(Shock horror - a post on politics!)
There's been a heck of a lot of chat about SNP Candidate (for the Glasgow North-East by-election, whenever that is) David Kerr's religious views and whether they should impact upon people's intentions to vote for him. A lot of it has been pretty biased, partisan and snotty (and no, I'm not going to categorise those by linking to them).
But then I read Lallands Peat Worrier and his take on David Kerr, his beliefs and its role in informing his politics. And I agreed with pretty much all of it. It's a cracking article and well worth a read - on the basis that my summary (next paragraph) won't do it justice.
Basically, what Lallands argues is that David Kerr's religious views (that is, his membership of the Catholic organisation Opus Dei and its associated belief structure)
All voting is a trade-off. There's never a candidate with whom you agree with 100%. And if there is, chances are they are standing in a different constituency (or country... President Obama perhaps?). But the point is parties (supposedly) select the candidate they believe will represent the constituency best and when they are elected they (should) vote with the best interests of the constituency at heart - or, at worst, abstain where there is a distinct clash with personal moral views). Note the caveats in that sentence.
The problem with by-elections over General Elections is that every single aspect of a candidate's life - political, private, economic and, yes, religious - is examined and scrutinised in much more detail than ever before. More will be known in Glasgow North East about David Kerr and Willie Bain than even about David Cameron and Gordon Brown. And this is a good thing - it allows the voters to make a better judgement about the character of the candidate before they elect them.
Alastair Campbell famously said "We don't do God." But then his most famous charge converted to Catholicism. With all the respect that comes with being the country's most famous former spin doctor, I think he's wrong. Whether you believe in God, accept religion (or whatever faith) or simply recognise right from wrong, religion plays a part in every day life - and, most especially, in politics. Note I didn't say "Christianity" there. It is my belief that moral decision-making, the belief in right and wrong and acceptance of a need for a rule of law derives from the moral code of religion. And again, I stress religion - not one but many.
Now I don't profess that religion makes you a good person or that you have to be religious to know right from wrong. What I'm arguing is that religion has informed those moral decisions, moral choices, for generations, and that we have, as a society, derived our own moral compass from previous generations... right back to when religion was politics.
Basically, this is a long and winded way of saying that religion matters in politics. Of course it does. But it shouldn't be the only thing that matters when you go to the polls (if it ever happens) in Glasgow North-East. To make an informed decision about the candidates you should know as much about them as you can. But that should be limited to what will inform their politics I think.
Knowing that David Kerr is a member of Opus Dei is useful in as far as it gives you a rough idea of where his theological leanings lie - and thus how his politics (should he have to vote on these issues) will go. His membership of Opus Dei will not tell you where he stands on the economy, health service, defence spending, international relations, the constitution, education, refuse collection striking or anything else. For those things - if they matter to you - you'll have to ask him.