On September 10 2014, I wrote a post titled “Why I am voting YES to Scottish Independence.” You can read it for yourself if you like, but I am always encouraged when I look back on it to see that I completely agree with everything I wrote back then. That vote didn’t go the way I wanted it to go and now, 21 months or so later, I find myself much busier (my Ph.D. thesis is due in on 30 September), a paid up member of the Scottish Green Party (I joined the day after the Scottish Independence referendum, on 19 September 2014), with another referendum coming up – this time on whether the UK should remain in the European Union.In the post below, I use some of my tweets over recent months to articulate my views on the matter.
My reasons for wanting to the UK to remain in the EU are broadly similar to my reasons for wanting Scotland to leave the UK. #noparadox
— Chris Cotter (@the_cotter_man) May 16, 2016
Some people might think it is an oxymoron for someone to want Scotland to leave the United Kingdom, but yet want the United Kingdom to remain in the European Union. However, I think that this view comes from the stereotypical assumption that anyone who wanted Scotland to leave the UK must be in some way a nasty flag-waving bigot who loves destroying cherished institutions that have existed from centuries – if this was the case, why wouldn’t the same uncritically (and this word is important) nationalistic people want to break away from another larger body?
First off, let’s get it out there – I do not like what the UK as an institution stands for. I don’t know that I ever really have since I have been ‘politically conscious’. This is not to say I don’t like the people who make up the UK. Or ‘other’ nations in the UK. But, as an institution, the UK is not something I am proud of. The chance to reform the UK as a whole, starting from the ground up, was a large part of my wanting to leave the UK. Similarly, the prevalent attitude in the UK towards the EU as I perceive it is not something I like.
I don’t understand why the EU put up with the belligerent, uncooperative, self-important, “dreams of Empire”-driven parasite that is the UK
— Chris Cotter (@the_cotter_man) June 3, 2016
Personally, I am of the opinion that many of the ‘problems’ that UK citizens perceive with the EU are in no small part due to the regnant exceptionalist attitude, epitomized by the EU rebate negotiated by Thatcher, and David Cameron’s recent attempts at gaining ‘concessions’. The relationship that the UK currently has with the EU is not the one I want… but it’s better than the prospect of leaving. As Maggie Chapman, co-convener of the Scottish Green Party has recently much more eloquently put it:
Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, we must consider our current political context. In Scotland, and in the UK, a vote to leave will be a victory for the right. The momentum in this campaign comes from and sits with a right wing leave case that says we must shut our borders, that we must reinvigorate the Empire, that we must make Britain great again. That sends shivers down my spine.
It means going back to the days of the Raj, and a colonial project in Africa that was profoundly racist. And in the 100th anniversary year of the Easter Rising, which had everything to do with challenging imperial and anti-democratic monarchical power, we need to reclaim some of the collective solidarity of that century-old republican movement.
The right wing case to leave is the dominant narrative, presented by people who think that imperialism is the highest form of capitalism, and that that is a good thing. However much we might wish it not to be the case, siding with these people means siding with those who do not not believe that the world has changed since the 19th century. As an immigrant from post-colonial Southern Africa, that horrifies me.
On another note…
As with the referendum on Scottish Independence, I am so sick and tired of this EU Referendum being made to be about economics.
— Chris Cotter (@the_cotter_man) May 12, 2016
I am fed up hearing from business people about their opinions on the EU. I could not care less what money has to say.
— Chris Cotter (@the_cotter_man) May 19, 2016
No economic argument could sway me to leave the EU… Money comes and goes, but connections and pan-nation politics are worth saving!
— Chris Cotter (@the_cotter_man) May 12, 2016
For me, the EU is about so much more than money. Money comes and goes, and in our post-Empire, G7, G8, G20, G-etc. privileged position, we really don’t need to worry about it. Whatever happens, the financial wizards will magic up some other money, or find someone else to exploit for it. But the EU holds us to account. We put in money – much less than we should, of course – and it comes back with progressive conditions. Protecting the environment. Protecting workers’ rights. Regenerating areas that badly need it. And so on. But even more than that, the EU is an international exercise in co-operation, flying in the face of current ideologies of ‘protecting one’s own’.
Bloomberg says you should vote for what you think is best for you and your family. I disagree. We need to think bigger. About humanity.
— Chris Cotter (@the_cotter_man) May 19, 2016
This altruism, as I see it, should extend to migrants – whether from the EU or not. And rather than picking on those who have left their homes to come to the UK to work, perhaps we should be blaming those in power – politicians, employers etc. – for the lack of jobs, the poor state of the economy, growing inequality, stresses on our welfare system etc. I’ve written before about the need to defend the ‘wrong-type of immigrant‘, so I shan’t retread things here. But, another point to make is that
Maybe helping to address the inequality between EU countries would help address people’s reasons for migrating? UK should give MORE not less
— Chris Cotter (@the_cotter_man) June 3, 2016
Finally, I think the EU is great for Green causes…
I’m #GreenBecause I believe in a politics of optimism, and in making sacrifices now that will benefit people and planet for generations
— Chris Cotter (@the_cotter_man) May 4, 2016
I’m not naive. Much as I know things might not have worked out for the better if Scotland left the UK, so too I know that remaining in the EU doesn’t automatically make things better. But the EU holds the UK to account. It holds the Tories to account. It holds London to account. It allows progressive legislation to be pushed through and then rhetorically blamed on an outside force – “Oh, we’d totally lift fishing quotas, but it’s that EU making us do it” etc.
Don’t leave the UK at the mercy of the Tories, UKIP and their ilk. Don’t turn immigrants into the bad guys. Please… if you have a vote in this referendum… vote for the UK to remain in the EU.
An initial breakdown of data from the 2011 census in Scotland is now available:
It shows, among other things, a decrease in numbers of those selecting the ‘Church of Scotland’, ‘Other Christian’, and ‘Jewish’ categories. ‘Church of Scotland’, for example, is down 10% since 2001 to 32.4% of the population. All other categories show an increase. Most notable, perhaps, are the figures for those selecting ‘no religion’ – up from 27.8% in 2001 to 36.7% (the current figure is around 25% for England and Wales).
Expect these figures to be discussed and debated ad nauseam in the coming weeks/months/years.
I read the following in a mailing that I received from the AHS – The National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies.
Bishops Demand “Public Faith”
This week, three bishops are leading calls for the Church of England to make a public statement which defends the right of Christians to wear a cross. They have signed a motion condemning the “silencing” of outward displays of Christianity in Britain, and a “growing trend” towards the “restriction of religious liberty” which is to be debated at the Church’s national assembly.
The motion cites “ludicrous” cases of Christian practices and symbols being forbidden, saying attempts to scrap prayers at council meetings and to ban employees from wearing the cross could ultimately lead to religion being confined to the home. Read more about this story here.
What is publicly permissable is not always professionally appropriate – this is the key point which the motion fails to recognise. Leading a communal prayer in a church is an expression of public freedom – leading a communal prayer in a council meeting, with no reason to presume that everyone present wishes to pray along with you, is professionally inappropriate. No one would give a second glance to a person wearing a cross in public – but if that person happens to be a schoolteacher, with a responsibility to provide students with an education free from personal bias, then they have no business wearing it at work.
While the necessity to restrict religious expression may vary from one profession to the next, it remains a question of professional etiquette, NOT an attack on public freedom. Discriminating the attire and behaviour of employees is an essential part of any successful workplace…
…that’s why you can’t play your tambourine in the office.
I’m afraid I have to take issue with some of this. As regards communal prayer at council meetings – spot on. Of course people who do not wish to pray should not be made to sit through this. And what business does a secular council have bringing prayer in anyway? And what is with this assumption that one person’s prayer will work for another? If people want to pray at council meetings, they are welcome to. But communal prayers seem entirely inappropriate.
What I take issue with is the stance on the wearing of religious symbols. How does wearing an item of jewellery or some specific type of clothing mean that your teaching suddenly has bias? Really… how does it? So children can look at you and assume that you might have a personal stance… it may even provoke them to ask you about it. But that doesn’t mean that they are being taught the teacher’s own personal opinions. This is just utter nonsense. Many people who wear crosses don’t wear them for religious reasons anyway… they look cool, thanks to years of vampire movies and goth culture.
Do religious symbols cause offense?
Boiling it down to basics – if you don’t believe in the efficacy of a symbol, or in the belief system which it represents, why should it offend you? Or if you are an atheist parent worried that your child might see a cross, ask about it and then be converted… would you remove all crosses from public media, buildings, etc? Maybe you would… but surely that says more about your confidence in your own ability as a parent than about people’s right to wear what they want.
I somehow feel the reaction would have been a bit different if the teachers in question were wearing those atheist “A” pin badges, or an evolution t-shirt or something. Then they would be hailed as a hero for taking a stand against the unjust system and professing the truth. But maybe that is just me being judgemental.
I can understand an employer stepping in to tell a member of staff to take off a necklace with a severed head on it… or to stop wearing a t-shirt with swear words on when they are teaching children. But this is just a matter of common sense. A cross… that’s not offensive. A Qur’an in the classroom… that’s not offensive. A t-shirt which says ‘Jesus Saves’, ‘Dharma Dude’, “Manchester United’ or ‘Vote Conservative’ isn’t offensive. One which says ‘All homosexuals burn in hell’ is. It’s all about degrees.
But bringing things back to rather bias… perhaps you think that religious issues should be kept out of the classroom? Well.. yes… except where they are taught in Religious Studies, Philosophy, History, Geography, Sociology, Anthropology, Psychology etc. Religions are social facts and should be taught as such. They are part of history, part of culture… part of many, many people’s lives and simply must be studied. Should a teacher put their own spin on it and/or tell children about their own faith/lack of faith? Well… no, not generally. However, in real life things are not that simple. But what if the children ask? Is it better that they lie? Or just keep deflecting questions? You tell me…
Sorry. Rant over.
HISTORIC VISIT TO SCOTLAND PLANNED FOR HIS HOLINESS 14TH THE DALAI LAMA
At the invitation of The Conference of Edinburgh’s Religious Leaders, The Edinburgh Inter Faith Association, The University of Dundee, Dundee City Council, The City of Edinburgh, Highland Council, and The National Library of Scotland, His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama will visit Scotland in late June 2012.
For more info, see http://www.dalailamascotland.org/
A series of debates on religion in public life, running from February to May 2012 at RUSI, 61 Whitehall, SW1A 2ET, Wednesdays fortnightly, 5.30-7pm.
Between 2007-2012 £12m was invested by two research councils, the AHRC and ESRC, in the largest-ever funded research programme on ‘Religion and Society’. In this series leading academics will present findings arising from that research, for response by public figures. Together they will open up debate about the place of religion in public life today.
The series is organised by the Rt Hon Charles Clarke, Professor Linda Woodhead and Dr Rebecca Catto, in co-operation with Theos.
1. Religious Identity in ‘Superdiverse’ Societies – 8th Feb
- Trevor Phillips, Dominic Grieve, Kim Knott, Therese O’Toole
2. What’s the Place of Faith in Schools? – 22nd Feb
- Richard Dawkins, John Pritchard, Jim Conroy, Robert Jackson
3. What have we Learned about Radicalisation? – 7th March
- Mehdi Hasan, Ed Husain, Mark Sedgwick, Marat Shterin, Mat Francis
4. What role for Religious Organisations in an era of Shrinking Welfare? – 21st March
- David Blunkett, Peter Smith, Adam Dinham, Sarah Johnsen
5. What Limits to Religious Freedom? – 18th April
- Lisa Appignanesi, Maleiha Malik, Peter Jones
6. What are the main Trends in Religion and Values in Britain? – 2nd May
- Aaqil Ahmed, Cole Moreton, Linda Woodhead, Grace Davie
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to register for the debates you would like to attend, and visit http://www.religionandsociety.org.uk/faith_debates for further details.
As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, I have not had time to write about my thoughts concerning David Cameron’s recent comments that Britain is a Christian nation. If you know me, you know I disagree. My colleague David re-blogged a very interesting post by Tom Rees (first published on Epiphenom)… and I shall now do him the same privilege.
It is called Who thinks Britain should be a Christian country? and contains the brilliant conclusion that:
by emphasising the importance of Christianity for British identity, Cameron is appealing to the racists, rather than the religious, in his constituency
I have also read another (American) article today on the growing constituency of those who just don’t care about religion, God, “spirituality” or whatever. Originally published in USA Today, you can access it here on the Huffington Post website. Although I am clearly interested in the social dimensions of religion/nonreligion, and plan to devote my life to studying these, I also couldn’t give a damn about the truth of anyone’s claims… I just don’t see how it is relevant to my life. The arguments of New Atheists or the advocates of various faith positions or spiritualities ultimately have a very hard time penetrating this wall of indifference… and generally the harder people try, the less likely the wall is going to disappear.
In response to my previous post on the mistreatment of Irish WW2 Veterans, my friend sent me through a link to the following article. Belfast has a 26 year-old mayor? Who knew…
Apologies for the Irish emphasis today… and for appearing to only be criticising nationalists/the Republic of Ireland. This is not my intention, it is just the material that has come my way today. I think it is disgusting that someone in public office can get away with this sort of behaviour. Were this anywhere else I would have expected some sort of disciplinary action… I would ESPECIALLY expect disciplinary action in Belfast of all places. When will people learn that there are more important things in life?
Sinn Fein Lord Mayor’s snub to Army cadet at awards ceremony (from the Belfast Telegraph)
By Lesley-Anne McKeown
Wednesday, 30 November 2011The Lord Mayor of Belfast is facing calls to resign after he failed to present a Duke of Edinburgh award certificate to an Army cadet force member.
Niall O Donnghaile (26) pulled out halfway through presenting awards at Belfast City Hall on Monday night to avoid interacting with the girl, believed to be aged just 15.
Ironically, the Sinn Fein first citizen was yesterday photographed at the launch of a new good relations plan for Belfast, just hours after he had caused the row.
UUP MLA Mike Nesbitt, who was at the ceremony, said questions were raised when the proceedings were delayed for 45 minutes.
He explained: “Then the five people listed as forming the platform party, including the Lord Mayor, were joined by a sixth. The programme of events listed item two as ‘Presentation of Certificates by the Lord Mayor’ but for some reason he stopped halfway through and the remainder of the certificates were presented by the sixth person, Gordon Topping of The Duke of Edinburgh Awards.
“The problem appeared to be down to the fact that one of the recipients was from the Army Cadet Force.”
Mr Nesbitt added: “Actions speak louder than words and thanks to the actions of the Sinn Fein Lord Mayor of Belfast, 150 award winners, plus friends and parents, were kept waiting. This is absolutely shameful. So much for Sinn Fein’s fine rhetoric about a shared future.”
Last night Mr O’Donnghaile denied he had shirked his civic responsibilities, claiming he had stepped aside because he did not want to compromise his republican principles.
“As Lord Mayor I was invited to attend The Duke of Edinburgh Awards in City Hall,” he said. “I agreed to present a number of the awards to the young people in recognition of their endeavours. As an Irish republican I did not shirk my responsibilities in this instance. At the last minute I was informed that one of the awards was to be presented to a representative of the Army Cadet Force.
“In order to avoid any unnecessary sensitivities to either party, it was arranged for the outgoing chairman of the organisation to present some of the certificates alongside me.
“Since becoming Mayor in late May I have attended over 620 engagements, many of them in working class unionist communities. I take my responsibilities as being a Mayor for all very seriously.”
This is not the first time the Sinn Fein man has courted controversy. In June he caused outrage among unionists after replacing Royal portraits in the parlour with a copy of the 1916 Irish Proclamation of Independence.
He also refused to attend an event at the cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday and declined to attend a homecoming parade for troops back from Afghanistan.
DUP councillor Gavin Robinson said: “Of course the irony is that he agreed to present the awards at all. The Duke of Edinburgh is Colonel-in-Chief of the cadet forces. The Lord Mayor needs to start upholding the value of his office and representing everyone within the city; either that, or he needs to step aside.
“It is a scandal that the Lord Mayor debased himself and his office by politicising the event.”
Bob Stoker, whose soldier son was injured while serving in Afghanistan, has also called for the Lord Mayor to step down.
“Previous Lord Mayors have had to engage with people from unsavoury backgrounds, such as people who were in prison or who were members of the IRA, but they did so because it was their civic duty. I think he needs to consider his position.”
Maire Hendron, who chairs the good relations working group at Belfast City Hall, said she was “appalled” by what happened.
I know I am supposed to be Northern Irish… unfortunately I don’t know much about the history of my island. I think this is largely to do with the fact that I didn’t even take GCSE History at High School… and the fact that all we studied was the potato famine (presumably out of fear of teaching anything to do with sectarianism, in case teachers were accused of bias). However, I heard this on the news a couple of days ago and was absolutely appalled.
If you have access to the BBC, there is some video footage here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-16343906
I am also going to paste in an interview below, which I found here: http://www.theworld.org/2011/12/irelands-debt-to-its-world-war-ii-soldiers/
I simply cannot believe that in this day and age politicians are even having to consider whether to officially apologise to the last remaining victims of this appalling criminalisation. Essentially, Irish soldiers who decided during WWII that they would rather fight the Nazis than sit on their arses in a neutral country were criminalised on their return… denied jobs and pensions, and many had their children taken into care… all because of petty rules about desertion, and the fact that they were serving in the army of the ‘old enemy’, the UK.
Perhaps this was a bit more understandable at the time: after all, the Republic of Ireland had only recently won its freedom from the UK. But to have STILL not acknowledged that this was (and still is) a horrible miscarriage of justice amounts (yes, I am about to say this) to showing support for Hitler. I am well aware of the perils of entering this area of hyperbolism, but in a situation where a government not only remained neutral in the conflict (fair enough, that was their decision), but criminalised people who acted on their conscience and fought Nazism, I don’t think there is any other conclusion I can make.
I haven’t been able to find an online petition – it seems that there was a physical petition in Dublin. But it seems that the campaign is being organised by a group called the Irish Soldiers Pardons Campaign: www.forthesakeofexample.com. I hope that you will show them your support.
Here is an article about the campaign in the London Times. And the interview I promised…
There is also an audio recording of the interview available on the source website, http://www.theworld.org/2011/12/irelands-debt-to-its-world-war-ii-soldiers/
During World War II, thousands of Irish soldiers joined the British army to fight on the beaches of Normandy, in the Battle of the Bulge and in the jungles of Burma.
But when they came home to Ireland, they were treated as deserters and put on a blacklist.
Now, there is growing pressure on the Irish government to pardon those men.
Anchor Lisa Mullins talks to the BBC’s John Waite, who has made a radio documentary on these soldiers.
Read the Transcript
The text below is a phonetic transcript of a radio story broadcast by PRI’s THE WORLD. It has been created on deadline by a contractor for PRI. The transcript is included here to facilitate internet searches for audio content. Please report any transcribing errors to email@example.com. This transcript may not be in its final form, and it may be updated. Please be aware that the authoritative record of material distributed by PRI’s THE WORLD is the program audio.
Lisa Mullins: I’m Lisa Mullins and this is “The World”. During the Second World War, five thousand soldiers defected from the Irish army and signed up with the British. They fought with the Allies on the beaches of Normandy in the Battle of the Bulge and in the jungles of Burma. They helped to liberate the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. They came home to Ireland not to a hero’s welcome, but to find that the Irish government had put them on a blacklist. Now, pressure is growing on Dublin to pardon the Irish vets. Irish Senator, Mary Ann O’Brien is advocating on behalf of the men.
Mary Ann O’Brien: I would like to see their situation brought to justice and I would like to see a full pardon granted both to them and to their families and I just think it would be such a wonderful gift to those people, and it’s such a small gift to make sure that they’re properly pardoned and recognized for what they did for their continent and their country.
Mullins: Irish Senator, Mary Ann O’Brien. The BBC’s John Waite has made a documentary about the soldiers from Ireland. He says the Irish government gave them the cold shoulder because of the country’s relations with Britain at the time.
John Waite: In 1939, these relations were probably at rock bottom. If you think the beginning of the 20th century, the Irish Rebellion that had been put down “viciously”, as the Irish would say, you think about the civil war, you think about the Black and Tans. That’s, again, a vicious paramilitary group that was unleashed upon the Irish. They really didn’t didn’t like the British. So when ten percent of their own army, that’s around five thousand people as you say, deserted, that’s the word they use, the Irish army, which was neutral during the war, to join up with the Allies because they wanted to join the fight against fascism, because anti-British sentiment was so high, when they came back, they were villains, not heroes.
Mullins: So they joined up not because they were looking for a job, they already had a job, but for ideological reasons?
Waite: Most of them did I think, Lisa. Some joined up because conditions were better, but I mean the Irish army did nothing during the war. I mean it was neutral so it had nothing to do. It [xx], and for many of these men, you know, you remember in Ireland they didn’t even admit it was a war. They called it an emergency. These men could see that Europe and then the world was engulfed in this war and they were part of Europe and they wanted to take part in fighting fascism and that’s why most of them did it, and so they didn’t desert in the sense as desert as run away, they ran towards gunfire.
Mullins: What happened when they returned from the war? What happened to them and their families?
Waite: They were, I think the word has to be “vindictively”, punished. They were put on this blacklist that you mentioned. It was, in fact, a book with all their names and addresses. It was handed around to all town halls, all those public buildings, where if they went for jobs, the people could look up their names and if they were on the list, they weren’t to be given a job, so they could get no work. They could get no pensions, they could get unemployment payment, they could get no widows benefits if their loved one had been killed in the war, their children were often taken into care into institutions which were quite wicked in themselves, state-run and church-run institutions where sexual and physical abuse was wright. They were punished beyond all measure for what, as you say in America and as we would think here in Britain, they ought to have been held as heroes. They were, in fact, treated in, I think everyone agrees now, a most despicable way.
Mullins: One of the men with whom you spoke, one of the veterans, is John Stout. He fought at the Battle of the Bulge. He’s eighty eight years old now. Let’s hear what he told you about the way he and his fellow vets were treated when they got back.
John Stout: We were put down as renegades, traitors, and I know in my heart that we’d done the right thing. We fought for our nations and we liberated the camps. There were people being slaughtered. I would never regret it. I would do it again all over again.
Mullins: So he says that he would do it all over again. He left Ireland; others stayed and lived in extreme poverty as their children did. Why is the Irish government, right now, taking up this issue again?
Waite: I think this issue was buried for a very long time. I think when people, if they knew about it at all, they were embarrassed about it, ashamed about it, hoped it would go away, and of course every year that’s gone by, there were fewer and fewer people like John Stout there to remind people of the suffering, but it’s become a live issue right now. There’s a new government as you know, a relatively new government in Dublin. Fine Gael is now in coalition with the Labor Party. Now Fine Gael was in opposition in 1945 when these measures, “starvation orders” they were called, were issued and they voted against it then. Now they’re in power and if ever there was a time when this appalling piece of legislation can be revoked and possibly pardons given to these men, these few men that still survive, now is the time and all we hope is by highlighting this, and it is a story so few people know about, that it will help the Dublin government do the decent thing, and everyone I’ve spoken to in Ireland, when they heard about this story, everyone to a man says, “These people should be pardoned and recognized as the heroes they were.”
Mullins: How many of these men are left?
Waite: It’s very difficult to say because nobody wants to admit to being on the blacklist, Lisa. In fact, I’ve had the greatest difficulty talking or even finding or getting men to speak to it. They want to forget about it because they were outcasts, and one man who’s ninety two, he appears on my documentary, Phil Farrington, he still has nightmares that he will be arrested for being a deserter. He was put into prison when he came back on leave and when he was released from prison, he joined up again with the Allied Forces and he still feels that he may be arrested in the last years of his life. He’s frail now and I really don’t think has too far to go. These are the things that keep him awake at night. He’s frightened of that period in his life. So it’s very difficult to talk to these men, very difficult to get them to talk about it and therefore very difficult to say how many there are, but there can’t be more than a few hundreds. Possibly less.
Mullins: The BBC’s John Waite. We have a video clip about his radio documentary on Ireland’s punishment of it’s soldiers who fought in World War II. You can find the link at theworld.org. Thank you, John.
Waite: Thank you, Lisa.
Copyright ©2009 PRI’s THE WORLD. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to PRI’s THE WORLD. This transcript may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, without prior written permission. For further information, please email The World’s Permissions Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Perhaps this is not as simple as these accounts make out… I am more than interested in hearing more information.
This post is pretty behind the times, but I am going to write it anyway. I have just read an article on the Church of England website about Bishops in the House of Lords, and it provoked a couple of points to spew from my fingertips. You can read the full article here: http://www.churchofengland.org/media-centre/news/2011/11/archbishops-question-case-for-elected-house-of-lords.aspx
The first of my comments concerns the following extract:
In their submission the Archbishops express concern that the Government’s proposals do not address the question of what the powers and functions of a reformed Lords should be, focusing instead on questions of composition and election. A wholly or mainly elected House of Lords would, they argue, be more inclined to challenge the decisions of MPs and weaken the conventions that currently guarantee the primacy of the House of Commons. Conflict and gridlock between Houses would, they argue, lead to a decline in the reputation and public trust in Parliament as a whole: “We are concerned that the proposals in the Draft Bill may, by leading inevitably to a more assertive approach to conflict and disagreement with the Commons, make it harder for the institution as a whole to sustain the trust and confidence of the electorate.”
It’s lovely to see the bishops caring so much for the power of the House of Commons. One can’t help but wonder why they don’t advocate disbanding the House of Lords all together?
I think they miss a crucial point here. An elected House of Lords would not have to be made up with party-political candidates… the electorate would not even necessarily have to be the public. I think the key argument for an elected House of Lords is that being a peer does not guarantee lifetime membership. The specifics are something else entirely.
An idea I have just had, so feel free to knock it, would be that members of the Lords could be ‘banned’ from having an affiliation with any political party – much in the way that civil servants (as far as I understand it) are. If people elected to the Lords were individuals who had not affiliation to a political party (and perhaps hadn’t ever had such an affiliation) this would in some way avoid political squabbles etc. It might even be possible to introduce a three-year peerage as part of the New Year’s honours or something… Just a un-thought-through plan… let me know what you think!
Onto my second extract:
Whilst welcoming the Draft Bill’s proposals to provide continued places for bishops of the established Church in a partly appointed House, the Archbishops ask that the appointments process also have regard to increasing the presence of leaders of other denominations and faiths.
The Draft Bill and White Paper proposes a House of Lords of 300 members, with either 80% or 100% elected by proportional representation. If the reformed House were to retain an appointed element, there would be places for Church of England bishops, though reduced to 12 from their current 26. Bishops would not be allowed to remain in a 100% elected House under the Government’s plans.
The Archbishops welcome the proposals in the Draft Bill to continue with places for the Lords Spiritual, and that they should continue to be diocesan bishops of the Church of England: “If, as successive governments have accepted, there is a continuing benefit to this country in having an established Church, the presence of the Lords Spiritual in the House of Lords is one of the most important manifestations of that special relationship between Church and State.”
They also say: “We believe that there is a strong case for placing the Appointments Commission under a duty to ensure, among other things, the presence of those from across the United Kingdom who have or have had senior responsibility in churches and faiths other than the established Church.”
This is rather a long quotation for the short comment that I am going to make, but here we go:
- Ultimately, who would make the decision about which groups constituted other faiths, and which were just random groups. And would this decision be based upon number of supposed adherents, length of time in the UK, or what? And would the number of adherents be based upon the people who actually turn up to meetings, the official figures, provided by the groups themselves, or by the vast inflation that comes from asking people the question “What religion, religious denomination or body do you belong to?” (Scottish 2011 Census)?
- And the very fact that many people feel that there should be religious representation in politics raises many questions about why it is so common to invest religion with this special significance? If the idea is that thousands of people trust these leaders to do a good job and make moral decisions, then why is the argument not made that this should be extended to people who hold positions of trust in companies, charities, sports etc? And if the idea is that religious leaders are in some way fundamentally better at making moral decisions then… I don’t even need to start on all the objections to that!
My apologies for the uncharacteristic political rant.
If I weren’t broke, I’d definitely consider making the trip down from Edinburgh for this one. Callum Brown has some interesting ideas regarding the role played by gender equality in the seeming demise of the mainstream church in Britain. You should check out the book mentioned below if you can…
Callum Brown (author of ‘The Death of Christian Britain’ amongst other things) will speak to the Modern Cultural History Seminar, in the History Faculty at the University of Cambridge, on Wednesday 12 October, at 5pm, in the Panelled Combination Room, Gonville and Caius College.
Title: ‘The people of no religion: the demographics of secularisation in the English-speaking world since c.1900’