Dejected supporters from the “Yes” Campaign walk through George Square in Glasgow, Scotland, early Sept. 19. Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond conceded defeat the same day over his bid to win independence and demanded the British government rapidly meet its promise of more powers for Edinburgh. CNS photo/Paul Hackett, Reuters

Time now for reconciliation, Scottish bishops say

By  Ian Dunn, Catholic Register Special
  • September 21, 2014

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - Scotland’s Catholic bishops have urged reconciliation after a long and bruising campaign in which the Scottish people rejected independence in a Sept. 18 referendum.

With an 85-percent turnout, Scots voted 55 to 45 per cent to remain part of the United Kingdom. After the vote, the bishops released a statement saying, “the vast majority of Scots engaged with the referendum and it is our hope that we can all now co-operate for the benefit of our nation in future.”

However, the bishops may first have to do a good deal of consoling among their own flock as it seems Scotish Catholics were strong backers of independence.

Catholics account for about 16 per cent of the Scottish electorate, mainly in the west of the country, with the vast majority descended from Irish emigrants who moved to Scotland during the 19th century potato famine. Although a detailed regional breakdown by religious groups has not yet been published, existing evidence indicates a high level of Catholic support for independence.

In 2012, when overall support for Scottish independence was at a much lower level, Catholics were almost twice as likely to favour independence compared to Church of Scotland members, and four percent more likely compared to those of no religion.

In the referendum, only four of 32 council areas in Scotland voted yes for independence. All four of these had large Catholic populations. In two of them, North Lanarkshire and West Dumbartonshire, Catholics are more than a third of the population. In Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, Catholics are more than a quarter of the population, and in Dundee, on the east coast, Catholics are nearly 20 per cent of the electorate. Clearly in areas where the yes vote won, it had support from many Catholic voters.

These four regions also have some of the highest rates of unemployment in the country and are areas of profound social deprivation. A 2011 Scottish government survey found Catholics were the most likely religious group to live in the country’s most deprived areas, a legacy of previous generations of religious and cultural prejudice against Irish immigrants.

The second most consistent indicator of a yes vote is a salary of less than the national average. Low-paid workers tended to feel they had little to lose by breaking away from the UK. Many Catholics in the deprived west of Scotland fell into this category.

But the most consistent indicator of a yes vote was age. A distinctive feature of the Scottish Catholic Church is that, while all churches in Scotland have seen attendance fall, the Catholic Church has managed to retain members in their 20s and 30s — an age group more likely to support the yes campaign. Nearly three quarter of Scots over 65 voted no, enough to overturn the independence leanings of those too young to receive a pension.

Some older Catholics retain a lingering suspicion of the Scottish National Party, the driving force behind the independence movement, due to anti-Catholic elements of that party dating back to the 1950s and ’60s. In addition many older Catholics retain a tribal loyalty to the Scottish Labour party. The former Labour party Prime Minster Gordon Brown led the charge against independence in the final days of the campaign, making a number of impassioned speeches which may have reminded older Catholics of their traditional political sympathies.

Finally there were some concerns that an independent Scotland would become a secular state, where religion was unwelcome. Clearly younger Catholics were not convinced by this, but the devolved Scottish Government in Edinburgh has legalized same-sex marriage and passed equality legislation that forced Catholic adoption agencies to close.

Professor John Haldane, a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Culture and one of Scotland’s leading Catholic intellectuals, articulated some of these fears just prior to the vote when he warned, “the most prominent press and media advocates for independence see a vote for the latter as an expression of a new, progressive, secular national outlook.”

As the bishops of Scotland seek to heal the wounds of the referendum, they may have to start with the generation gap between a disillusioned Catholic youth and an older generation fearful of change.

(Dunn is a Deputy Editor at the Scottish Catholic Observer.

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