The Bishop of Motherwell is at it again, firing off an intemperate salvo against the abortionists, the gays, the police, the Greens, and Patrick Harvie in particular. Last time he waded in he accused the gay rights movement of aligning themselves with Holocaust victims to project an ”image of a group of people under persecution“. As everyone pointed out then, Holocaust victims did include a lot of gay men. But the Bishop isn’t one to let the facts get in the way of a little hatred.
This time, it seems he’s been to Brighton and he did not like it. Not one bit. It’s full of gays and Greens and the kind of police who object to anti-abortionists who harass the public. He started there, with abortion, objecting to the arrests of two “Christians” who waved enormous banners showing aborted foetuses at women going into a BPAS clinic in Brighton, and he compared abortion not just to the Holocaust again, but also to famine, war and the Burma Railway. His argument is actually this, and I quote: “If we cannot face the pictures, how can we conceive of endorsing the reality?”
Note that this isn’t an argument about when life begins or the relative rights of the unborn versus the mother. It’s nothing more than this: “if you’re too squeamish we might be able to put you off”, an purely aesthetic assault. Now, I’m pretty damn squeamish. I fainted the only time I gave blood and was told never to come back. When I last went in to hospital for an operation, I certainly couldn’t have faced the pictures. The factual reality of the operation, though, I absolutely endorsed.
Where would this aesthetics-based campaign approach end? Would it be OK for Jehovah’s Witnesses, who oppose blood transfusions, to stand outside blood donor centres with gory placards? Should everyone eating meat be obliged to look at massive posters of calves being shot in the head? The Catholic Church, it turns out, has had a bad habit of covering up for paedophile priests. Should the statistics about that be waved as 7-foot banners in the faces of innocent churchgoers every Sunday? I think not.
He then went on to lambast the Greens for another Brighton issue, the disciplinary measures against Cllr Christina Summers. She voted against a Labour motion on equal marriage, which is what the Bishop thinks she got done for: no, far more importantly, she broke a direct pledge to the party members who selected her and to the public who elected her. ”To seek to coerce loyalty to the party above loyalty to individual conscience calls to mind the worst kind of totalitarian politics,” the Bishop said.
Hardly. She can do what she likes with her conscience – which coincidentally includes harassment outside abortion clinics. But in the Bishop’s Big Book Of Rules there are ten which are always described as pretty important. Being against gay marriage isn’t in that list, but there is one which talks about bearing false witness. Is no-one in the religious hierarchy concerned about her dishonesty? It is apparently a sin, if my reading’s correct.
We just ask for candidates to be honest with the membership and to adhere to the party’s principles. They sign up to that, as Cllr Summers did, and then they get held to it. It’s hardly the “worst kind of totalitarian politics“. Does the Bishop really think that being expelled from the Brighton and Hove Green Councillors Group (not the party, mind, nor the Council) is akin to being sent to the gulags or having an attempt made to exterminate your entire people?
Next, the truth about the Green Party. “For years it has operated under the cover of ‘saving the planet’ while publicly playing down its anti-religious faith, anti-democratic agenda.” I wouldn’t say we’re anti-democratic. We’re not perhaps as good at winning elections as others, but that still feels a bit of an unfair characterisation. Bad at fundraising: that I’d accept. Also, we’re not anti-faith – I know many wonderful Greens who believe in God – but it’s true that we are very much against the bigoted arguments that masquerade as faith in certain quarters.
But what does marriage equality have to do with climate change? We hear that a lot. Well, enabling the first and trying to tackle the latter is consistently about building a better planet to live on. It doesn’t seem very complicated to me. But Greens should only campaign on one issue as far as the Bishop is concerned. I await his attack on the SNP, who have operated for years under the cover of the quest for independence while publicly playing down their real aim – a minimum price per unit of alcohol. The Bishop needs to understand that all political parties cover a range of policies. And that means, to paraphrase Patrick Harvie’s comments to the Sunday Herald, if he wants to vote for a party which agrees with him on really not liking the gays, it’ll be down to UKIP versus the BNP.