Tag Archives: Scottish Parliament

Labour’s Jim Murphy–at least he is honest about appealing to religious voters

The best that can be said about the appeal by Scottish Labour leadership contender Jim Murphy to religious voters is that, at least he is honest and transparent.

Few other elected Scottish politicians openly profess their religious faith and their role in shoring up religious privileges in Scottish society. Most prefer not to make a public issue of the role of religion in politics for fear of upsetting influential religious minorities.

They remain silent and assent to religious divisions in schooling, religious voting nominees on education committees, enforced religious observance in schools, and additional Scottish Government financial subsidies to religious organisations which already benefit from taxation relief because of their charitable status.

Even the much vaunted democratic assembly that is the Scottish Parliament recoils from open public debate about these matters – suppressing attempts to have a public discussion of these and other religious privileges.

Same sex marriage laws entrench religious privileges

Amidst all the public attention about the achievement of same sex marriage in Scotland, some months after it was achieved in England, it does not seem to have been noticed that in many ways the relevant legislation further entrenches religious privilege in Scotland.

A secular society, like France, would arrange that all marriages were exclusively certificated by the state. Thereafter the newly wed couple could celebrate the marriage as they wish with other parties.

In UK not only are many religious denominations empowered to issue such certification of the marriage at or after a religious ceremony but now, as a result, of the new legislation, they will be empowered to decide which couples they will choose to include in such ceremonies and who they will exclude.

Such is the power of these religious lobbies in Scotland that not only will they have this right to discriminate but they are also having success in allowing some teachers from fully and fairly discussing such matters with pupils and in excusing public registration officials from conducting same same sex marriages on religious grounds. We don’t expect police officers or fire service personnel to refuse to aid citizens because of religious beliefs so why should registration officers be excused from their duties on such grounds?

Failure of Scottish Parliament to use its existing powers to end, or even debate, religious segregation in Scottish state schools


Amidst all the debate about adding powers to the existing extensive range already held by the Scottish Parliament it is salutary to note that it has not used the powers that it has had in its fifteen years of existence to consider change in, or even debate, the divided system of state primary and secondary schools in Scotland that separates a minority  of Roman Catholic schools from the great majority of misnamed ‘non-denominational’ schools that are actually Protestant and which allow Church of Scotland and other Protestant denominations access to the pupils for ‘religious observance’ and related activities.

The Scottish Parliament has even consented in, without debate or challenge, the ‘guidance’ which the Scottish Government has issued for the conduct of religious observance in state funded schools.

Parliaments are supposed to hold Governments to account. There is no sign of this in relation to religious aspects of state education in Scotland.

Could there be some relationship between this ostrich like ‘head in the sand’ attitude of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government and the continuation of problematic aspects of religious sectarianism that continue to be manifest in Scotland?

Scottish Parliament writes the rules–and advises how to circumvent them!


ESS Chair, Colin Emerson, has received the following reply from the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament in response to the ESS complaint that a meeting by a religious organisation in the Parliament appeared to break the Parliament’s own rules.

Thank you for your email and attached letter bringing to my attention a perceived breach of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body’s (SPCB) guidance on Member-sponsored events.Your complaint refers to the Member-sponsored event Scotland What Kind of Nation which was held on Wednesday 23 April.

Whilst the SPCB’s agreed guidance clearly states that no books, reports, leaflets etc. can be launched at the Scottish Parliament, it is acceptable for organisations to launch outwith the Parliament and then host an awareness raising event at the Parliament for Members.  Our understanding from the Evangelical Alliance was that the report Scotland What kind of Nation was launched over the weekend of Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 April – covered by some of the Sunday papers.  We were informed that this would be prior to the awareness raising event at the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday 23 April.

Other organisations have taken this course of action, launching their publications elsewhere and then holding awareness raising events for Members and stakeholders at the Parliament as part of our programme of Member-sponsored events.  In allowing such events to take place the SPCB is not endorsing the views of the host organisations, individual speakers or guests.

I can reassure you that all the Scottish Parliament policies are kept under review and we will, of course, reflect on the nature of our policy in relation to the matters you raise.  I hope that this clarifies the position and thank you once again for bringing this to my attention.

Scottish state schools must have prayers! (religious observance). Westminster laws inherited in 1999 by Scottish Parliament still prevail.

ESS Communications Officer, Neil Barber, explains in the Scotsman (14 June) the difference between Religious and Moral Education and religious observance;

RME teacher Isdale Anderson accurately describes the important need for religious education:To remove religious education from schools would be to leave pupils ignorant of the beliefs of millions of the world’s population” (letters 13th June). However, her description of her work as “ teaching religious and moral education (RME) in state non-denominational secondary schools” underscores an ongoing concern.

In addition to RME, so-called “non-denominational” schools are statutorily obliged to have regular Religious Observance (RO) which is often led by evangelising outsiders who might be less concerned than Ms Anderson to “encourage pupils to think for themselves.” RO is quite different from RME and, depending on the ethos of the school and the personal beliefs of the head teacher, may become exactly the “force-feeding” which she rightly condemns.

Let us not blur the distinction between RO and the work done by conscientious RME teachers like Ms Anderson.

The laws that govern religious observance in Scottish schools were determined by the UK Westminster Parliament before devolution and are similar to those that apply in England. They have never been reviewed by the Scottish Parliament in the fifteen years of its existence. Is it not about time that it used the powers that it has?

ESS will continue fighting to remove religious nominees from Scottish council education committees

In a letter published in the Times Educational Supplement ESS chair Colin Emerson stresses that a letter from the Equality and Human Rights Commission has not even been considered by the Scottish Government or the Scottish Parliament in relation to the ESS petition. ESS will fight on! However inconvenient for the major political parties, the existing laws must be assessed as to conformity with the UK Equality and Human Rights Act of 2010


Need for equal gender opportunities in the Scottish Parliament’s weekly ‘Time for Reflection’

Former MSP for Dunfermline, Bill Walker, pictured right, with Rev Martin Scott and  Mrs Scott at the Scottish Parliament prior to Rev Scott’s contribution to Time for Reflection at the Scottish Parliament 28 January 2014. Source http://www.billwalkerdunfermline.com

The weekly four minute ‘Time for Reflection’ (TFR) in the Scottish Parliament is meant to reflect the diversity of religion and belief in Scotland by having contributions from a wide range of different denominations and philosophies roughly in accordance with their population support. Unfortunately, as ESS Honorary President, Professor Norman Bonney, recently argued in the Scottish Parliament, this approach to equal opportunities in religion has worked at cross purposes with the Parliament’s commitment to equal gender opportunities.

Prof Steve Bruce and Dr Marta Trzebiatowska (Aberdeen University) have demonstrated that women are significantly more religious than men (‘Why are women more religious than men? Oxford University Press 2012). Yet only 30 per cent of contributions to TFR are from women.

This disparity highlights the fact that most religious denominations, despite having a majority of women members, tend to be dominated by men. Some well known denominations even exclude women from their priesthood. The Scottish Government now has a target of 40 per cent for women on its cabinet and on public boards. Perhaps the Scottish Parliament, which falls short by this standard in TFR, should aim higher with a target of 50 or 60 per cent female contributors to remedy female disadvantage in many sects.

And should the Scottish Parliament consider disallowing participation in TFR by denominations that exclude women from their priesthood in order to demonstrate a strong commitment to equal opportunities for women? Otherwise it looks as though it is conniving with, or accepting of, the grosser gender inequalities to be found in some denominations.

Religious subsidy of the week – no 1

Jesus Christ drives the moneychangers out of the temple

The Scottish Government  contributed towards the developments costs of the Scottish Churches Parliamentary Office (SCPO) which serves 12 denominations. SCPO was established in 1999 to help churches

  • Engage effectively in the new political process
  • Translate their commitment to the welfare of Scotland into Parliamentary debate
  • Contribute the range and depth of their experience, and their faith reflection on that experience, to the decision-making process.

These churches are all also likely to be charities which benefit from exemptions from taxation on income and gains from charitable activities as well as rates relief and gift aid and some of them have substantial resources.

SCPO operates as part of the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland. The Church recognises that ‘by undertaking this core activity ecumenically, the Church is able to be better informed and have stronger influence on political debate’ (proposed deliverance May 2012).

The 11 other denominations are not particularly generous to SCPO. They contributed £8250 of the £93,111 cost of SCPO in 2013. The rest of the cost fell on the Church of Scotland (SCPO Annual report 2013)

So why did these churches have this privilege of government funding? Are there not some other organisations that might benefit from government funding so that they, too, might enhance the effectiveness of their lobbying with the Scottish Government and with the Scottish Parliament?

Should the Scottish Government have ever been involved in funding such activity?

ESS is investigating the size and duration of the Scottish Government grant to SCPO and would welcome any further relevant information.

Source http://www.actsparl.org

Colin Emerson & Norman Bonney present the ESS petition to The Scottish Parliament

Bill submitted to Scottish Parliament that would abolish religious representatives on education committees

Originally posted on secularism.org.uk: Wed, 06 Nov 2013 10:39

Bill submitted to Scottish Parliament that would abolish religious representatives on education committees

An independent Member of the Scottish Parliament, John Finnie, has given his support to a campaign to remove the legal right of religious groups to vote on education matters on local council committees.

Mr Finnie has submitted a Private Member’s Bill that seeks to remove the mandatory involvement of religious representatives on these committees.

Read More →

Post Navigation