In celebration of life

In his final blog entry, Jim Corrigall attempts to recapture his spiritual journey into Unitarianism

I was brought up in an anti-apartheid household in South Africa by parents of no religious faith but with strong principles. After my father died, I was sent to a church boarding school. Here I chose to be both baptised and confirmed in the Anglican faith – largely because I wanted to fit in with my peers. By the time I left school, I regarded myself as an atheist and did so for most of my adult life.

However, I studied both English literature and theology at university, and always had a great love of religious poetry. As a student in South Africa, I campaigned against apartheid, working closely with radical Christians many of whom I came to admire.

I continued with political and trade union activity throughout most of my journalistic career in Britain, but several years ago I began to wonder if there was more to life – however much I valued my family, friends and work.

I began reading widely, including religious literature. I tried one or two churches, but found them too dogmatic and literal in their interpretations of Christianity. A chance remark by a friend just over four years ago led me to the Unitarian website.

I was hugely inspired by what I read there. Here was a faith that did not demand any body of beliefs, but would allow one the chance to explore. I was not sure what I believed, not sure even that I believed in God, but I felt I wanted to allow my dormant spirituality a chance to develop. I told friends that I did not know whether I wanted to ‘worship God’, but I certainly wanted to ‘celebrate life’.

And I found in Unitarianism a group of people who welcomed me for my doubts, my scepticism and my questions. And I found I could ‘celebrate life’ in Unitarian chapels and churches – in services which seemed to follow traditional patterns, with hymns and ministerial addresses and meditations (or prayers), but which were in fact quite different – full of poetry and the wisdom of many faith traditions.

I have found a religious home which has indeed enabled me to explore my spirituality – after a period of looking at Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam, I have more recently been exploring radical Christianity – including its roots in the Unitarianism of the Radical Reformation. I trust this will be a spiritual journey without end, as rightly befits a denomination without dogma.

Jim Corrigall is communications consultant to the Unitarians in Britain, a post he took up in June 2007, after 17 years as a journalist at BBC World Service. He was born and educated in South Africa, coming to Britain in 1974. He was an anti-apartheid campaigner for many years. Jim became a Unitarian four years ago, and is chair of the congregation at Golders Green Unitarians.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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