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First Minister criticises abusive political climate as she responds to Bishop’s letter on SNP abortion row

The First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has insisted her party would not prevent candidates from standing for election based on their religious views, and deplored the standard of 'public discourse' following abuse of one of her MPs.

Her comments come in a letter to the president of the Scottish Bishops’ Conference, and follow a row within the SNP over a vote on imposing abortion on Northern Ireland.

Two weeks ago, MPs at Westminster voted to introduce abortion in Northern Ireland if devolution is not restored in the country by the end of October.

 

Pro-life views

While most SNP MPs abstained on the free vote or voted in its favour, Peter Grant and Lisa Cameron voted against based on their pro-life views.

Dr Cameron subsequently received hundreds of messages of abuse, and local party officials threatened to deselect her as a candidate.

In a letter sent last Thursday to the First Minister, Bishop Hugh Gilbert of Aberdeen sought reassurances that ‘freedom of conscience within the public square’ would be upheld by the party.

 

‘Disturbed’

In a reply dated July 19, the First Minister wrote that she was ‘disturbed’ by the abuse directed at Dr Cameron.

“It is unfortunate that we have reached a point in the public discourse where, particularly on social media, people feel free to level abuse at politicians and public figures who they have never met or know nothing of,” the First Minister wrote.

Mrs Sturgeon reiterated that the SNP chief whip, Catholic MP Patrick Grady, had stated in advance of the Northern Ireland vote that it was a ‘free vote, and provided assurances to MPs that it was for individual members to determine their vote.’

 

Religion

She added: “No one is ever asked about their religious views when seeking to be a candidate and no one is ever prevented from being a candidate because of their religious views.

“I have always been proud of our diversity as a party and as I am sure you are aware a number of faith groups are represented amongst SNP parliamentarians and in the Scottish cabinet.

“I would like to be especially clear on one point. No MP would face deselection as a result of their vote last week. Whatever an individual member might think about an issue, the SNP has clear procedures which govern the selection of candidates, and the decision on who a candidate is in a constituency is one that all members locally have an equal say in.”

Bishop Gilbert thanked the First Minister for her response, adding: “Your letter does indeed provide the reassurance asked for and I express my appreciation for it.”

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