Scotland’s Catholic population could potentially swing which way the country votes in next week’s independence vote, a senior academic has said.
Writing for the Times, Professor Sir Tom Devine, who is Sir William Fraser Professor Emeritus of Scottish History and Palaeography at Edinburgh University, says that members of the “anti-establishment church” are feeling increasingly happy with being Scottish after centuries of persecution.
Catholics make up almost a quarter of Scotland’s population, with many descended from Irish immigrants. Although they formerly faced discrimination from the mainly Presbyterian population of Scotland, with the rise of secularism, old grievances have been forgotten.
Sir Tom writes that Catholics were originally strongly opposed to Scotland having its own parliament as this would hand more power the country’s protestants, however this has now changed dramatically.
Now, 30 percent of Catholics support independence, compared to 26 percent of those with no religion and just 17 percent of members of the Church of Scotland. This can partially be explained by the fact that Church of Scotland attendance has collapsed in recent decades, with fewer young people attending, meaning that most remaining members are older and middle class – the main groups who oppose independence.
The Catholic Church, on the other hand, has been more adept at keeping worshippers, especially in the younger demographic.
Sir Tom also says that Catholics are now far more comfortable describing themselves as “Scottish” rather than “British”, and remain deeply anti-establishment, with that now feeling now reserved for the “Westminster elite”.
All of this makes them especially crucial as they tend to be concentrated in key areas of the country, especially Glasgow, where support for the unionist Labour Party is especially strong. In fact, the SNP has in recent years been trying to win over Catholic voters after initially being perceived as a hardcore protestant party.
With polls still being incredibly close, and the referendum currently on a knife edge, Scotland’s Catholic population could well decide the country’s destiny. The group who were once staunchly unionist could now swing Scotland to independence.