Dear Brothers and Sisters,
This is a long letter. A personal one. One I have been wanting to tell for 40 years. …But one I believe that helps shed light on what is happening in Scotland today….so stick with me…and read on….
I feel like I have gone back to the future. I have been ill, and all hell has broken loose back in Scotland. 12 years ago, the same thing happened. Gordon Wilson and I had written a response to the Scottish Government’s same sex marriage proposals (when Kate Forbes was only 20 and Humza Yousaf was obtaining an opt out because of pressure from his religion) calling for a referendum (which they refused – fearful they could lose). Fast forward to today and what was ‘permissive’ and ‘let’s tolerate one another’ has now become, as we predicted, compulsory. Any other view is not to be tolerated. It’s not that SSM itself is compulsory – but if you want any place in Scottish life (politics, media, academia) then to have any other point of view than complete affirmation is suicide. There is a reason for all this….and we have not yet reached the bottom of the slippery slope.
In 2011 I felt that there were darker spiritual forces at work and as a result I ended up on my death bed in Ninewells.The Shelter of the Most High – New Year, Old Hope – a Personal Testimony But this week’s events around the witch-hunt of Kate Forbes – has taken me back even further. This time lets go back 40 years. I want to share this story with you – partly because of its similarities to today – and partly because in order to understand the present, we need to know where we have come from and how we got here. (Most of what is written here is from memory – which means all the details may not be exactly correct – but they are as I remember – and I have them in my diaries back home!).
1982 – Student President Election in Edinburgh
In 1982 I was a student at the University of Edinburgh. I had initially started doing a joint degree in history and politics – but was in effect thrown out of politics (although I won the politics prize!) for daring to question my middle-class Edinburgh Marxist lecturer who thought he knew more than my father about farming. My father was a farm worker, this lecturer had never done a day’s farm labour in his life. He didn’t like being questioned. He claimed he had been ‘proletarianised’ and therefore knew more about the working class than the working class – though he had never done a days work in his life! He was part of a group, a class, who saw themselves as the enlightened – and everyone else (especially the working class) as backward and ignorant – if not downright evil. In the language of today everyone who did not agree with them was ‘alt right’!
I was heavily involved in student politics. I was the publicity officer for the Labour party, an elected member of the SRC, on the SRC Welfare and External Affairs Committees, a member of the University Settlement, and on the University Welfare Committee. And I became the Community Affairs Officer, helping to run Community Link, which sought to create links between the privileged students of Edinburgh University and the poorer sections of the city. I worked hard at politics – to the detriment of my studies and, some in the Christian Union thought, – to the detriment of my faith. I was regularly criticised from all sides. I was thrown out of the Labour party (together with Allan Little who went on to become an excellent BBC correspondent) by an engineered late-night coup over the issue of abortion. I went on to become a founder member of the Social Democratic Party – (I well remember the night when I got a message telling me to head down to the Pleasance for a big announcement (the time when the big four, Shirley Williams, David Owen, Roy Jenkins and Bill Rodgers left the Labour party). I should also point out that I became disillusioned with UK politics and became a supporter of Scottish Independence and the SNP!
After three years hard work my political trajectory was clear. It was the same as Charles Kennedy across in Glasgow Uni – who after becoming senior president went on to win the Ross, Cromarty and Skye seat. I was told that if I become the senior president of Edinburgh Uni Students Association (a one-year full time post), I would be given a winnable seat to fight in the next general election). I entered the election as favourite. My two main opponents were a Tory (a nice guy who didn’t have a chance) and an ultra-left socialist – who also went on to become a BBC correspondent. She was the classical modern ‘luxury communist’ – Daddy was a merchant banker who apparently owned a castle – and here she was fighting the good fight for the poor.
And then it all went wrong. I was told that the University Senate were horrified at the thought of me being elected and that they really wanted the ‘revolutionary socialist’. Why? Because they knew that she would talk about world revolution and fighting the capitalist running dogs (as well as all the then progressive causes), and do nothing. But they were frightened that I really meant it and would be far more revolutionary than they wanted. In my manifesto I set out my policies as follows:
- To increase links between university and the outside world.
- To represent students on student issues – dealing with the university cuts and opening up the University by a) allowing the unemployed to use some of our facilities. And b) supporting the University ‘City Days’ on the 400th anniversary of the University.
- Encourage awareness of third world problems.
I expected a rough fight – but I did not expect it be quite so brutal. I won’t bore you will all the details but here are three incidents which shed light on what is happening today to Kate Forbes. Much as with Kate my opponents and the Establishment ignored all the main issues and instead focused on ‘identity’ issues, smears and abuse. There was a somewhat crude but effective rhyme which went the rounds, comparing my apparent wits with the good looks of my opponent…it was a bit sexist but it was certainly true that she beat me in the image department!
The Progressive Shibboleth – Sex
At a student General Meeting – a proposal came up that two more LGB (the T+ had not yet been invented) representatives should be added to the welfare committee. I was on the committee at that time and knew that over 50% were LGB. This was not about representation – this was about moralistic, tokenistic virtue signalling (much of this was orchestrated from the Anglican chaplaincy which saw itself as a champion of ‘gay rights’). I sat on the platform knowing that to speak out about this would be detrimental to any political ambitions I had. I waited for one of the Christians or others who were there to just simply propose a direct negative which I could have voted for. But no one spoke. People who were so quick to criticise me for not being Christian enough (another similarity I feel with Kate!), kept silent. And I couldn’t keep quiet. Because to let it go would be seen as unanimous approval. So, I stood up to speak.
I made my case (about over representation, denying homophobia and saying that it was perfectly legitimate to hold to a different viewpoint on marriage and sexuality) and was booed, threatened and emotionally blackmailed. When it came to a vote, I think about a third voted with me! But it is what happened afterwards that I have never forgotten. The editor of the Student newspaper came up to me and congratulated me on a brilliant speech which he said probably articulated the views of about 80% of students in the University. But he told me he was going to trash me in the next edition, because it was ‘more than my job’s worth’ not to do so. He did.
Media Bias and Hypocrisy
When it came to the actual election, I was still the favourite to win until the night before, when a friend at the Student newspaper leaked me their guide. It was devastating. In Edinburgh Uni at that time of the 12,500 students only 5,000 voted in student elections, and as only a maximum of 1,000 ever had anything to do with student politics, the remainder were reliant on the Student guide – which was posted on the walls at every polling station. The then editor had done a real hatchet job on me – which did not allow me any kind of response. He described me as the best speaker of all the candidates, well qualified etc but then said that I was an extremist. I was an extreme Communist economically, and an extreme Fascist morally. Combined with the references to my Christianity I knew I was finished. I was gutted. Years of hard work gone down the drain – purely because of Establishment power and ignorant prejudice.
That evening I went to the pre-election hustings. The editor of the newspaper stood up and mockingly asked: “When did God ask David Robertson to stand?”. I answered his question by pointing out that I had never once mentioned my Christianity when I was engaged with student politics and that I was asking people to vote on my policies and experience not my Christian views. (I recall some in the CU questioning my witness for not doing so but they just did not understand and like so many keyboard warriors today it is always easy to pontificate from the side-lines. I advised a fellow Christian who had decided he would get involved, standing for a senior post without any previous experience, that it was unwise to put on his publicity that people should vote for him because he was a Christian and therefore honest and trustworthy! He didn’t listen to my advice and deservedly got a derisory vote!).
I had accused the editor of bias, anti-Christian prejudice and ignorance. I got a lot of applause for that – but the audience I needed to reach was not in that room of politicos. As a result I came second the following day. At the post-election ‘party’ I remember David Meredith being there to empathise (he was later to suggest that I go into the Free Church ministry!) and most of all a number of drunken communists coming up to me and saying that it was really unjust and unfair how I had been treated! Their sympathy was nice, but they were a bit like Job’s comforters!
The Hounding of Charles Kennedy
As a Christian I believe that all things are in God’s hands – that is easy to say, but sometimes hard to see. I asked the Lord why I had ‘wasted’ those years? I did not get an immediate answer. But I knew that my understanding was infinitesimal, and his goodness infinite – so I got on with things. I now look back and believe that I dodged a bullet – the way that I saw society going meant that there was no possibility of me surviving in politics. It was unspeakably sad for me to see my fellow Liberal Democrat, the Roman Catholic, Charles Kennedy succeed at one level, becoming leader of the party, but dying a tragic death in 2015. Nor will I ever forget the hounding of Kennedy which, if it did not lead to his death, was certainly a contributing factor in making his life miserable. That hounding incidentally was led by Ian Blackford and his team. Ian Blackford and the Hounding of Charles Kennedy – He has never apologised for that. Blackford has just come out in favour of Humza Yousaf rather than his fellow Highland and Free Church politician – Kate Forbes. It remains a matter of complete perplexity and embarrassment to me that Blackford is still a member of the Free Church. He is a man who has done great harm to the Gospel and to the Lord’s cause in Scotland. And we still have him as a ‘member in good standing’!
The New Bourgeois State Morality
Back to 1982. I saw then where the trajectory was going. We were moving away from a pluralistic, secular democracy based on Christian principles, to an elitist, authoritarian, State where the State was all. I didn’t know what ‘woke’ was, but I did see that the new bourgeois middle class atheistic morality would sweep all before it – academia, politics, business and the media.
Over the years I remained in touch with many of the main players and saw the changes in Scottish and UK politics. Sadly, it was a posh Eton boy (notice a recurring theme here?!) who did the most damage. The Bullingdon Club boy, David Cameron, took upon himself to change the definition of marriage – something he considers the greatest achievement of his career. When I was involved in this debate – at one time debating his policy advisor on this – I wrote to the Prime Minister’s office and asked them what marriage was and who it was for. The answer I got was shocking. It’s for any two people who love one another! I expect that kind of answer from a school child indoctrinated into woke ideology – but from the leader of the Nation! Cameron of course was just trying to show how ‘nice’ Tories could be. He did not realise the untold harm he was doing.
And don’t think this was just an individual whim. One wannabe Tory MP contacted me a few years ago asking me to remove her name from my website. I didn’t even know it was on my website. Several years before that I visited her church and mentioned her name in a list of people in the Church who impressed me – at that time she was not a Tory candidate. I was astonished at why she wanted it removed. Because there were militant gay activist groups who used search engines to find out absolutely everything. Being linked to a church site – at least to someone as vocal as me – would mean a phone call to Tory Central HQ and she would be dropped. She was even thinking about stopping going to her church. This is where progressive politics leads us. The Conservatives banning people with conservative values! Today I find it ironic that fiery anti-Tories like Mhairi Black are just repeating the Tory PM’s mantra!
To me it was inevitable that those who pushed for SSM as part of tolerance, diversity and equality would soon move to being intolerant, uniform and unequal. When SSM was passed we were all assured that diversity of opinion was fine. Now we are seriously being told that if anyone does not affirm SSM, not just politically, but as their own personal viewpoint, they are not fit to be in public office. Scotland is in danger of becoming a progressive dictatorship – complete with its own thought police and its own Hate Crimes Law (drafted by Humza Yousaf) which China would be proud of!
The Media Takeover
The takeover of the media and the cowardice of all but a few honourable journalists, has also been spectacular. Let me just mention two of many examples. I think of the journalist from the Herald who after doing an interview with me said that she basically agreed with what I said, but she would have to write a critical piece because that is what her boss wanted. Or the BBC producer who told me that he would love to have me on his show because I represented the 50% of Scotland that the BBC, with all its diversity, inclusion and equality, did not permit to have a voice. He told me that the opposition would be significant. It must have been – I was never allowed on.
Of course all journalists are not like that. A few were prepared to challenge the narrative (as Ian MacWhirter, Kevin McKenna and Jim Spence) are today. Some were true believers in the progressive cause – but others just wanted to keep their jobs. Likewise with the politicians. I remember during a debate with Patrick Harvie on SSM I said that there were at least 30 MSP’s who were opposed but several of them would vote for because of the intimidation and threat to their careers. Patrick Harvie accused me of lying, but afterwards a Times journalist who was covering it came up to me and said that he (and Patrick) knew I was right and that between us we could name them all! Since that day I have known politicians who read this blog and have told me to keep going – because I can say things they are not permitted, or too scared to say – especially on transgender issues. Sometimes it has been a lonely furrow to plough – now I am glad that feminists like JK Rowling and Joanna Cherry are saying the same thing!
The Collaborationist Church
One thing I did not see at the time – it took me a few years – was just how much the Church would capitulate. The decline of the Church of Scotland in particular as it has moved away from the Gospel and just become the spiritual arm of the progressive State, has been disastrous for Scotland.
All Things for Good
One other thing – the Lord knows what he is doing in every detail, as he weaves his masterpiece for his own glory. 25 years later I was at the launch of my book The Dawkins Letters in the now sadly defunct, Borders bookstore in Dundee. It was a great night – lots of non-Christians there firing in hostile and not-so-hostile questions. I was greatly humbled and encouraged by the event but when I got home, I fell on my knees and prayed: “Lord, this was my Eric Liddel moment. When I was doing this, I could feel your pleasure! You trained me for this 25 years ago when I was doing all those live and hostile meetings in student politics. I just have one question – why wasn’t I doing this before?” The answer hit me. Because if I had done this as a young 24-year-old new minister, I would have come across as even more arrogant and opinionated than I do even now! Those 25 years were years of spiritual battle, pastoral care, death, tragedy, sharing people’s life’s, pains and sorrows; reading and studying; asking myself lots of questions; dealing with my own doubts and fears. None of that was to stop. And I am certainly not claiming I had or have arrived – but I do know this – not one of those years was wasted – including those I had once regarded as fruitless years in politics.
Plus ca Change, Plue C’est la Meme Chose!
So, as you can imagine all of this came back to me with some degree of force as I watched the hounds of Hell unleashed on Kate Forbes – a fine, young Christian woman. It was the same methodology – ignore the policies, attack the religion, use the media to smear, mock and intimidate. I suspect the result this time might be somewhat different – they are getting increasingly desperate. The latest laughable attempt was to portray her as being anti-women because of an anonymous article she wrote over 9 years ago about women’s ordination. Isn’t it a sign of just how intolerant of different viewpoints our society has become that even then she had to write anonymously lest her career be affected? Since she has now been outed (why would someone do such a thing?) I suggest you read the article for yourself. Here are a couple of great snippets.
“My femininity is not a cultural, social or religious construct. It is a God-given mandate. Psychologists, doctors and even politicians are under no illusions of the differences between the sexes. Difference is to be embraced and enjoyed. Yet too often women are under phenomenal pressure to become men.”
“God delights in diversity. Created uniquely ‘woman’ and intentionally ‘man’, does it not follow that godly men and godly women are both given equally significant, but uncompromisingly specific, mandates? I am not talking about women in the workplace or in society. As a woman who enjoys the same rights and responsibilities as men in each of these spheres, I challenge anybody who dares discriminate against me because of my sex. Here, I am writing only about Christian women in the Church.”
Those who critique Kate for these views clearly lack logic when they say that she, standing for the highest office in the land, somehow thinks women are inferior to men! Ironically there is more than a hint of misogyny in much of the criticism of her. They also contradict themselves when they suggest that whilst church and State should remain separate, they have the right to tell the Church who to ordain! And they show a degree of selective hypocrisy which ignores the fact that the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches do not have women priests. I also suspect that they will not be asking Humza about the female Imams in his mosque! (incidentally that article was written in response to Lorna Hood, moderator of the Church of Scotland – this week she got her revenge – attacking Kate for her biblical stance).
I sense there is something different in the air. A turning – even if just temporary. Maybe this young woman will unlock the dam and Scotland could once again turn to being a liberal democracy based on Christian principles?
The Lord may well have different plans. But I already know this. Kate has won. Why? Because Jesus has already won. And because she has not given into the pressure, she has not denied her Lord. The pressure on her is enormous. Friends, phone calls, e-mails, texts…. everything will be monitored. They will continue to trawl through every jot and tittle from her past. There is always a journalist who thinks that a stray word from the past is a ‘gotcha’ which will win them a Pulitzer Prize – or at least a wee bonus from their editor.
There have been numerous column inches written about the Free Church and the Gospel – and whilst there have been the usual negative prejudices…it is astonishing how many have been supportive. The question is now being asked – do Christians really have any place in Scottish (and UK) society. What has been implicit has now become explicit. Because Kate has not given into the bullying, intimidation and threats, our society is now going to have to answer that question…this is a watershed moment. Lord, have mercy….
Yours in Christ,
PS. I hope to start up a series of daily meditations – Pray for Scotland….starting tomorrow.
PPS This is a great example of the positive publicity coming out of this. (And another example of the Lord’s providence – if I had won the Presidency of the Student Union and followed that political career, I probably wouldn’t have met Annabel…and there would be no minister of Charleston Community church bringing the Gospel to the poor – so much more important than political office!
Scotland on Sunday
Rev Andy Robertson, 35, dressed in a baseball cap and a hoodie, is leading prayers at Charleston Community Church. The 35-year-old graduate in animation and computer arts is now a Free Church Minister and has returned from Edinburgh to live and work in the neighbourhood, which sits among the most-deprived 10 per cent in Scotland.
Addiction locked into the use of methadone, valium and crack cocaine is a big issue here, along with unemployment and mental health issues.
Charleston is one of the areas where the Free Church of Scotland has arrived in recent years. Five churches have opened in the past year alone – from the Highlands to the Borders – with a further 15 planned by 2030.
A woman praying in a church. Picture: Getty Images
Rev Robertson said: “A lot of people in Charleston are not going to go into the city centre to go into church and we shouldn’t expect that. People come in and see other folks that are like them. I think it encourages them, they think ‘maybe this has something to say to me’ and it is not just something that is middle class or removed.
“It doesn’t matter if we are in a cathedral or a post office. I’m just a daftie in a baseball cap. That would be my attire on a Sunday. I think if folk came in and saw me in a suit, they would think ‘this wasn’t a place for me’.”
Rev Robertson became immersed in Christianity towards the end of his degree when student life began to give way to “big questions” about his life and purpose.
He said: “I just started thinking of sort of big questions and wondering if maybe the world doesn’t exist just so I can have a good time.”
Kate Forbes, MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch and candidate for SNP leadership, has been embattled over questions on how her membership of the Free Church would impact her voting intentions and policy direction. Picture: PA
After taking a course in Christianity, he said his world changed beyond measure. “Earth-shattering” is how he describes it.“I understood what the bible calls grace, this undeserved favour from God and that there was this love, this transforming love. That was earth-shattering to me. I really want others to know this because it is so good,” he added.
The Free Church of Scotland, whose weekly followers add up to between 10,000 and 12,000 people, was set up following the 1843 Disruption of the Church of Scotland, when around 450 evangelical ministers walked out in protest at the state’s intrusion into church affairs. As Kate Forbes MSP became embattled over how her beliefs as a Free Church member could impact her voting intentions and policy decisions, a debate surrounding faith and government – and where one begins and the other ends – has sorely revived.
Rev Ciarán Kelleher, minister of the Grace Church in Montrose, which is part of the Free Church of Scotland, said the church was growing its congregations as people sought “certainty and truth”. PIC: Contributed.
Talk of the controversies has, however, been light in this part of Dundee, a city with the highest drug death rate in Scotland. One woman came into the church after trying to sell Rev Robertson her methadone script. Now, he says, while still struggling, she has developed a peace and hope and is “buzzing for Jesus” after being accepted without judgement.
He said: “Right now not many people have been speaking about Kate Forbes. I don’t know if that is because politics isn’t a huge talking point among the people here. They have struggles in their life, and that is more pressing. Or we might speak about their triumphs, if they have got a job or had a good week.”
In the Free Church, the Bible is king and the word of God. Parts of the Old Testament were written as far back as 1,200BC with the ancient texts believed, in their entirety, in 2023. As society evolves, often painfully, God’s word never changes to those who believe. It is both timely and timeless.
Rev Robertson said he could – “of course” – understand why people were upset after Ms Forbes said she would have voted against gay marriage because of her faith, with the Bible stating marriage should be between one man and one woman.
He said: “I never want anyone to be upset. I think that the bible’s sex ethic is different to our culture’s but there is so much that the Bible says about how we should live that all of us will struggle with. That is not to be used to condemn people.”Nevertheless, the Bible’s sexual ethic is pretty clear on what it says, that sex should be between one man and one woman within a marriage.”But our fundamental ethic in how we treat people is ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. That has to be the main way that we treat people as Christians but I wonder if we think that ‘love your neighbour’ means you have to agree with your neighbour.
“But I don’t think that is what love is. It’s about being willing to say ‘I have got this view, you have got this view’, we might disagree… but I still love you. I’d hope we could do that as a society.”
In the past year, the Free Church has “planted” churches in Tornagrain near Inverness , Helensburgh, Winchburgh and Galashiels with a renewed congregation meeting in the cinema in Montrose. A church is being formed for Edinburgh’s Spanish speaking community in Morningside with plans to go into new housing developments to the south of the capital, as well as Leith.Rev Ciarán Kelleher, minister in Montrose, said the aim was to put “feet on the ground”, particularly in areas affected by long term unemployment and drug use.
He added: “People are looking for truth, people are looking for purpose, people are looking for a stable hope and a new way of life. You had that word of the year last year: Permacrisis. I think a lot of people feel the world in flux, like it has gone out of control. People are looking for certainty. In the Post-Truth culture, people are looking for something that is real.”