Scotland’s Roman Catholics will likely have a decisive voice in the upcoming independence referendum.
Although there is an empathy among Catholics in Scotland for the republican cause in Ireland, it is unlikely to translate into a significant amount of votes for Alex Salmond’s Scottish flavour of home rule.
The majority of RCs in Scotland have voted historically for Unionist parties, whether Labour or Conservative.
On top of this, Catholics tend to be conservative with a small ‘c’ and that produces a pragmatic approach which will resist change for change’s sake.
It also has to be borne in mind that the nationalist/republican fever in Ireland has largely abated, with polls putting a slight majority of Irish nationalists in Northern Ireland now firmly in favour of staying in the UK – a quite remarkable turnaround from only a couple of decades ago.
As well as this, a growing number of people in the Republic now favour some kind of re-unification with Britain.
It is becoming apparent to a growing number of Unionist and loyalist politicians and groups that the most virulent strain of anti-British Irish republicanism is now found among certain people here in Scotland.
Even so, this will have little effect on the independence referendum as the Catholic vote will largely go to the “No” camp.
There is a deep-seated mistrust among Scotland’s Catholics toward the SNP, a party which has long been regarded by the Catholic community as vehemently anti-Rome.
Although this is a largely misplaced suspicion – the SNP is no friend to the Protestant community or cause in its present form – it appears to have some foundation, though probably for secular rather than religious reasons.
As reported in the Scottish Catholic Observer on 17th February this year, almost 65% of SNP supporters are opposed to Roman Catholic schools and want them abolished. This is higher than the figure for the public at large, which is around 50% based on the last poll.
This is a worrying figure for any Catholic who wants to continue seeing their children educated in a RC school. A vote for independence could clearly be a vote for the erosion of RC values and education in Scotland.
Of course, Alex Salmond is said to be in favour of faith-based education and the official SNP policy still supports Catholic schools.
But Salmond is said to want to retain the monarchy in an independent Scotland and that is also SNP policy. This doesn’t prevent SNP activists from privately briefing people that the Queen will be booted out once independence is obtained.
Scottish Catholics will have to ask themselves if they can trust a party which speaks with such forked tongue.
It should be pointed out that many people who voted for the SNP in the elections have stated that they will oppose independence so the term “SNP supporter” is a bit misleading anyway.
But it may just be that the inability to place any kind of trust in Salmond and his cronies will make peculiar allies of most of Scotland’s Roman Catholics and the massive Protestant Unionist majority when the referendum comes around.
The recent statistics released on religious hate crimes show that 58% of crimes of this nature are committed against Roman Catholics, even though they comprise only 16% of the population.
Catholic organisations use this statistic to cite an imbalance of bigotry in Scotland that seems to promote the concept of Scotland being a place where RCs are unfairly persecuted.
However, the statistic can more properly be interpreted the other way around i.e. if there were many more Catholics, could we not expect much more Catholic-on-other-faith crimes?
After all, Protestants were the victims in 40% of the crimes, indicating that per-head of population, it is the Catholic community that has more sectarian criminals.
Although religious hate crime is to be abhorred, the actual number of crimes is still extremely low.
The reality is that most Protestants and Catholics get along relatively fine in our society. It only suits the sinister agendas of some to foment unrest between the two communities.
For all that Scotland has been unavoidably divided by the Protestant Reformation and the tension between Protestantism and Romanism exists culturally and ecclesiastically, this historic divide will not extend itself into the upcoming referendum.
There, both Catholics and their Protestant neighbours are likely to give the most divisive man in Scotland – First Minister Alex Salmond – a bloody nose.
It is their mutual revulsion of Salmond that will bring about such a united front, if only for a day.