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A time for every purpose under Heaven

Our Church was right to stay largely out of the independence referendum, but now is a time for action says KEVIN McKENNA

WHEN asked, finally, in the privacy of my polling booth on September 18 on Glasgow’s south side I answered Yes to the question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?” The time though, for explanation has passed now and, anyway, I was accorded the privilege for many weeks beforehand in one of our national newspapers to explain why I was moving towards a Yes vote, having been a fervent No supporter at the outset of the campaign.

Of course, I was disappointed with the outcome, for how many other countries are accorded the rare opportunity to be a complete nation and yet opt to remain a satellite state instead?

However I wasn’t devastated, shattered or inconsolable as many others were at the outcome. I love politics and the conduct of politics: The right to participate in the way our temporal affairs are governed is one that millions of our fellow citizens throughout the world are still fighting and dying for. They see this as important because it says that government is a mere extension of the people’s will. There are though, several important areas in our lives which will always demand our attention more than whether Scotland ever becomes independent or not. Faith, family and relationships are three of them.

Secular politics though, and how they are managed, are still vital in our ability to live our faith and promote it.

I have heard it said by several who move in evangelical circles that they are disengaged by the business of democratic, secular politics because no political party will ever come near to promoting a Judeao-Christian agenda in the running of the country. This is a spiritually delinquent view of politics which fails to recognise that freedom from slavery, tyranny, torture and inequality are also fundamental Christian principles. It fails also to acknowledge that to raise a family and to build Christian communities is far easier when we are all able to work for a living and earn a fair wage for our labours.

The maintenance of the NHS and of a high-quality network of state-run primary and secondary schools, neither of which must ever rest on the ability to pay or on access to unearned wealth, are also fundamental to helping bring Christ to the world and to live Christ in it.

The Catholic Church remained largely silent throughout the independence campaign. And though this was disappointing it was entirely necessary, especially after the internal events of the last few years. However, a new kind of Scotland is beginning to emerge in the aftermath of the referendum debate and the Catholic Church must be ready to participate in it as fully as She can and re-discover its voice again. What is emerging from the synod in Rome gives me great hope that we can speak again in softer and more compassionate tones. This is important because the message of Christ Crucified and salvation through Jesus needs to be heard as much as ever.

There are several areas of public and civic life which call forth from the Church an unequivocal and wise response. The twin evils of abortion and euthanasia still, of course, require to be opposed clearly and stridently as both contribute to a culture of death in this country. Such a culture may soon become embedded in our system of care so that the state indiscriminately and randomly decides what sort of lives are worth caring for and what not.

But just as important as these are several social and cultural issues on which I would like the Church to bring its wisdom to bear. In no particular order of importance these are: land ownership, low wages and child poverty. Personally, I would also like it to distance itself from the wretched elitism of fee-paying schools and the inequality of private health care, but I realise that there are vested and deeply influential interests at play here and that such battles will have to be joined in another theatre of war.

The pattern of land ownership in Scotland is, quite simply, deeply iniquitous and diametrically opposed to Christian ideas of fairness and equality. More than half of Scotland is owned by fewer than 500 private landowners, the richest of whom, are permitted to increase their wealth by manipulating the system whereby massive European farming subsidies can be accessed. That we also allow several of them also to violate the beautiful countryside that God gifted to this land by cashing in on excessive wind- farm developments is unforgivable. The Church should make its position clear on this.

The Church also, I believe, has a sacred duty to speak out against the evil of low pay which afflicts this country. The rise in real wages in Britain has been outstripped by the increase in the cost of living. Contributing to this has been the cartelism of the energy companies who have been allowed to act together to keep their prices artificially high. This has led to great social distress in our less affluent neighbourhoods with fuel poverty, where families will go without food simply to heat their homes. But worse than this is the process by which Britain has become one of the most unequal societies in the world in terms of the gap that exists between rich and poor.

If you think that forcing companies to pay the Living Wage of £7.65 per hour is too onerous then perhaps you need to ask yourself why the salaries of bosses in the FTSE top 100 are more than 240 times the average salary for the rest of us. £7.65 per hour is that which it is calculated will provide a basic standard of living for an individual and which thus provides a key to accessing full human dignity. In Britain we still reward financial greed and corruption by our state-owned institutions with bonuses and emoluments which can only be described as obscene, but as yet, a mere handful of big companies say they can afford to pay a living wage to their employees.

The right of our poorer citizens to a healthy and supported family life is undermined by this iniquity and it cries out to all the Christian churches for a response. More than 250,000 Scottish children are living below the poverty line and many of these come from households where the parents are in obscenely low paid work.

Saying nothing very much about these issues is simply not an option for the Catholic Church. It has a duty to preach the gospel of Christ to the world and, in these areas, the message of our saviour needs to be heard: that we were all created equal and that we are all equally loved.

— The views expressed in the opinion pages of the SCO are those of informed individuals and groups and not necessarily those of the newspaper or the Church

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