A SOURCE within the Scottish Catholic Church has claimed that a targeted letter sent by the Catholic bishops to members of congregations in North East Fife and Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill had been able to affect the outcome of the General Election vote in those constituencies (Catholic Church to be politically ‘proactive’, January 7). The letter urged parishioners to elect an MP whose beliefs and actions accorded as closely as possible with morally conservative Catholic doctrines.

READ MORE: Catholic Church to take 'more proactive' role in Scottish politics

Flushed with this apparent success in influencing national affairs, the “church source” told The Sunday Times that the letter “represented a move towards a more proactive approach to elections”. He or she continued in ominous tones: “This says to MPs and MSPs that the way you vote is monitored, you don’t work in a vacuum.” If we are to take this at face value, then the Church is to step up its political campaigning at next year’s Holyrood elections.

Attempts by the bishops to influence politics are of course nothing new, and since the watershed defeat of their attempts to prevent the repeal of Section 2A in 2000 they have suffered a succession of cataclysmic defeats as Scottish society rapidly liberalised and secularised, a trajectory which we can reasonably expect to continue. It was telling that the huge majority of comments from readers of The National to this story were hostile to the Church’s attempts at political meddling.

READ MORE: Kevin McKenna: Why the vindictive ultras in Scotland’s Catholic church should be ashamed

However, a more interesting angle might be to examine whether there is any evidence that lends credence to the Church spokesperson’s remarkable claim that their letter helped bring about the unseating of Hugh Gaffney in Coatbridge and Stephen Gethins in North East Fife.

Firstly, Hugh Gaffney. He held the seat for Labour with a majority of 1586, which was overturned in December by Steven Bonnar of the SNP, who gained a majority of 5624. Did Mr Gaffney lose his seat due to the intercession of prelates? After all, he had voted in support of equal marriage and abortion law reform in Northern Ireland. In light of this it was surprising that he was involved in a bizarre incident at a Burns Supper in 2018, following which he was forced to apologise for using homophobic language and ordered by party chiefs to attend diversity and equality training. In the 2019 General Election, all but one of Labour’s seats were lost to the SNP in a remarkable Scotland-wide swing which obliterated their candidates regardless of their character and abilities, let alone views on moral issues likely to trouble the bishops. The SNP’s socially liberal policies will also have been well-known to the electorate.

READ MORE: Letters: Religion should be kept out of politics

Secondly, what of Stephen Gethins? He had held his seat by the tenuous majority of two votes, and lost it to Wendy Chamberlain of the Liberal Democrats, who gained a majority of 1396. Were scores of morally conservative Catholics motivated to register displeasure at Gethins’s support for law reform in Northern Ireland? Simply, no. Whatever else might be said about them, the Liberal Democrats have consistently supported social liberalism, and indeed the party never truly came to terms with the leadership of evangelical Christian Tim Farron. North East Fife was one of their key targets due to the miniscule size of Gethins’s majority. Furthermore, there is some evidence that an anti-SNP pact with the Tories was enacted, leading to Tory voters switching to the Liberal Democrats and thus defeating Gethins. Despite this, his share of the vote actually increased by 7%.

Therefore, it can be said with confidence that both results were absolutely nothing to do with the Catholic Church’s letter to its parishioners. They reflected much broader political machinations and shifts in the electoral landscape, and the outcome of both contests resulted in MPs equally likely to support liberal social policies as their predecessors. In short, the Church’s letter reveals more about the entitled world view of its authors than events in reality.

Dr Charlie Lynch