The level of debate on Scottish independence has gone through various phases over the years and while the Unionists point to SNP assertions and false claims, successive Labour and Tory governments have consistently lied about a whole variety of issues that have affected Scotland. For many years after World War I, it was impossible to get accurate figures for Scottish was losses, which when they were published, showed exactly why. Scottish regiments suffered higher war losses than those of any other part of the UK - bar none. As a member of the economic committee of the SNP which did much work on the oil situation in the 1970s, under the guidance of Donald Bain, I always followed with interest, the government of the day's figures on oil production and the revenues generated. Gavin McCrone, the government economist published his report during the period of the Wilson government, when Denis Healey was Chancellor. McCrone's report was so damaging to the UK government's case against independence, they kept it a secret for over thirty years. Denis Healey has just admitted they "massaged" the figures; in other words they lied. Healey is now a Lord and as one of the "untouchables" he can now admit he was a liar while in office.
Unfortunately, the arguments haven't changed one bit. The oil is running out so fast, we will be lucky if it lasts another two years, the NHS in Scotland is on its last legs, we will never be able to afford to pay pensions in an independent state and one lie follows another with monotonous regularity. Why would any Scot believe a single word about anything, any one of our UK or Holyrood Ministers tells us? Unfortunately, instead of kicking every one of them into touch, out of office and as far away as possible from having anything to do with Scotland's governance, our gullible fellow Scots either don't care enough or consider their behaviour perfectly acceptable. It was inevitable that the "anti-Catholic" charge would raise its ugly head at some point during the campaign, as it always does. It is one of the ugliest aspects of Unionist politics but one which paid good dividends to the Unionist cause, particularly in West Central Scotland, where the vast majority of Scotland's Catholics live. It is not as much of an issue as it once was because the power of religion is not what it once was, but it is also true it can still play on old prejudices to the point of having an impact on certain sectors of the population. It is one of the most despicable cards in the Unionist armoury.
George Galloway, has decided to play this particular card once again, and despite his oft-declared detestation of the establishment in this country, he is willing to play the useful idiot on this occasion, which is a measure of his hatred for the SNP. Brought up a Catholic in a mixed marriage household, where religious tolerance was taught at the earliest age, I can honestly say that the SNP is the one organisation in Scotland where I came across no sectarianism of any sort. I can still remember, as a seven year old, being put off the service bus in 1947, in a snowstorm during the worst winter in living memory at that time, because I attended the local Catholic school. I didn't know why I was a wee Fenian bastard, or why some passengers applauded nor did I understand why my mother burst into tears when I asked her. I am still the only Catholic who was ever recruited into Perth City Police, to spend two years being subjected to the worst kind of religious intolerance. When I stood as the first ever SNP candidate in local government elections in Perth in 1967, my mother and sister were accosted at Mass on the Sunday following the publication of my nomination, by Labour Party supporters of my Labour opponent. They were asked why I was standing against another Catholic.
Like most Highland families, I have relatives in Glasgow, some of whom stayed in Royston Hill, a Catholic ghetto at the time and a product of the corrupt housing policy of the Glasgow corporation. The Labour Party regularly distributed election leaflets outside Mass on a Sunday morning, spreading the word that the SNP would close all Catholic schools, just as Galloway is doing to this day. In fact, the Labour Party in Scotland is the one political party where sectarianism was openly practiced. That kind of jaundiced environment was not a product of anything the SNP did, it was a product of the kind of government tolerated and even encouraged by certain elements at Westminster, supported by Galloway and his ilk. It is not an SNP government or a constitution drawn up by a SNP government, which demands that the monarch of the UK should neither be a Catholic nor marry a Catholic and Alex Salmond is the only political leader of the major parties who has openly condemned the discrimination against Catholics.
I spent over thirty five years in the SNP and never once throughout that time, was religion ever a problem. I did not know the religion of colleagues I had known for years because the topic was never raised, until during the period after the 1974 elections when the party had eleven Westminster MPs, the Orange Order became concerned about the number of Catholics who were prominent in the party and published a list of their names. I had ceased to be a practicing Catholic many years earlier but my name was up there in lights along with the rest of them. Early in the campaign, I expressed the hope we could have a decent and civilized debate about independence but as the weeks have passed, that hope has long since disappeared. Galloway has just lowered the tone another few notches and no doubt before the referendum arrives, it will be lowered even further. It is all vey sad.