Oliver Milne is a freelance journalist and editor of the Glasgow Guardian,the University of Glasgow’s Student Newspaper. He tweets nonsense as @OliverMilne.
Today we saw two Scotlands. Through twin media narratives we saw to the heart of what is a deeply fractured society; at once progressive and deeply conservative. For Scotland, within the United Kingdom or without, to fulfil its true potential for its citizens we need to forcefully challenge bigotry in our civil society.
Tartaglia’s hateful and ignorant tirade on the death of the much respected David Cairns MP presents a much bigger problem for Scotland than the political struggle which will accompany any equal marriage bill. Religious observance, or at least organised religious observance, is experiencing a dramatic decline in Scotland today. Despite only 1 in 10 Scots attending religious services we are still the the most religious of the nations that make up Great Britain and the social and political influences of our religious organisations are not to be ignored.
The bill will pass, and most likely with a comfortable majority, even if Cardinal Keith O’Brian lives up to his promise of pouring £100 million into lobbying and campaigning against it. The success of the law,however, is greatly diminished when the religious organisations which make up a huge section of our civil society preach intolerance and hatred, and disguise it as morality. As citizens, religious or otherwise, we have a duty to our polity to ensure equal protection for all members of our society. This means when necessary denouncing entrenched religious groups who wield their considerable influence – directly through lobbying or indirectly from the pulpit – not to enrich our society or protect their practitioners but to demonize and harass.
My relationship with religion is a deeply contradictory one but I could be described as a lapsed Catholic. The Catholic church has a simultaneously horrendous and honourable history. It has ruined lives and oppressed those it considered different leaving painful and visible scars on our social fabric. But it is also responsible for the largest non-government directed foreign aid program and the education of children in parts of the world where few NGOs dare venture. One does not cancel out the other, like most institutions it exists in shades of grey.
When in the 11th century the Catholic Church clamped down on the ability of priests to buy positions of power (simony) or to marry (nicolaitism) they did so largely because it reflected not only scripture but a sense of a deep injustice felt by the people of Europe. In short, the church has always adapted to reflect the injustices confirmed to them by their congregations and wider society.
With this in mind we must not let this opportunity pass. I will be writing to Archbishop-Elect Tartaglia to express my horror at his sentiments and to ask that in light of seeing the hurt his comments have caused that he considers his own unjustifiable prejudices and the unjustifiable prejudices of the Catholic Church in Scotland.
This battle isn’t limited to Catholics. As ordinary Scottish Muslims observe Ramadan they too should reflect on the hate expressed on their behalf by their Imams and speak out against intolerance. The Kirk has argued that the Scottish Government has moved ahead of the will of ordinary people of Scotland. I think that’s nonsense and that we should tell them so.
Today we saw two Scotlands but both need not survive. If ensuring a bright future for the progressive Scotland after the equal marriage bill means forcing a frank but respectful debate about equality with the other Scotland then I’ll see you early Sunday morning.