IN the endless night of the Labour Party in Scotland the annual GERS figures have come to provide its only source of light. In recent years the impending release of these numbers has led to outbreaks of unconfined dancing inside the party. I feel certain that only the global pandemic this year thwarted a three-day festival of GERS to celebrate the UK Treasury’s message that Scotland doesn’t generate enough revenue to sustain itself.

The global financial services giant Deloitte poured cold water on this annual economic charade two years ago when it gently pointed out: “GERS data is produced for Scotland as part of the UK – it does not model scenarios for an independent Scotland in which the Scottish Government would be enabled to make its own fiscal choices.” No matter: Scottish Labour celebrates this contrived gloom like it's 1707.

The outpouring of glee from Labour figures at the suggestion Scotland must always be dependent on England is emblematic of its fall. It seems the party is happiest only when it shares common ground with the Conservatives. Who could forget the unabashed joy on the faces of senior Scottish Labour figures as they danced through the night of September 18, 2014, locked in Union Jack embraces with their freshly-lumbered Tory paramours?

Now, as it prepares to jettison its third leader in six years, there is evidence that the party might actually have begun to identify some of the sources of its banishment to the twilight zone. Last week a leaked memo suggested they had sought to identify the numbers of Catholic voters in some Scottish constituencies as a means of defeating the SNP ahead of the 2019 Westminster election.

Predictably, some on either side of the constitutional divide moved to dismiss such analysis as “outdated”. Some Labour figures even felt “humiliated” by the leak. The wee souls. Wiser minds felt that this attempt to identify the Catholic vote at least showed that someone inside the party seems to know what they are doing. I suspect the pretence of outrage was most apparent in those who either failed to understand the strategic significance of such analysis or who would rather that this uncomfortable Catholic question was left untouched.

Six months prior to the first referendum on independence Professor Sir Tom Devine, Scotland’s foremost historian, suggested the Irish Catholic community would largely support a Yes vote. Sir Tom drew on data from a Social Attitudes survey indicating that those aligning themselves with Catholicism were both most supportive of independence and least fearful of a Yes vote. Following the referendum official research showed that support for independence among Scotland’s faith groups was indeed highest in the Irish Catholic community.

If Labour is ever again to become the natural political home for Scotland’s 700,000 Catholics – especially in its west of Scotland former strongholds – it would present the SNP with a serious problem. This perhaps explains why several people were rather too quick to rubbish even the idea of identifying these areas.

The SNP would be foolish to assume that support for independence translates as support for the party. Labour need only construct a bridge to enable many of its former core supporters to return to the fold. For many, this wouldn’t necessitate a sudden volte-face in its position on the constitution: merely support for a second referendum. It would also be foolish to suggest that such concerns are rooted in sectarianism: they are not. Rather, they are ineradicable from ideas about social justice.

Scottish Catholics, especially in the west of Scotland, still owe a massive debt of gratitude to the Labour Party and the Trade Union movement. These gave them a voice and the hope of a better life after a century of being treated like dogs by civic and cultural Scotland. You simply cannot over-estimate the raw anger of many Catholics at seeing Labour politicians wrapping themselves so tightly in the flag of a state whose cruelty during the Great Famine in Ireland drove their families to these shores.

An older generation of Scotland’s Irish Catholic community also had a deep mistrust of Scottish nationalism. They felt that their interests and beliefs could not be guaranteed in an independent Scotland where shadowy and secret forces would find it much easier to exert influence and re-kindle old enmities. They felt that the milder atmosphere in the wider UK and the internationalism of the Labour movement offered them protection.

It was only when Alex Salmond became leader that the SNP became a viable option for Irish Catholics. He reached out to them; reassured them and championed them at a time when the Labour Party was assuming their guaranteed support while shutting down their pro-life supporters at annual conferences.

Mr Salmond has gone, of course, and in his absence a creeping hostility to Catholicism and the wider Christian religion has begun to poison this party. Catholics who favour an independent Scotland are becoming increasingly fidgety about what the country will look like if the SNP falls completely under the influence of its woke warriors.

Even a cursory inspection of the Twitter accounts of young SNP activists reveals an alarming degree of hostility to Catholic schools and any elected officials who dare to confess their Christian convictions. This is apparent in the intimidation of some Christian SNP politicians who dare to maintain the absolute humanity and sanctity of an unborn child.

The SNP’s proposed Gender Recognition reforms and Hate Crime legislation also pose challenges for authentic Christians. Catholic and Christian thought has been virtually cancelled in Scotland to a point where it’s now almost impossible to remain true to the tenets of your faith in public life if you want to have a rewarding career. Merely to express fidelity to the teaching of your church is to risk the end of your ambitions amidst allegations of sexism, homophobia and transphobia. It’s an inversion of true equality and the wholesale defamation of an entire religion based on distortion and ignorance.

A major reason why many Catholics seek independence is that it offers the chance of a genuinely Socialist Labour government and the vision of social justice which first attracted them to the party. There’s an opportunity here for the Labour Party in Scotland if only they could be freed from their obsession with the Union flag.

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