anti-Catholic than any of the major other Scottish parties and, before the same sex marriage debate, would even have probably thought it slightly more inclined to seek Catholic support. (Admittedly, such efforts were largely motivated by undermining Labour's expectation that west coast Catholics in particular would vote in anything on a Labour ticket -but, hey, what do you expect? This is politics after all.) If the SNP is worried that Catholics still regard the Labour party as their natural party, certainly for my part and I suspect for many Catholics, they needn't be too worried.
But that still leaves the positive case for independence to be made.There is in Catholic social thought a general presumption in favour of a measure of nationalism:
The Magisterium points out that international law 'rests upon the principle of equal respect for States, for each people's right to self-determination and for their free cooperation in view of the higher good of humanity'. Peace is founded not only on respect for human rights but also on respect for the rights of peoples, in particular the right to independence. (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church para 157.)
Moreover, that general presumption can be seen to be based in a general sense of the importance of subsidiarity and of those natural bonds of affection for the local and concrete that is a commonplace of conservative Catholic thought to be found (eg) in both Chesterton and MacIntyre. I can't see much of this line of argument in the article, perhaps because it sets ill with Jetsons-like, modernizing strand of the SNP which seems dominant at the moment. That's a pity, because, in the long run, such a conservative package might be a stronger brand in a morally and financially bankrupt Europe than the pursuit of a rootless modernity.
The modern SNP has been extremely good at developing a nationalism that has kept a welcome distance between love of nation and the disfiguring racism that can too easily result. In doing so, however, it runs the risk of lurching to the other extreme: of denying the importance of tradition and specific historical cultures in human flourishing that might otherwise prove attractive to Catholic and other voters.