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Now that Holyrood's plan to repeal the renowned Section 28 has ignited a good-going stushie between Dewar & Co and hardline Catholics, fundamentalist Free Kirkers and most of the Church of Scotland, it might be timely to have a look at just how many of us are members of any church. The short answer is, out of a population of 5,000,000, not very many. Theoretically, Cardinal Tom Winning's faithful troops number around 700,000, but that figure is misleading because everyone is counted who has been baptised as a Roman Catholic. The Church of Scotland has roughly 600,000, but they are all paid-up, card-carrying members; as are the 50,000 or so Scots who make up the five other Presbyterian denominations: Free Church, Free Presbyterian Church, Associated Presbyterian Congregations, Reformed Presbyterian, and United Free Presbyterian.

Scotland's 20,000 or so Muslims have not spoken yet, but are assumed (probably correctly) to share the views of Cardinal Tom. No one knows what the little communities of Buddhists in Eskdale Muir and Arran think. But insiders say there is "widespread unhappiness" in the ranks of our 40,000 Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists and Salvationists.

Only the Scottish Episcopal Church ("in full communion with the Church of England") seems reasonably relaxed about the repeal of Section 28. It seems to nurse no fears about the threat of militant homosexuals to the "Christian family". But one of the religious mysteries of our times is why the media pay so much attention to the pronouncements of bishops, particularly those of Richard Holloway. The Piskies have fewer than 35,000 members, or about the size of a couple of our bigger bingo clubs. Being known as "the Laird's Kirk" still has its advantages, it seems.

So this diary would like to pose a question: if the forces of the Godly do force the Scottish Executive to think again about Section 28, are we likely to see more flexing of ecclesiastical muscles? And if so, over what? Abortion law reform is an obvious issue. Roman Catholic schools is another. But many of our religious also fret about Sunday opening, late-night clubbing, all-day drinks licensing, sex and violence in film and television, the lack of religious "instruction" in non-denominational schools, and the ease with which divorce can be obtained. There are any number of campaigns the Holy Alliance might get together to launch. If it wins the battle over Section 28, a somewhat different Scotland seems possible.


Still on the subject of sex, religion and politics. Overheard at an Edinburgh crematorium funeral last week: a conversation between two Kirk elders. "Have you been to the Mound yet?" "Not yet. Should I?" "Oh aye, it's worth a look. But I must admit I just found myself wondering what old John Knox would have made of all these women politicians." "That would depend on what they looked like." "What do you mean?" "He had an eye for a bit of skirt did old John. Married a lassie of 16 when he was in his fifties. Died in his bed with a smile on his face. Shagged out, as it were. Done in by an infiltrator from the monstrous regiment." "Lucky old bugger." Only the arrival of the hearse stopped their chortling. Which suggests that either Kirk elders are not what they were, or it is time for some serious revision of John Knox's reputation. Just as well the accommodation arrangements between Holyrood and the Kirk are temporary, or Labour's ladies would be demanding the removal of the disgraceful old beardie's statue.

This article appears in the 31 January 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Why arms sales are bad for Britain