Will independence fuel sectarianism?
— Church parliamentary spokesman questions judgement of claims made by Paul McBride QC
A spokesman for the Catholic Church says it is difficult to judge whether Scottish independence would increase anti-Catholic sentiment in Scotland, as suggested this week by a leading lawyer.
“The heroic martyrs of England and Wales show that it is the manifestation of a strong Catholicism which brings out anti-Catholic hatred,” John Deighan, parliamentary officer for the Scottish bishops, said. “Whether independence can make a difference to that in our present day Scotland is difficult to judge given that it is the values of secularism which are now providing much of the justification for anti-Catholic feeling.”
Sectarianism could blossom
Mr Deighan’s comments were made in response to claims this week by leading Catholic lawyer, Paul McBride QC, that sectarianism could blossom in an independent Scotland and that the SNP’s flagship policy could lead to ‘very serious consequences’ for Catholics.
Mr McBride (above right) described the situation as the ‘most serious social issue in the country today.’
“People are anxious that if they vote for independence and then sectarianism isn’t tackled that there will be these very serious consequences,” Mr McBride said. “Under independence, if the issue wasn’t tackled, we would have our own parliament dealing with the issue with no influence from elsewhere. “Then if the Scottish Parliament under independence was not prepared to address the issue, it could encourage an atmosphere where sectarianism could blossom.”
Mr McBride’s comments were, however, rebuked by Catholic Labour MSP Michael McMahon.
“As a Catholic, my fears about independence are not in this regard but are more about how Scotland would be weaker economically, socially and politically under independence,” he said. Mr McMahon said that, in the past, there was a genuine concern in the Catholic community about independence but not now.
However Professor Patrick Reilly, leading Catholic academic and retired professor of English literature at Glasgow University, said that he understands why there may be fears among people in Scotland over independence.
“I know that some people feel safer being part of the UK, as they feel that England is more tolerant towards them than an independent Scotland might be,” Professor Reilly said. “I can see why some people would take the view that Scotland would be more divided under independence.”
SNP MSP Bob Doris claimed that the problem of sectarianism would be tackled more effectively in an independent Scotland.
“Sectarianism will not be tolerated in modern Scotland,” Mr Doris, the convenor of the Holyrood government’s cross-party group on equality, said.
Mr McBride, who like Celtic FC manager Neil Lennon had threats made on his life last season, made the comments in an interview with George Galloway. Mr Galloway, who is writing a book on the campaign waged against Mr Lennon, expressed similar concerns regarding independence in an interview with the SCO prior to this year’s Scottish Parliamentary elections.
“One of the reasons I oppose independence is because it could be that the break up of the union would remove a protection from Scottish Catholics that would lead to greater sectarianism,” Mr Galloway said.
Peter Kearney, director of the Catholic media office, said of the situation: “The Church does not have a position on Constitutional settlement, which is an entirely civic matter.”