What does the election of Scotland's new Muslim First Minister mean for the Church in Scotland?
Humza Yousaf will be the new first minister of Scotland. The 37-year-old Muslim was narrowly elected leader of the SNP and will be confirmed as first minister by the Scottish Parliament. Much will be made of him being the first Muslim leader of a government in the UK. But what does his election mean for Scotland - and for the church in Scotland? Are there lessons for the wider Church to learn?
In terms of politics, the election was surprisingly close. The SNP establishment, 80 per cent of the payroll politicians, most of those on what Scottish journalist Kevin McKenna calls 'the gravy train', were all behind Yousaf. His main rival, Kate Forbes, was outed as an evangelical Christian early in the campaign, the press smelled blood, and the Twitterati went for her. But she stuck to her guns, and if the campaign had gone on longer (it was shortened by the party machine) would probably have won. As it is she got 47.9 per cent of the final vote, with Yousaf getting 52.1 per cent.
What have we learned about Scotland?
1. The SNP is much weaker than previously thought. Going into the election it was presumed that it had a membership of between 100,000 to 125,000. As it turns out, the membership is only 72,000, of whom only 50,000 voted.
2. Independence is unlikely within the next decade. Forbes was widely recognised as the most competent candidate who would appeal to the voters that the SNP needs to win over. But the SNP voted for the least popular candidate with the public and the most incompetent. Although there will be lots of talk, the reality is that Westminster will refuse a new referendum and the SNP/Green alliance will not be able to get enough support to pressure the UK government. I suspect they know that. For them being 'progressive' is more important than achieving independence.
3. Scotland faces an economically, politically and socially testing time. Yousaf is generally regarded as having failed in his three ministries so far (transport, justice and health) – something Forbes devastatingly pointed out during the campaign.
4. Yousaf will do well to survive. It may seem counter intuitive, but this result was really a humiliation for him. With all the apparatus of the SNP and Scottish government behind him, he still just scraped over the line. Only one third of the SNP membership actually voted for him. The exodus from the party is likely to continue.
Yousaf is famous for his gaffes, for example tweeting his disgust over a video showing Rangers players using sectarian language (it was fake); or claiming that concerns about the state of Scotland's police buildings were 'hyperbole' just hours before the ceiling of the Broughty Ferry police station collapsed. Within weeks of becoming health secretary, he was forced to apologise for wrongly claiming that 10 children had been hospitalised because of Covid. Yousaf and his wife, an SNP councillor, recently dropped a £30,000 legal claim against a nursery owned by two Asian immigrants they had accused of discrimination. During the campaign he asked a group of Ukrainian refugee women "where are all the men?" He can read from the script; he can't write it.
But what about the Church?
Why should we be concerned? Not because Yousaf is a Muslim. Islam is his cultural religion; he ignores it when it goes against his real religion – progressivism. No, we should be concerned because of his authoritarian tendencies, fuelled by his ideology and his sense of 'the right to rule' that comes from his privileged upbringing.
When he was justice minister, he introduced one of the most authoritarian, Orwellian pieces of legislation ever passed by a Western democracy – his hate crime bill, which was, and is, a real threat to freedom of speech and freedom of religion. It even criminalises people for private conversations they have in their own home. Little wonder that the former SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars described it as being "one of the most pernicious and dangerous pieces of legislation ever produced by any government in modern times in any part of the United Kingdom".
We should be concerned about the impact of Yousaf's policies on the poor (a failing economy and weakened health service always impact the poor the worst); women (his gender recognition bill is deeply unpopular in Scotland and will have a real adverse effect on women and children – not least putting men in women's prisons; and children (the decline of the Scottish education system in a land once known for its literacy has been horrific – as has the decline of the family).
In addition to this, Yousaf has said he is in favour of decriminalising all abortions – in effect allowing abortion on demand up to nine months for any reason – including sex selective abortions. The evil of this is almost incomprehensible.
But what will the Church do? Will it be a prophetic voice crying out in the progressive wilderness? Will we speak up for the voiceless and the powerless? The trouble is, that much of the Church is either dispirited or too embedded in the institutions that have been taken over by the collective psychosis that is now such a part of so many Western societies.
The challenge for the Church is how to live in this world, to be in it and yet not of it.
We have to face up to the fact that Kate Forbes was not elected because she is a Bible-believing Christian. She was by far the most competent, attractive and viable leader and she almost made it. But it was her Christianity that she was demonised for. The ABC in Australia even reported that she stood on "a platform of hard-line Christian values"! It's fascinating that we live in a country where we can have a Hindu prime minister, a Buddhist home secretary, a Muslim mayor of London and a Muslim first minister of Scotland and that is celebrated. But if any of these were evangelical Christians, I suspect there would be dire warnings of Far Right theocracies coming round the corner, such is the hatred of biblical Christianity by those who consider that they are the enlightened but still oppressed, progressives.
But some may argue 'look at how close Forbes got!' Indeed. It could be that others will now see that their Christian faith is no barrier to political office. But I suspect that the main political parties (including the so-called 'conservative' ones) will ensure that no one like her gets near power again. This was too close a call for the progressive establishment. Yousaf during his campaign, in a thinly veiled threat, suggested that the SNP needed to vet candidates more closely so that those with 'unacceptable' views could not get elected.
We are moving into a situation in many Western democracies where a small ruling elite will effectively veto anyone who does not share their 'values' from getting political, corporate, academic or media power. We are moving away from a liberal democracy based on Christian values to a soft authoritarianism based on the ruling elite's progressive ideology.
So, what should the Church now do?
We can and should weep for our nation.
"As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, 'If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes" (Luke 19:41-42).
I weep for my beloved Scotland as it continues to head downhill.
Ezekiel 33 is a solemn and sobering chapter, but surely it is one that applies to us?
"But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes someone's life, that person's life will be taken because of their sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for their blood (Ezekiel 33:6-7)."
"Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so, hear the word I speak and give them warning from me (Ezekiel 3:17)."
I've noticed this rather alarming tendency for churches to warn about what is going to happen after it has already happened. We need to lovingly and graciously point out what the consequences will be of rejecting Christ and God's law.
I don't mean win elections. Kate Forbes was not standing as the Christian candidate and, unlike the progressives, we should not expect to impose Christianity by law. We need to win people for Christ. As the proverb puts it: "The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that wins souls is wise" (Proverbs 11:30).
While the Church is, and should be, rightly concerned about the state of the nation - economically, socially, morally - that is not our primary concern. Our primary concern and purpose is to proclaim the Gospel of Christ, and to live it in such a way that many will be drawn to him. We are to be salt and light. We are to pray so that there would be peace and we would have the freedom to proclaim the Gospel. And we are to do so knowing that whatever happens, Jesus wins!
David Robertson leads The ASK Project in Sydney, Australia. He blogs at The Wee Flea.