Holyrood elections: What the Scottish parties say about faith

On May 5 Britain will go to the polls for the second time in a year.

This time it will not be for a general election but for a host of local and regional elections that, once every decade, fall on the same day. Scots will vote for the next Scottish parliament representatives. Voters in Wales and Northern Ireland will decide their assembly members. Londoners will vote for the next Mayor. And across the country people will pick their local councillors as well as police and crime commissioners.

Last week Christian Today examined what the manifestos for the Welsh Assembly elections said about faith communities.

Today we asked the parties that will stand for the Scottish Parliament what they have to say on the matter.

In September 2014 Scotland voted by 55 per cent to 45 per cent to remain as part of the UK. Much of the debate in this election has surrounded the prospect of a second referendum.Pixabay

What is striking about all the manifestos is the absence of any real focus on religion.

The Scottish Labour manifesto is the only one to mention the importance of faith groups when it promises to work with "churches... to develop positive measures to stamp out sectarianism". Labour also says it will adopt a "zero tolerance approach to hate crime, particularly that which is motivated by religion".

A Labour spokesperson told Christian Today: "Labour candidates across the country are working with local faith groups on the issues that matter in their communities. Labour believes in a Scotland of all faiths and will work with faith groups to tackle sectarianism and hate crimes."

The Green Party gets the prize for referring to religion most often. It promises to tackle inequality including those disadvantaged because of their religion. It also vows to fight religious hate crimes. But these sporadic references to faith appear to be in terms of a negative, divisive force to be dealt with, rather than a tool to be harnessed.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) is currently on course for an overwhelming victory which raises the possibility of a second referendum on independence. The closest the party comes to mentioning religion in its manifesto is its promise to work with others to "combat the threat of global terrorism and extremism".

Nevertheless an SNP spokesperson told Christian Today: "Faith groups play an important role in Scottish society and the SNP respects how important religion is to many people in Scotland, as well as the significant role faith groups play in many communities.

"Over the next parliament we will continue to engage with faith groups as part of our wider engagement with civic Scotland. As First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has engaged regularly with faith groups and will continue to do so if re-elected."

In stark contrast to their Welsh manifesto, the Scottish Conservative manifesto makes no mention at all of faith, religion or churches.

A party spokeswoman told Christian Today: "Christianity and the Christian values of responsibility, hard work, charity, humility, tolerance and love have shaped our country and continue to do so today.

"Churches are at the centre of communities right across Scotland and play a special role in providing support and comfort to many people.

"If Scottish Conservative MSPs elected in May wish to support a cross party group on religious freedom, then the party would be more than happy to support them."

The Scottish Liberal Democrats' manifesto makes a passing reference to "opportunity for everyone... regardless of gender, sexualty, race, religion" but there is no other mention of faith.

This marked a noticeable difference to the party's general election manifesto which made frequent remarks on the importance of freedom of religion, faith schools and religious communities. However a party source told Christian Today the Holyrood manifesto was much shorter and the lack of references "to faith communities does not mean we will be stopping working with them".

Speaking more broadly, a party spokesperson said: "Scottish Liberal Democrats believe there should be opportunity for everyone whatever their background and regardless of gender, race or religion. That's why we stand against religious intolerance and will tackle discrimination by supporting faith communities in working together."

UKIP caused a stir at the 2015 general election by issuing a Christian manifesto in which Nigel Farage said: "Christianity plays a significant part in my vision for the future of Britain."

However in its manifesto for Scotland the party makes no mention of Christianity, faith, religion, or church.

Christian Today contacted UKIP for comment and were directed to the party's 2015 Christian manifesto.