It’s Ok Alex, I Prefer People Who Win Referendums Over Those Who Don’t.
Over the course of the 2012 U.S. Presidential election, presidential candidate – and contender for the title of World’s Most Realistic Human Ken Doll – Mitt Romney, was heavily derided for suggesting that 47 per cent of the American population were dependent on the government, and that his job was “not to worry” about them.
The derision he received was entirely merited and, plausibly, played a part in his failure to being elected as president. I hate to remind people that Obama’s campaign was not that good in 2012; the Republicans undoubtedly lost the election and the silly statements emanating from the Romney camp were a big part of that.
He may not be running for the U.S. Presidency, and it will be several years until he faces his electorate again, but Scotland’s former First Minister and current MP for Gordon Alex Salmond has said something equally idiotic and in a similar vein. A few days ago, Mr Salmond, while filming promotional material for the Church of Scotland, made the following statement – it necessitates being reprinted below:
“I am biased of course because I am a Church of Scotland adherent and I prefer people of faith to people of no faith or people who have lost their faith.”
The astute reader will, presumably, take it as read that I have no particular problem with Mr. Salmond being a person of faith, nor with him being an adherent of the Church of Scotland. I myself was raised in Kirk and regard it with affection, akin to that which one has towards an elderly relative of whom one is very fond.
My secular sensibilities even permit me to have no problem at all with a politician extolling faith as a virtue. While I believe that received wisdom is to be treated with suspicion, I have a skeptical nature towards most things and would encourage everyone to be, as I always try to be, the little boy who points out the emperor is, in fact, naked. But I have no objection to a politician considering faith to be a positive thing and attesting to it in public.
It is the latter part of Mr. Salmond’s remarks that betrays them as asinine and indicative of a man who does not understand the make-up of modern Scotland. To express what I mean, perhaps I could ask a couple of questions:
What would we think if, for instance, Mr Salmond had phrased his comments in terms of Protestants and Catholics? What if, for that matter, any politician expressed a preference for Buddhists over Muslims, Mormons over Seventh Day Adventists or Scientologists over Taoists?
They would be rightly scorned, as, in the finest tradition of the higgledy-piggledy British constitution, we have become a country with a state church but also, and more importantly, an entrenched sense of secularism. I mentioned the United States a few short paragraphs ago and that particular fine republic is the perfect example, by way of standing opposite, the kind of state I see Britain and Scotland as today. The Americans have created an explicitly secular state (see Article 6 of and the First Amendment to their sublime constitution) with an incredibly religious nature – we, in the U.K., have created the opposite of this. We are explicitly religious but don’t let it get involved in public life. Comments like those of Mr Salmond show why this is an excellent development.
Why is this a good thing? Well, take the results of the 2011 census that showed that the number of Scots who define themselves under a faith banner is larger (56 per cent) than those who place themselves in the “no religion” category. However, the figures also show non-religious Scots to make up a massive 37 per cent, which amounts to 1,941,000 people. The argument is that a secular (in practice) country is the best way to protect the rights of the faithful and the faithless – it has yet to be disproved.
Perhaps the importance of the non-religious might be put in perspective for Mr Salmond if he were informed that the number of non-religious people in Scotland in 2011 was over 300,000 more than voted Yes in the independence referendum. Maybe that is a number he would rather forget – still, it is significant. Regardless, Mr Salmond has insulted an impressively large part of the Scottish population, some of whom will undoubtedly live in Gordon. So I’ll leave it at the following: atheists and agnostics of Gordon, Mr Salmond’s official contact details, like those of all politicians, are available at a speed of a Google search. Make of that what you will…
Of course, Mr Salmond is entitled to his opinions and to express them in terms of his preference for one group of people over another, but he would be well advised to remember that it is due to our long, slow process of particularly British de facto secularisation that he is able to do so.
Freedom of religion and freedom from religion owe much to the separation of articles of religion from politics, and their continued protection will rely on the religious and non-religious alike, expressing a preference between them, as Mr Salmond has done, will do nothing to help secure the tolerant society that all decent people, regardless of faith or lack thereof, want to live in.
Perhaps a moment of reflection would help, maybe even a vow of silence?
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