Wednesday , 22 January 2020

Voting for democracy in September

Scottish Secular Society
Scottish Secular Society

There’s a very good reason why we should vote Yes in September. It’s such a biggy I’m surprised nobody has thought of it…!

We are voting to become a democracy.

Yup! That’s right. Because we’re not one: We are a theocracy: A bit like Iran where important decisions are left in the hands of unelected clerics. In our case 26 of them (the Lords Spiritual) seated in the House of Lords, the highest legislature of the land, without ever needing to be bothered by such silly inconveniences as elections. Their dismissal would be the Holy Grail of secularism. These bishops do not include members of churches we are familiar with in Scotland, like the Catholic Church whose members are also denied access to the throne, or the Church of Scotland which is Presbyterian and has no bishops. Not even churches in Wales and Northern Ireland can join the club as their churches are not ‘established’. In addition to that, woven into the fabric of this theocracy, is a ‘Minister for Faith’ and a Monarch (currently an elderly woman with corgis) who is the Supreme Governor and Defender of the Faith, and that faith is the established Church of England.

Along with a bunch of unelected toffs, the House of Lords have been nobbling the rights of LGBTI people for as long as most of us can remember. But a democratic Scotland is now within our grasp. That is a democracy with a secular constitution that should protect not only all LGBTI citizens, but all faiths and none, without fear or favour.

As Scottish Secular Society constitutionalist and research director of the Constitutional Commission, Elliot Bulmer said: “The electoral system for the House of Commons is unrepresentative, the composition of the House of Lords is indefensible, the powers of the Crown are excessive, secretive and unaccountable, rights are fragile, and privileges rife.”

Dr Bulmer adds: “There is a direct connection between allowing rulers to make up the rules as they go along and the failure of the UK state to serve the common good. The banking crisis, the expenses scandal, phone hacking, illegal surveillance, persistent unemployment and wage cuts, rising inequality, corporate lobbying, and the destruction of public infrastructure and services – all point to a state that has fallen into the hands of an unchecked oligarchy, bound by its own self-interest.”

In this modern, sexting, secular age, students bragging they’re ‘hung’ barely raise an eyebrow, but in 1697 it was the Church of Scotland that hung a 20-year-old Edinburgh student for blasphemy. Tom Aikenhead said the Bible was stuffed with such madness, nonsense, and contradictions that he admired the stupidity of the world in being so long deluded by them and that Christ had learned his magic in Egypt, which enabled him to perform pranks and call them miracles. He also said he preferred Mohammed.

After his arrest, Tom petitioned the Privy Council to take account of his deplorable circumstances and tender years, but the Kirk’s General Assembly, wringing their liver-spotted hands as they do every year in Edinburgh, urged “vigorous execution” to curb “the abounding of impiety and profanity in this land” and so young Tom’s fate was sealed.

Scotland has long been in thrall of the crucifix and crozier with the government and media awash with their apologists. Until only a decade-or-so ago journalists were frequently compelled to add some sort of moral angle to newspaper stories. Spokesmen from both the Kirk and Catholic Church were dutifully wheeled in for statements. Even today radio programmes are interrupted with ‘Thought for the Day’ or ‘Pause for Thought’, depending which State Broadcaster channel you’re on, exclusively set aside for the pious. All too often, clerics deliver condescending ‘moral’ messages that view equality for LGBTI people through gimlet eyes.

It is no accident that the liberation of LGBTI people runs parallel with the diminishing power of the Church.

If you slept through the equal marriage ‘debate’, repeal of Section 28 or the lengthy quest to equalise the age of consent, you might not have noticed that the Church is no longer led by the sort of benevolent old dears that made Calendar Girls so popular, raising money selling jars of chutney to help starving kids in sub-Saharan Africa. The Internet informs us that religion is also about buckets being filled with cash for church-planting and evangelical missions overseas; indoctrinating children in schools; burning, stoning or bludgeoning LGBTI people to death in Africa; banning gay books; plays, debates and even the Eurovision Song Contest; priests leading mobs waving bunches of stinging nettles wanting to stomp on gay people; Orthodox Christian thugs posting pictures of tortured gays on the internet in Russia; priests blessing the offices of fascist parties in Greece; rounding up Catholics for riots on the streets of Paris or calls for muscular Catholicism, battle and sacrifice from a faithful who should ignore the soup kitchens and become ‘saints’ who are prepared to die for Christ. That was in Motherwell.

Religion will always be a highly divisive and toxic ingredient in Scotland.

In the eighteenth century, brave men like Francis Hutcheson, Adam Smith, Dugald Stewart, Thomas Reid, Robert Burns, Adam Ferguson, John Playfair, Joseph Black, James Hutton and David Hume introduced the Scottish Enlightenment to the world. The Encyclopædia Britannica is a legacy of this age of reason. But now, from a nation with five universities to England’s two, we’ve become subjugated; shameless ‘opportunists’ trying to hoist our flag behind Andy Murray after his win at Wimbledon, ‘aggressive’ CyberNats sharing opinions after one too many, or ‘subsidy junkies’ and ‘squanderers’ lavishly doling out free prescriptions and care for the elderly. How dare we!

Saying YES to independence is not voting to put the SNP in power; they are only the bearers of this golden opportunity to go on to vote for any party that can deliver secular fairness, freedom and equality to all its citizens, empowering us to welcome a new dawn of Scottish Enlightenment that will inspire the world.

I want to wake up one September morning and throw open my windows to beeping car horns and buntings hanging from lampposts. I want to be able to say I was there. I was part of it. I’m one of Jock Tamsin’s bairns and I’m talking proud!

Please don’t let it be just another day.

About Garry Otton

Garry Otton
Garry Otton is founder of the Scottish Secular Society and author of ‘Religious Fascism: The Repeal of Section 28’. He is also a Scottish LGBTI rights activist and journalist. Born in London, Garry is now based in Glasgow

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