Bishop William Nolan, Bishop President of Justice and Peace Scotland, called on us in his New Year letter to become more politically active and start influencing the creation of policy within our political parties in Scotland, playing an active role in choosing the candidates who represent the political parties.
As a councillor in West Dunbartonshire since 2003, I agree entirely. Pope Francis has said ‘Catholics must get involved’ in politics, even if it may be dirty, frustrating and fraught with failure. He said ‘Do I as a Catholic watch from my balcony – no, you can’t watch from the balcony. Get right in there’ he said. And I hope that is what I am doing at the moment.
I was brought up in a working class Catholic family. Both of my parents were members of the Labour party, giving us two major influences in our lives, the Church and the Labour party. Both have helped shape my belief in social justice.
As a young man I wrestled with the thought of entering the priesthood but instead I studied Law at Glasgow University. I’m a solicitor, but it’s being involved in local government that I find hugely rewarding.
Local government can shape a fairer society. North Lanarkshire Council is the first local authority in the UK to tackle holiday hunger. It is shocking that thousands of children in Scotland go hungry during school holidays. We could all campaign to persuade the Scottish Government to introduce some form of holiday hunger payment to the poorest families in our society, or alternatively provide sufficient funding to provide school meals during holidays.
When I was Provost of West Dunbartonshire Council from 2012 and 2017, I was able to champion the Christian groups within my community, such as the Churches Together Movement, who are the driving force behind the West Dunbartonshire Foodshare Trust, and the Clydebank Citadel of the Salvation Army who do so much for the most vulnerable within our society.
Why keep silent about our own faith? I believe we should all answer Bishop Nolan’s call, raise our Christian voice, and become active in politics. That voice could be used, for example, to push back against those who attack the sanctity of life, or question the validity of our faith schools.
At the end of Mass on Christmas morning at St Margaret of Scotland Hospice in Clydebank, Sister Rita Dawson told us that she has a daily battle with those who would have her remove any reference to our religious beliefs from the work of the hospice. She called on those politicians present to stop apologising or being embarrassed for their religious beliefs and instead to use our office to fight for the dignity of every human life.
She suggested that perhaps all politicians in Scotland should spend a day with her at St Margaret of Scotland Hospice. I have since reflected on the words of Pope Francis, who said ‘The best medicine to cure the disease of indifference is touching the wounds of the Lord in the poor of our time’.