Ever since it emerged from the political wilderness to become the dominant ruling force in Scotland, the Scottish National Party (SNP) has tried to control the civic space that lies between the individual and the State.

In Scotland, much of that civic world was religious in character until quite recently. Today, 36 per cent of people living in Scotland stated they had no religion compared to 19.8 per cent in England’s North-West. In 2010, only 5,382 children were baptised by the Church of Scotland, the established Presbyterian one in Scotland since the 16th century Reformation. The SNP’s rise has been greatly assisted by the proliferation of post-Christian Scots, many of whom, instead of believing in God, believe in anything.

In order to win a re-run vote on Scottish independence, the party wishes to co-opt people of faith. Well over 60 per cent of Protestants voted for the Union in 2014. Alex Salmond, the populist who masterminded the SNP’s rise, has claimed that he prefers ‘people of faith to people of no faith or people who have lost their faith’.

His successor Nicola Sturgeon took a group of young pro-SNP Muslims with her on a trip to Bosnia earlier this month (Islam being the only religion which is formally organised within the party). The SNP vigorously defends state-funded Catholic schools that were set up to cater for a large immigrant Irish population a century ago. Many in the SNP are likely to be quite relaxed if the warning of the composer James MacMillan that these schools may be becoming incubators of SNP identity politics rather than transmitters of a Christian-based morality, turns out to be correct.

Sturgeon is an avowed secularist with nationalism having been her obsession since her teenage years in the 1980s. Her campaign in the 2015 general election was, however, a quasi-religious event.  The multitudes turned out to touch the hem of her garment or else take a selfie with her as if she was a divinity. Her party has devised rituals and paraphernalia that would do any faith group proud. Independence is the promised land, and salvation and redemption are provided by the SNP though there is uncertainty of when the day of deliverance will dawn.

The campaigning hoop-la aside, the moral reasoning of the SNP is firmly secular. It is committed to a planned society based on scientific and expert reasoning. It has recruited a horde of well-remunerated academics, planners and bureaucrats to supervise the behaviour of 5 million people in a way that is unusual outside authoritarian states. It is a form of positivism, the French doctrine meant to create balance and order that emerged after the 1789 revolution. Anything that is not verifiable or falsifiable, according to this understanding, does not belong to the realm of reason. Christian natural law which views the marriage of a man and a woman as the foundation of human society and the optimal place for their flourishing  is variously regarded as obsolete or suspect.

Key claims of Christian thought, once articulated by historians like Christopher Dawson (1889-1970) that ‘there is a human nature; that there is a fixed self; that there are moral as well as material differences between cultures and civilizations; that every historical judgment is a form of moral judgment; that man is a profoundly spiritual being whose search for transcendence is more than the mere sacralizing of economic or social necessities’ are mocked and frequently seen as bigoted.

The SNP suffered a reverse in its crusade to micro-manage families when there was a strong backlash against its ‘Named Person scheme’, key parts of which  the UK Supreme Court last month ruled were an unjustifiable State interference with family rights.

It is too early to say if there will be equivalent opposition to Sturgeon’s apparent support for the concept of gender fluidity, as evidenced by a speech she delivered in March 2015 at an event organised by the Lesbian Gay Bi-sexial Transgender and Inter-Sex (LGBTI) forum. In it, she declared: ‘Enabling young people to make informed choices about their gender and sexual identity is about supporting them to be themselves so that they might fulfil their potential.’

In April, the Rev David Robertson, then Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland and a longstanding SNP voter, wrote an open letter to Scotland’s First Minister in which he argued that she was ‘out of touch with the vast majority of people in Scotland’.

He wrote: ‘We do not believe that we choose our gender, or that we are assigned it at birth, as though a doctor is picking gender for us. Gender, like skin colour is something that we are born with… First Minister, we have moved in a very short space of time from sexuality being perceived as something we are born with, to now being perceived as something fluid which we can choose. We have moved from marriage being a life long covenant between a man and a woman, to being a civil contract between any two people who ‘love one another’. We have moved from having fixed genders to letting children choose their own gender. Now we are moving from gender being male and female to gender fluidity. When will it stop? Unless someone has the courage to say, “stop this nonsense, enough!” we will find that our political, media and social elites will have led us down a path that inevitably leads to destruction’.

‘To begin with unlimited freedom, the Russian novelist’ Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote in The Devils ‘is to end with unlimited despotism.’

The American conservative thinker Russell Kirk offered this warning nearly sixty years ago:

‘For when many people, professors included, employ nowadays this word “freedom,” they use it in the sense of the French Revolutionaries: freedom from tradition, from established social institutions, from religious doctrines, from prescriptive duties. One thinks of Robert Louis Stevenson’s little exercise in mockery, “The Four Reformers:”

Four reformers met under a bramble bush. They were all agreed that the world must be changed.

‘We must abolish property,’ said one.

‘We must abolish marriage,’ said the second.

‘We must abolish God,’ said the third.

‘I wish we could abolish work,’ said the fourth.

‘Do not let us get beyond practical politics,’ said the first. ‘The first thing is to reduce men to a common level.’

‘The first thing,’ said the second, ‘is to give freedom to the sexes.’

‘The first thing,’ said the third, ‘is to find out how to do it.’

‘The first step,’ said the first, ‘is to abolish the Bible.’

‘The first thing,’ said the second, ‘is to abolish the laws.’

‘The first thing,’ said the third, ‘is to abolish mankind.’

After the Second World War, Kirk had studied at the University of St  Andrews, established in the 15th century to stem the influence of the Lollards who anticipated the Reformation. The early universities’ teaching, he wrote ‘imparted both order and freedom to the intellect: that was no paradox, for order and freedom exist necessarily in a healthy tension’.

He quoted the words of the 17th century poet John Milton that ‘Orders and degrees jar not with liberty, but well consist’, before going on to warn: ‘I believe that we will be unable, in the university or out of it, to maintain any successful defence of our freedoms until we recognise afresh those principles of order under which freedom in our heritage acquired real meaning. Every right is married to a duty; every freedom owns a corresponding responsibility; and there cannot be genuine freedom unless there exists also genuine order, in the moral realm and in the social realm…’

The pro-equality drive of the moral improvers in Scotland’s sprawling bureaucracies has not produced wonderful results. The dreadful educational performance of pupils from lower income backgrounds and the large and growing numbers with mental health problems, suggest something is badly amiss.

On the day this is being written, Simon Barker, head of the consultants’ association, delivered a sombre warning about the condition of the Scottish NHS: ‘We are on our knees now. We will be flat on our face soon. That is honestly the truth’.

The most remarkable example of the burgeoning Scottish State’s failure to manage the complexities of society in an era of globalisation probably lies in Nicola Sturgeon’s own constituency. For generations, Govanhill had been a magnet for aspirational families and by the 1990s it had evolved into a stable inter-faith community with excellent shops and services. But the area has slipped into a deepening crisis since the arrival of gypsies initially from Slovakia but now mainly from Romania. Their numbers now extend into the many thousands and a ghetto is in the process of being created. They have not been encouraged by the local authority or the Scottish government to adapt to the customs of the country and behave in ways that have long been accepted in West European cities. Rowdiness, late night carousing, theft, under-age prostitution, numerous attacks on pensioners and rubbish casually discarded leading to a plague of rats, have given the area an unenviable reputation.

One politician I spoke to earlier this year candidly stated off the record that there was a high chance the area ‘would blow’ in the next five years. If this happens and there is an enquiry, facts might be revealed which cast a sorry light on the ethics of certain bureaucrats.

The changed fortunes of the area are often traced back to a pact made between the City council and the Home Office which added a substantial sum to the city’s coffers. This was on condition of housing citizens from East European countries which were full EU members after 2007. No funds were set aside to strengthen frontline services so as to meet daunting new challenges. But a looming shortfall in the pension scheme for top-level officials was filled. {Tom Gallagher, Sunday Express (Scotland) 3 April 2016}

If there had been forward planning, it might have ensured that the initiative gradually swung from Roma who pursue a disorderly lifestyle in Britain to others who wish to improve themselves and put aside medieval ways.

The area has a  local action group ‘Let’s Save Govanhill’. It was set up by a local resident Fiona Jordan who taught in America and there saw what worked and didn’t work in terms of multi-racial living. The late American social critic Christopher Lasch (1932-1994) would have recognised the Govanhill story only too well. He warned about the harm being caused by powerful institutions as they snatched much of the autonomy enjoyed by individuals and wider family groups. In books such as The Culture of Narcissim: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations, he criticised both the political right and left for their headlong promotion of untrammelled capitalism or else the big State as frameworks for organising humanity. He argued that the outcome was problematic for society as whatever degree of freedom and autonomy existed in communities was gradually extinguished.

Lasch believed that ill-used societies could renew themselves from within through utilising ‘the traditions of localism, self-help and community action’. In this way people build their own ‘communities of competence’, often enabling them to stand up to powerful interests ready to take them down harmful paths.

The first BBC report on Govanhill, after years of problems, appeared on 25 August and painted a euphemistic picture, ignoring the local action group. In Scotland’s 15 universities there are far more intellectuals ready to condone destructive experimentation in ordinary communities than offer the insights of a Lasch or his successor as a social critic, the American sociologist Charles Murray. No novelist with the critical antennae of RL Stevenson is prepared to cast an alert glance over a stagnant land. All the while, Sturgeon engages in frantic foreign trips to build up support for her fantasy independence gambit. For eight years she was minister of health and she pushed an avant-garde approach to sexuality, marriage and child-rearing with dismal results.

But hey, Trainspotting 2 is about to hit the screen and the critics and commentators can revel in a film showcasing an edgy counter-cultural Scotland. A curious Dostoevesky might even have been drawn to a Scotland which celebrates nihilism with such naive enthusiasm. It is unlikely few iconoclasts will dare suggest that a country which puts foolish risk-taking in politics on a pedestal and extols self-destructive behaviour indeed has very little to be proud of.

(Image: Jonathan Riddell)

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