Religion enters the Glasgow North East by-election
It appears that both Labour and Conservative MSPs are making Mr Kerr’s religious views an issue during the campaign. Labour justice spokesman Richard Baker and the Scottish Conservatives’ deputy leader Murdo Fraser have both raised questions about Mr Kerr’s membership of the controversial group. Mr Fraser said it raised questions about whether it was appropriate to have a political candidate who was a member of a ‘secretive’ and ‘hard-line’ organisation. Mr Baker said it would be ‘a cause for people to have questions’.
Cranmer has some sympathy.
But the more Mr Kerr insists that his faith is a ‘personal matter’, and pretends that ‘religion had no part to play in the election’, the more he deludes himself and deceives the electorate. He says: ‘Modern Scotland and Scottish political parties encompass people of all faiths and none. My faith is a personal matter, and religion has no part to play in this or any other campaign.’
The delusion is that Mr Kerr insists that his faith, being ‘a personal matter’, will have no bearing on the way he votes in Westminster, which is a very public matter. Asked, for example, about his views on abortion, he said: "I'm not here to talk about theology. The Catholic Church's view is well known."
So abortion is simply a matter of theology?
If religion were simply piety and devotion, it may belong in the private realm. But when that religion instructs one in the way one should vote, the public are fully entitled to enquire into the provenance of the prelate giving the direction. Members of Opus Dei are exhorted to incarnate their church's teaching through their professional work. So are all Christians. But this organisation is a strong advocate of Roman Catholic moral values on issues such as abortion and contraception. Mr Fraser was not questioning whether, as a member of Opus Dei, Mr Kerr had a right to be a candidate, but simply that his views on certain issues should be made known to the electorate.
The Labour candidate Willie Bain said: “I want to bring people together, not divide them up. My faith is important to me, but it does not matter what religion or religious organisation a candidate is in.”
That’s nice, Mr Bain. But this is Glasgow, where it matters almost as much as it does in Belfast.
Yet the SNP candidate insists that it is ‘preposterous and deeply prejudiced’ to argue that somebody of his religious beliefs should be ‘debarred’ from running for public office. He said his religious views were now an ‘open book’.
That, you see, is the problem. When one is an ‘open book’ on religion one runs the risk of being subject to scrutiny, systematically codified and labelled a bigot by some unintelligent, undiscerning, unreasonable, reactionary, bigoted journalists. One might even be called a ‘nutter’ by one’s political opponents.
No matter how reasoned, thoughtful and sincere one’s beliefs, it is almost impossible to overcome the media caricature. And all journalists engage in this; even those who profess to hold a reasoned, thoughtful and sincere faith. A National Secular Society spokesman said: "The concern for voters would be that such a person would have their allegiance to the Church and not to the SNP. It is one thing to bring your religious beliefs to politics, but it is another to bring the dogmas of a right-wing Catholic organisation. That would be the worry for voters."
Ah, we are back to ‘Pope or Parliament?’. But Cranmer is puzzled by the distinction drawn by the NSS. They appear to be saying that it is acceptable ‘to bring your religious beliefs into politics’ as long as they are not Right wing and Roman Catholic. Or is it just the ‘extreme-Catholic-Right’ variety? They appear to have no problem with Left-wing Anglicanism. Is that because it is benign and supine? Curiously, ‘the dogmas (sic) of a right-wing Catholic organisation’ were not an issue for Michael Martin, who went on to become the first Roman Catholic Speaker of the House of Commons since the Reformation. Pace Mary Honeyball, being Roman Catholic is no longer a bar to holding public office.
And in Michael Martin’s case, there were far better reasons for barring him permanently from public office.
Sadly, this by-election establishes that Tony Blair was right about ‘doing God’. Whipped up by the fervour and ecstasy of DaVinci, David Kerr’s faith has become a political football, obliging him to deceive the electorate that it is simply a personal matter and quite divorced from his public duty.
That deception alone is sufficient to establish his unsuitability for public office.