The End of ‘Sunday Post Scotland’
The Scotsman, December 2nd 2011
The SNP Government now finds itself at the onset of what looks like a cultural war with religious organisations on the subject of same-sex marriage.
The Church of Scotland has now come out against gay marriage, joining the Catholic Church, Muslim community and ‘Scotland for Marriage’.
To observers this has all the hallmark of Section 28/Clause 2a where the then Scottish Executive of Donald Dewar and Wendy Alexander incurred the wrath of Brian Souter and others on the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools.
It isn’t the same and won’t be. For one, the anti-gay lobby are unlikely to have the same clout as before and Brian Souter is unlikely to bankroll another campaign.
More importantly, public opinion has shifted dramatically – one of the many quiet revolutions that have occurred over the last ten-fifteen years. This has seen the liberalisation of Scotland on sex, sexuality and personal morals. Scots now support same-sex marriage by a margin of 60% to 19%, whereas before the forces of reaction spoke for a sizeable section of Scotland.
Moral authoritarianism on homosexuality and other areas used to represent majority opinion, sometimes caricatured as ‘Sunday Post Scotland’, the land of the powerful, judgemental Kirk, Catholic Church and domine. In many respects this dramatic change has made Scottish society more similar to other Western European countries (and even England), and thus less distinct and different.
We have to understand though that not all Scottish traditions are good ones, that the long, deep Scottish unease on sex and sexuality is one of the many ‘Scottish Shames’.
Scots homophobia had deep institutional and public support in the churches, Labour, Tories and SNP, but this has waned because of the slow liberalisation of Scotland that has happened, Section 28 apart, without much real debate. That means many of our politicians, and wider society, have little understanding of how far we have travelled.
In 1967 the Sexual Offences Act, decriminalising male homosexuality for England and Wales, exempted Scotland because Willie Ross was worried about the power of the Kirk and views of Labour MPs. It took until the Thatcher Government acted in 1980 for Scotland to come into line, with both Labour and SNP choosing to be mostly silent.
When Wendy Alexander announced the abolition of Section 28 in late 1999 she was doing something no politician or public figure had previously had the courage to do, to begin a conversation about homosexuality, gay rights and equality. It was a defining moment, and in the long view, one of a maturing Scotland.
However, despite the liberalisation of Scotland, it is also true that those with illiberal views care more about same sex marriage than liberal Scotland.
Therefore, while the SNP finds itself speaking for the majority it may find that it is a silent one, which wins it few friends and some vocal enemies. But sometimes doing the right thing is like that.