SCOTLAND is changing. Over the last two decades we have become a considerably more liberal and secular society, while our population is more diverse. Long established structures, institutions and traditions are openly being questioned and, frankly, this is a healthy development. This can be seen through the emergence in public discourse of a host of issues surrounding the role of religion in public life and, in particular, in education. For example, arrangements such as the presence of unelected representatives of certain Christian churches on Local Education Committees perhaps made more sense in an earlier, more religious and more authoritarian Scotland. Today, they are rightly viewed by many as a bizarre anachronism.

Unfortunately, some don’t see this change as desirable. These reactionaries seem to long for a return to an imagined past in which their preferred religion found a more ready audience, and in which Christian ideas about human life were considerably more influential.

In the National (June 21) Kevin McKenna took aim at what he interprets as a persecution of conservative Christian viewpoints in public life. He is one of several commentators who refuse to accept that the role of Christianity – indeed all religions – in society has changed, and that this is a positive development. They see the erosion of religious privilege as a sign of persecution. They interpret moves towards greater equality and pluralism of belief as a direct attack on their theological world-views, and, by extension, their own identities.

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Contrary to claims of public ignorance of the theological underpinnings of such archaic decisions as denial of equal marriage rights and abortion rights, the social changes we are witnessing are due precisely to, after generations of religious control and privilege, we do indeed understand these theological world-views. The public see them as regressive and rightly fear their gaining influence on the state. They read of the roll-back of progressive healthcare and LGBT rights in the US, and of the horror stories of the denial of abortion to women in Ireland. These illustrate what can happen when ideas about “sin” and sexuality are allowed to inform secular policy-making.

Freedoms regarding sexuality, gender, medical services, and family dynamics are just a few of the recently highlighted issues in which conservative Christian and liberal secular viewpoints come in to conflict. The resignation of Tim Farron as leader of the LibDems followed from concern that his personal views would spill over into policy-making. The issue here was not his own beliefs but, crucially, his willingness to impose those beliefs on others. Scotland repealed Section 2A over a decade ago, recognised same-sex marriage almost five years ago, offers free healthcare fertility services to women, free contraception for all, and our society has continually been better for this. Conservative religious voices regularly threaten the loss of a moral code to guide our society, as their own conservative control weakens with the public. However, teaching students not to hate based on sexual orientation, gender, or faith, and to respect fellow human beings is a far superior moral education than one grounded in religious fundamentalism.

It is ironic Mr McKenna and those of his ilk complain that they are victims of intolerance. What has in fact happened is that due to the secularisation of society, and the emergence of a more compassionate and human rights-orientated outlook, religions are no longer given the support of the state to impose their own intolerance upon others.

Megan Crawford, Chair
Charlie Lynch, Secretary
Scottish Secular Society

THOUSANDS of independence supporters undoubtedly switched their vote in the last election from the SNP to the Tories and to a lesser extent Labour because they do not want to be in the EU. [In response] the message should be clear from the SNP we will look to have Scotland joining the European Economic Area (EEA) and have a Norwegian-style arrangement whereby we are not members of the EU but are within the single market. Scotland, like Norway, would not be in the Customs Union, which would allow us to trade with whomever we want – ie, England. Scotland can ensure we export across the border by ensuring a Common Travel Area (CTA) will continue uninterrupted. However, I suspect Ruth Davidson and her motley crew may have suggested to our farmers their produce would be very difficult to sell to England if we were independent which is not the case at all. They need our produce as much as we need theirs. Scottish exports into the EU would not be subject to trade tariffs as part of the EEA. Our farmers and businesses can have the best of both worlds and if a referendum in Scotland is required to accept or reject this arrangement, so be it, but we need independence to do this and make our own choices.

Also, UK Labour and Jeremy Corbyn have stolen a number of SNP policies such as free tuition, and rejection of excessive Tory austerity. These have proven to be immensely popular south of the Border, and the SNP should be confident that holding the left-of-centre ground will continue to be popular with voters in Scotland. What young or working-class voter would vote against a £10 per hour minimum wage, for instance? However, I would suggest that the Scottish Government also engage with groups such as Business for Scotland and implement business-friendly policies to take advantage of the opportunities opened up within the EEA. [Moreover], social and business policies do not need to be mutually exclusive.  Putting a second independence referendum on the back burner until Brexit starts to unfold could prove politically astute.  This can be the way ahead for the SNP and one which I’m sure many voters who switched during GE2017 could find attractive enough to switch back and support independence within five years.
Kenny McGhie
Glasgow

SCOTLAND not only beat Ireland, Wales and Italy this year but also performed well against France in Paris. Last Saturday Scotland beat Australia. It comes as no surprise though, that not a single, solitary Scot has been selected for the first British and Irish Lions Test against New Zealand, not even as a replacement on the bench. We’ve been here before.

I might as well support the All Blacks. At least there a number of Scots in their team.
James Stevenson
Auchterarder

“MISTAKES” that Steve Arnott (Letters, The National, June 23) mentions cannot be fixed as they are the “mistakes” identified by a continuous campaign across all the media against anything the Scottish Government does. Do we remember them trawling our hospitals looking for people dying in them to blame Nicola Sturgeon? That didn’t work because it became obvious that Scotland’s NHS was performing significantly better than the NHS in rUK. Then it was the Scottish Police. That didn’t stick either – so then they came for education.

Is Mr Arnott a teacher? Does he have any experience of the “mess” he references? Is this the “mess” identified in a recent Pisa evaluation of a tiny percentage of second-year pupils in a few Scottish schools? Which has been blown up into a national disgrace by our media. I will concede that the Curriculum for Excellence has been of no benefit and should have been scrapped by the SNP. However, the most recent ONS report on Scottish educationsuggested that Scotland is the best-educated nation in Europe.  “In terms of proportion of the population going into tertiary education, Scotland is just about the highest in the world” reported ONS chief economic adviser Joe Grice.  The UK as a whole was in fifth place on just under 40 per cent in that report.

So bang goes the “education mess” as portrayed by media, which is enraging our hard-working teachers. 
Dave McEwan Hill
Sandbank, Argyll