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Lessons from the UK elections for Church and society

This weeks Christian Today column – there are two vital things for us to grasp – these elections show that the realignment of UK politics is well underway and the Red Tories are on the ascendant (as are the Communist Greens – to a lesser extent).   Meanwhile, despite all the noise and bluster, the Scottish election virtually guarantees there will be no Indy Ref 2 in the next five years….this article explains why…

(Photo: Unsplash/Kirsten Drew)

The recent UK elections (council and mayoral in England; devolved parliaments in Wales and Scotland) have turned out to be far more interesting than such elections usually are. They also reveal a great deal about how the UK is changing and offer opportunities for the Church to reflect and speak into the culture.

The break-up of the old politics?

The most significant aspect of the election is the confirmation that there has been a seismic shift in politics – moving away from the old Left and Right views, largely based on economics, to the new Progressive v. Social Conservatives, largely based on ‘identity’ and ‘values’. The Conservatives gained 236 councillors, and 13 new councils. Labour lost control of eight, including Durham – although Labour did better in the mayoral elections, making a couple of gains and holding on to Manchester and London.

Labour used to be able to rely on what it called it’s ‘red wall’, but that seems to be disappearing. This was most dramatically seen in the parliamentary election for Hartlepool. In previous years it used to be said that you could have put a monkey with a red rosette in places like Hartlepool and they would be elected. No longer. The Conservative candidate received more than double the vote of the Labour challenger.

In by-elections you often see extraordinary turnarounds, but they are invariably against the party of government. The fact that the opposite happened indicates that this is a watershed moment in British politics. The rules of normal politics are being rewritten. It looks as though many working-class people have had enough of being taken for granted by their former representatives. The majority of the working class now vote Tory, the majority of the middle class Labour, Green or Lib Dem.

The danger is that ‘identity’ politics as espoused in much of the education system and media will turn into more permanent and damaging divisions. One BBC commentator spoke about the ‘educated’ and ‘the uneducated’ – with the obvious implication being that the more educated were more intelligent and more likely to vote the ‘progressive’ way.

Similar implications were made about Brexit. But this is a fundamental error. Being educated in today’s world is no guarantee of free or rational thought. Education is increasingly becoming about indoctrination, and the indoctrinated tend to vote the way they are told to. It’s why some progressives are arguing for the voting age to be lowered. In Scotland the voting age was lowered to 16 – and these 16-year-olds were promised free laptops (and bikes!). Throw in the teaching about ‘progressive’ issues such as climate change, transgender and BLM, and you can see where this leads. ‘Good’ educated people vote one way, ‘bad’ uneducated people are ignoramuses who vote the wrong way.

The break-up of the United Kingdom?

Some commentators were getting very excited about the potential break-up of the United Kingdom. There are those who made a series of forecasts of disasters if we went ahead with Brexit – with a couple of possible exceptions, none of these have yet happened. So, the possibility that one disaster scenario might happen – the break-up of the UK – is looked upon with delight and talked up by those who prophesied it.

But after these elections, the break-up of the UK is now much less likely than it appeared to be a year ago.

The Welsh nationalists had a bad election, ending up with 13 seats out of 61. Labour had some success here getting 30 seats. Wales is not going to leave the UK.

Northern Ireland is the area where there is most uncertainty, but they did not have elections at this time. A united Ireland is a possible, but not certain, outcome.

But what about Scotland? Despite the somewhat over-excited headlines, the results of the Scottish Parliamentary election mean that Scotland is now less likely to move towards independence, and there is almost no chance of that happening within the term of this new parliament.

But didn’t the SNP win the election? They did. And it was a handsome victory, 64 seats (one short of a majority) in a system designed to prevent one-party majorities. Together with their allies, the Greens, they now have a clear majority, 72 seats out of 129. But is this, as the SNP claim, a mandate for another referendum? John Swinney, a Scottish Government minister, claimed that ‘the UK government have to recognise what the people have decided’. But what did the people decide?

Nicola Sturgeon told those who were against another independence referendum, but liked the way she governed, to vote for her anyway. At the forefront of her campaign was the issue of recovery from the pandemic, not independence. To claim all the votes for the SNP as votes for independence is not honest (just as to deny that there are some who voted for other parties who might support independence would not be honest).

Plus, there is the awkward fact that the Conservatives did much better than expected (keeping 31 seats and gaining their highest vote ever), and that the Unionist parties combined actually received slightly more votes than the Separatist ones. For those who count votes, it is the ‘will’ of the Scottish people not to have a second referendum. But the reality is that Scotland is basically divided down the middle. So when you hear Nicola Sturgeon saying that she speaks for Scotland just bear in mind that she speaks for half of Scotland – at most.

For those who don’t understand Scotland, it helps to grasp that although the country is divided on this issue, it is a three way, rather than a two-way divide. One third separatist, one third unionist, one third who could go either way. All recent polls show that support for the Union is in the majority – with one recent Survation poll suggesting that 58% to 42% are in favour of remaining in the UK. SNP strategists know that they need to be at around 60% in the polls to have a chance of succeeding in a referendum, because most ‘don’t knows’ tend to go for the status quo. Opinion polls show that two thirds of Scottish voters are opposed to a referendum within the next two years so don’t expect anything to happen soon.

But the most important reason why the Scottish Government does not have a mandate for an independence referendum is because the Scottish Parliament is not a sovereign parliament (we voted against that in our ‘once in a generation’ referendum in 2014), but rather a devolved one. As such, it is limited in what it can do. Section 29 (1) of the 1998 Scotland Act states that,

“An Act of the Scottish Parliament is not law so far as any provision of the Act is outside the legislative competence of the Parliament.” The Scottish Parliament cannot legally make law on reserved matters. That same section states: “1. The following aspects of the constitution are reserved matters, that is—

(a)the Crown, including succession to the Crown and a regency,

(b)the Union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England.”

There is no question or doubt about the fact that the Scottish Parliament cannot hold a binding referendum without the agreement of the UK Parliament. The Scottish Government no more have a mandate for another referendum, than they do for removing Trident (both the SNP and Greens have that in their manifestos) or for declaring war. In theory they could hold an advisory referendum, but that would be utterly pointless as the Unionists would just boycott it and it would have no legal validity.

So why are some arguing that independence is now more likely? Sometimes it is ignorance, but often it is willful ignorance. There are some who see this through the lens of the EU, and others who just have a hatred for the Prime Minister. In identity politics all that matters is the personalities – so people end up being in favour of anything that hurts their enemy.

There are those who suspect that this result is the best possible outcome for the SNP. They can claim a referendum which they know they are not going to get, and almost certainly would lose; and then blame Westminster and ‘the Tories’ for denying the will of the people of Scotland (and for anything else that goes wrong). Power without responsibility is a politician’s dream – and means that you are much more likely to stay in power for a longer period.

The Church

So why does all this matter for the Church? I hope that we are concerned for our fellow citizens as well as ourselves and therefore what involves the peace and governance of the land is important to us – and should be something we pray for. And it is better to pray with knowledge.

Secondly, the UK was born on the basis not just of a united politics and economics, but also a united religion – Protestantism – what we might now call evangelicalism. That is certainly no longer true, but the question is now whether the UK can long survive without its Christian foundations? The Bible has nothing to say about whether Scotland should be independent, or whether we should be in the EU, and Christians will have different and legitimate views on these and other political subjects. But all of us should recognise that “where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18).

Every nation needs an ethos, a value system, a philosophy on which the laws of that nation are based. The UK was founded upon the basis that Christianity was its foundation. Others may claim secular liberal values have now supplanted that. But what if those values are themselves founded upon Christianity. If the root is removed, will the fruit remain – or will we descend or regress into something far different?

The nations are being shaken. But the Lord is still on the throne! Jesus is still the King of kings.

A Positive Case for Real Scottish Independence and a New Political Party

The End of Scottish Independence?

22 comments

  1. Lessons are not far to seek.

    Tony Blair , a practicing Christian , decided to support the Iraq War and the Afghanistan Invasion on the woefully ignorant basis that these backward Muslim societies could , after “regime change” and ” nation building” , transmogrify into “liberal democracies ” , that term being Blair’s vision of applied Christianity.

    In addition , that son of the Manse and practicing Presbyterian ,Gordon Brown’s financial support , as Chancellor , allowed the financial allocations for the neo – Colonial idiocy.

    In Afghanistan , the Taliban have just killed about 70 Muslim schoolgirls (during the Holy Month of Ramadan ) who , guided by the West’s fruitless intervention , wished to avail themselves of a Blair – style education.

    Perhaps , practicing Christians in power have delighted us long enough.

    1. Dear Alastair,

      Tony Blair & Gordon Brown were “professing” Christians ONLY, neither were “born again” or truly saved, and certainly NOT Biblical.
      See my general comments on the WeeFlea article for what I believe is the true & relevant situation. God bless you, David.

  2. Thanks for your explanation David.
    I’ve been following your blog now for about 3 months.
    The intersection of public politics and church has long been an interest of mine and I’ve just finished reading Metaxas biography of Bonhoeffer.
    Therefore, unfortunately a weak church is nothing new under the sun.
    I’ve been eagerly awaiting your view of the Scottish election in particular as the coverage here in Oz is weak at best and that from overseas, I’m not experienced enough to know their bias.
    Hopefully some helpful lessons for the church here in Oz. Are we’re prepared to put them into practice?
    Regards

  3. Two things:

    ‘Education is increasingly becoming about indoctrination, and the indoctrinated tend to vote the way they are told to.’

    Religion was always claimed by secularists to ‘indoctrinate’ the people and should be removed from public life. They successfully peddled this false claim for the last 2 decades, only to use the very means they accused Christians of using. Secularism is indoctrinating the next generation.

    Graceless.

    By eliminating Christianity from public life, our society has lost fruit. Our society does not know how to be merciful, (unless your in the gang) it does not know how to pardon, forgive or show grace. The law is now the schoolmaster to bring conformity, and if that means misusing the law to silence a 71yr old man preaching in the street, a doctrine not of the social order, then so be it, regardless of the fact the public record it.

    The very false claims made against Christianity (people are free to object and mock without fear of social or legal recourse) secularism is actually guilty of both.

    Meanwhile salt and light is more effective. Grace, mercy, pardon, forgive, is exclusively of Christ.

  4. Gnostics were opposed by the early Christians, who placed an importance on the needs of the body. Food, heat, water, state pension and housing, may be the things UK people vote about. Do-Woke-fads, about gender and sexuality freedoms etc, fail to cut it with many ordinary people? Woke activism in city centres, while pensioners freeze or starve in poorer districts, has not favoured Labour. Has Corbyn’s communist ghosts frightened away voters?

  5. Thanks for this thorough & perceptive article WeeFleas.
    Two thoughts:-
    1. You rightly state the UK was built on Christian & Biblical principles since the Reformation, for several hundred years our legal system & structures have depended on this, which gives our nation & Government extra responsibility under God. “To who much is given, much is required” as our nation has surely been greatly blessed under this system, despite all the faults of the British Empire, it lead to great missionary enterprises around the world where the Christian Gospel prospered.
    2. Sadly, with the start of Darwin & Evolution being accepted, the relevance & power of the Christian Gospel has increasingly been eroded. In the last 70 years we have seen it increasingly overthrown as the professing church has compromised, and Governments have introduced laws in direct conflict with the law of God in the Bible. Perhaps, or probably, the worse example of this is Abortion, as the innocent blood of millions of babies cry out from our land (see Genesis 4:10). Also our reneging on the Balfour Declaration during & after WW2, resulting in thousands of Jews refused entry to their land going to the gas chambers, surely results in us being under a curse from God (see Genesis 12:3). Many of these sins are national sins instituted & approved by our successive Governments.
    Surely this reaps judgement as we see from Romans 1:18-32, as the wrath of God is being increasingly revealed from heaven against the ungodliness & unrighteousness of men who carry out these evils, or approve of them. The British Empire has disappeared, the UK may follow. It is God who raises up, and God who deposes nations & leaders. Who knows what else will come unless there is repentance, which there is no sign of in the church or nation or Government. We pray for God to remember mercy in judgement, otherwise I suspect our demise would be rapidly worse.

  6. David,
    Whilst I respect your ability to understand and comment on the political situation in Scotland, and possibly England, to dismiss what happened in Wales witha couple of short sentences: “The Welsh nationalists had a bad election, ending up with 13 seats out of 61. Labour had some success here getting 30 seats. Wales is not going to leave the UK.” shows your lack of understanding of the situation here. Yes, Plaid Cymru god 13 seats out of 61 – but that is a gain of one seat on what they had previously. The other point which you miss is the difference between the Welsh Labour party, and the party in the rest of the UK. The mood for independence goes much further than Plaid Cymru, and this last year has shown that when authority ios given to the Welsh parliament, they are able to do things differently, and many would say better than was done in Westminster. The Covid factor was a great player in this election, because (a) Mark Drakeford had great piblicity appearing on the media regularly, showing that he has a core of steel, leading the country their own way. (b) Whilst the Tories responded to the Welsh government with nothing but criticism, Plaid Cymru were supportive of the Welsh government in the way that they were dealing with the pandemic, and therefore were not so newsworthy. (c) People said that thsi election was an opportunity for those who opposed devolution could make their voice heard – and they had a terrible election, wiped out completely. (d) The people of Wales have seen the contempt with which Boris Johnson and his government have treated Wales – expecting everybody to follow their lead. Co-operation for Boris means we get together – I tell you what I think and everybody has to follow. There is appetite here for change – and Welsh labour, whilst not advocating independency, certainly speak of a much looser relationship with Westminster, more like a federal grouping of four nations, with even the term “home rule” being applied at times.
    As to what the church has to learn from this, I agree with much of what you say. My own position is that we need a culture of repentance within the church, and a deeper realisation that without God we can do nothing. Only then can we become a voice for reconciliation in a fragmented society, and become the salt and light that we should be in our generation

    1. PC were disappointed by their result and were expecting more. Welsh Labour want more devolved powers but not Indy. All incumbents during the pandemic have benefited – especially when they are on tv every day as the people who keep us safe.

      1. I agree that Plaid Cymru were disappointed. However on the ground there is much talk of the impossibility of Labour gaining power in Westminster, and independence being the only way forward. It’s not only PC who are seeing independence as the way forward. Many in the labour Party are disillusioned with what is happening over the border. It would not take much to push the leaders here to change position, and especially if Scotland would move towards indipendence, then I’m pretty sure that many in Wales would see the same path as reasonable. After decades of under-investment in our economy from Westminster there is a growing appetite for a different path. I write as one who is here, listening to what’s being said, and the realisation amongst many that Wales does not matter as far as the Tories are concerned. The number of Welsh MPs in Westminater is being cut, and the voice of Wales, which was never very loud in Westminster is being pushed back even more. Boris at the moment seems to be wanting to take power back to Westminster, and to bypass the Senedd in Cardiff. He may live to regret this, as it leaves the Welsh economy behind and more people (including those who have moved here from England) are discovering that there is more to the Welsh identity than language.

      2. You don’t have to worry – Scotland will not be moving towards Indy – but we will continue to play the grievance politics game.

  7. Something very Quantum-worthy:

    A second letter by the military threatening civil war in France has been issued. Given Le Pen’s past attacks on Protestants, we can expect them to be targeted as much as Muslims if there is a war:

    https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.dawn.com/news/amp/1623093

    There are still a lot of anti-Protestant conspiracy theories circulating in France to this day about Calvinists in general and the Haute Societe Protestante (HSP) in particular that use exactly the same language as the anti-semitic conspiracy theories in the Germany of the 1930s.

    Hopefully President Macron will stop the Far Right before it comes to that in order to protect the Protestants. People are already calling for the arrests of the military and ex-military members responsible for the letters.

  8. A big lesson that most people have drawn now that the immediate news cycle has moved on and *all* the results are in is that the incumbents did well on the back of (a) the fantastic success of the vaccine programme, coming after the shambolic response through 2020, (b) the furlough scheme, which kept millions people from destitution even though it meant being paid for nothing.

    On (a), the response is similar to your football team having been trailing throughout the match managing to snatch a last minute equaliser – you leave the ground with a totally different reaction and buzz, than if your team let in a late goal, or even if there were no late goals.

    As for (b), who would have thought that giving away money was popular? Johnson, Sturgeon, Drakeford, Khan, Burnham, and Street all had copious air time explaining what they were doing outwith the normal political scrutiny, so it is no real surprise they all did well, in spite of local difficulties, whether it was Johnson’s flat or Salmond’s attempted revenge on Sturgeon.

    As for wider lessons, you are right to call for repentance and for prayer for our leaders. After all, all authority comes from the Father, and leaders should exercise it with humility and an acknowledgement that they are answerable to the only true King. The UK furlough scheme makes me think of what happened in Gen 47, when the whole of Egypt ended up working for the state, rather than remaining free men – “”you have saved our lives,” they said. “May we find favor in the eyes of our lord; we will be in bondage to Pharaoh” ” (47:25). Rom 6:22 is an encouragement to us, “now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. “

  9. I didn’t know that about Marine Le Pen. Sometimes I wonder whether France has quite got over the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV 1685. Or whether England has quite got over the execution of Charles I in 1649. But once you start that game you never stop!

    1. Hello Stphen

      Yes, I think you are right, sadly.

      First of all, in purely numeric terms, the number of Protestants has never recovered and is stuck at around 2% (there are more Muslims than Protestants in France now). Most new Protestants are immigrants – there are few conversions in France and few Protestants left who are descendants of old Huguenot families either.

      Secondly, if you read even centre-right newspalers, you will sometimes come across anti-Protestant conspiracy theories, saying the HSP control banking and finance, which is why I compared it to the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories thst were circulating in the Germanic lands even before the Nazis came to power. They use exactly the same langusge; just the target is different.

      Thirdly, as late as the 1920s, Protestants were mocked when they went to church and sometimes had things pelted at them. Some Protestant churches were located down discreet side streets for these reasons. I don’t know about the situation today but, when I was in Lyon, I saw the Protestant Church’s door was covered in graffiti and they had a kind of security grate up. No other doors in the street were like this and the Catholic Churches were unmolested.

      Fourthly, as for Le Pen herself, yes she has openly praised Richelieu a few years ago for his handling of the Huguenots, which caused a lot of fear and concern in Protestant circles. She also apparently rejects the separation of church and state and has said something along the lines of “France is a Catholic country!”, which is an inflammatory statement in the context of their secular republic and also begs the question, are non-Catholics then to be considered non-French in some way?

      That’s why I am hoping to draw some attention to tjis politjcal talk of a coup since it might put our Protestant brethren in peril if things did spiral out of control there.

      One last thing to note: unlike in Amglo and Germanic lands where most Protestants are centre-right conservatives in their politics, French Protestants tend to be centre-left democratic socialists because the Right was always associated with the Monarchy and Catholicism.

      Protestants generally supported the French Revolution because it broke the power of the monarchy and the Roman Catholic Church over them but they were generally modeate Girondists, not extremist Jacobins and most did not support the regicide (there are exceptions who did). Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette had actually been mire tolerant of Ptotestants than most of their predecessors, putting people like Necker – who might have saved the country had they continued to support him- in positions of power but by then, it was too little, too late and Protestants yearned for the liberty from tyranny the Revolution finally gave them.

      Cheers and God bless.

      1. “I don’t know about the situation today but, when I was in Lyon, I saw the Protestant Church’s door was covered in graffiti and they had a kind of security grate up. No other doors in the street were like this and the Catholic Churches were unmolested.”

        Lyon is not France. So I hope that you are not implying that the situation in Lyon is typical of the situation in France.
        https://www.newsweek.com/spate-attacks-catholic-churches-france-sees-altars-desecrated-christ-statue-1370800

        Furthermore, do you know ony Protestant ministers being murderd while they conducted services?
        “An 84-year-old priest was killed and four other people taken hostage by two armed men who stormed his church in a suburb of Rouen in northern France.
        The two attackers, who said they were from the so-called Islamic State (IS), slit Fr Jacques Hamel’s throat during a morning Mass, officials say.” (BBC)

      2. What, the Catholics murdering thousands of Protestants in the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (with the Pope striking a commemorative medal to celebrate) and the execution of pastors found in France after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes isn’t enough for you?

    2. I just need to clarify something: when I said the anti-Protestant conspiracy theories still appear in centre-right newspapers sometimes, I meant in letters to the editor. I haven’t seen any columnists spreading them.

      “Or whether England has quite got over the execution of Charles I in 1649. ”

      I have formed the opinion that Laud was the worst villain in English history and the country is still feeling the ill-effects of his ecclesial policies!

      On a related note, since reading this blog, I’ve become interested in learning a bit about Scottish history and I’ve just come across “the Engagers”, a faction of Presbyterian Covenanters who, if mybeginner’s understanding of things is correct, were opposed to Cromwell’s extremism and tried to engage Charles I in a deal to promote Presbyterianism in England. They thought the regicide was a sin and actually fought against Cromwell and with the Royalists in the second phae.e of the Civil War. Their moderate stance (by Civil War standards) reminds me of the attitude of most French Protestants in the Revolution in the sense of seeking religious freedom but opposing the execution of the king.

      Anyway, please pray for France at this time of a threatened coup and especially for our Protestant brethren over there, since they receive so little attention in the Anglo media and are sometimes a little forgotten as a result, even though they were the original Calvinists.

  10. “the UK was born on the basis not just of a united politics and economics, but also a united religion – Protestantism – what we might now call evangelicalism.”

    According to Wikipedia:
    The Corporation Act of James I provided that all such as were naturalized or restored in blood should receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. It was not, however, until the reign of Charles II that actually receiving communion in the Church of England was made a precondition for holding public office. The earliest imposition of this test was by the Corporation Act 1661 requiring that, besides taking the Oath of Supremacy, all members of corporations were, within one year after election, to receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper according to the rites of the Church of England.
    In Scotland a religious test was imposed immediately after the Reformation, and by a 1567 law no one was to be appointed to a public office or to be a notary who did not profess Calvinism. The Scottish Test Act was passed in 1681 and rescinded in 1690. Later attempts to exclude Scotland from the English Test Acts were rejected by the Parliament of Scotland. In 1707, anyone bearing office in any university, college or school in Scotland were to profess and subscribe to the Confession of Faith. All persons were to be free of any oath or test contrary to or inconsistent with the Protestant religion and Presbyterian Church government.

    So, the ‘united religion’ wasn’t, perhaps, so united after all. To a degree there is no such thing as ‘Protestantism’ as there are many forms of Protestantism. It could, perhaps, be said that Protestants were united on sola scriptura and sola fide but if you were a non-conformist in England or a non-Calvinist in Scotland you had a pretty tough time of things for many decades. The people who sailed on the Mayflower were not escaping a harsh Catholic regime. The government they were escaping from was Protestant.

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