Solve Scotland’s deep social ills, don’t target Catholicism | Kevin McKenna

Kevin McKenna
In Scotland, you can’t just be a whisky drinker. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

For several years, the Benedictine monks of Buckfast Abbey in Devon have rendered a free service to the elite who run Scotland. The monks, who have lived and worked in one of England’s most green and pleasant corners for around 1,000 years, manufacture Buckfast tonic wine, a sweet draught with a belligerent finish that leaves the palate thinking it has just done 15 rounds with Mike Tyson.

Buckfast is not a delicate swalette by any means, but it is not without its charms for a person on a limited budget preparing to go out on a cold, wet night in west central Scotland, which could be any night of the year.

Scotland’s civic Sanhedrin purports to hate Buckfast but, in reality, it secretly loves it. Owing to its high caffeine content, which acts like an accelerant, it cuts to the chase in the business of pursuing a state of inebriation. For this reason, it has been unkindly called “the Coatbridge Commotion Lotion”, “Wreck the Hoose Juice” and “the Berserker Elixir”.

In the genteel, gated communities where the armies of Scotland’s affluent public sector executives dwell, Scotch whisky enjoys a divine status. It is their ambrosia because it is one of Scotland’s most successful exports and confers supernatural gifts. In Scotland, you can’t just be a whisky drinker; you are a connoisseur and a village elder whose views are eagerly sought by neophytes.

Of course, little has been made by these sentinels of the domestic terror endured by wives and children over many centuries owing to a husband’s weakness for the Caledonian fire-water. It is, after all, manufactured here and crucial to our economy; unlike Buckfast, which is made in England by an ancient order of monks. Worryingly, these monks are Catholic.

In lieu of making policies that have alleviated poverty in our most disadvantaged neighbourhoods, Scotland’s governing, liberal elite is fond of blaming the consumption of Buckfast for the social ailments that disfigure these communities. Everything from violent crime to health inequality has been laid at the door of Buckfast. It’s easier that way; certainly easier than facing up to the absence of anything resembling a long-term policy in alleviating urban poverty.

At the start of Holy Week, the National Secular Society became the latest organisation to purport to be concerned with the welfare of Scotland’s poor. This society, which is sworn to destroy any vestige of the Christian religion in modern, diverse Scotland, has demanded that the Buckfast monks be stripped of their charitable status. They cited a Scottish Prison Service report in 2015, which found that more than 40% of inmates had consumed Buckfast before their last offence, in spite of it accounting for less than 1% of total alcohol sales nationally.

This report, though, was worthless. It suggests that if the inmates had been drinking some other alcoholic beverage they wouldn’t have ended up in prison. Yes, that’s right; if the chaps had had recourse instead to cheap vodka or super-lager they would have acted in an altogether more responsible or law-abiding manner. Scotland’s historic and exemplary relationship with alcohol proves that, doesn’t it?

At the risk of being dismissed as a shallow cynic, may I venture to suggest that the Catholicism of the Buckfast monks and not their wine-making activities is what is distressing the secularists. Last month, it was revealed that Tommy Sheppard, one of the SNP’s most prominent Westminster MPs, had inadvertently lifted the lid on a sinister, well-funded and sub-democratic campaign to kill off Catholic schools in Scotland. At a Nationalist fringe event, promoting the Humanist Society Scotland’s Enlighten Up campaign, which aims to end mandatory religious representation on local authority education committees, Sheppard said the way to make education secular was to introduce it “bit by bit”.

Some of the things in the Enlighten Up campaign are, I believe, exactly the way to do that. Chip away at the power organised religion has within our school system. This clown, who runs a string of comedy clubs, didn’t explain what he meant by “bit by bit”.

Last week, it was revealed that the Humanist Society Scotland had been paid for a report that aimed to show that “faith” schools (more than 90% of faith schools in Scotland are Catholic) are no better than non-denominational ones. No one ever claimed they were, although there is plenty of evidence that they perform well above average in disadvantaged communities.

Scotland’s social iniquities are deep rooted and well known. Inequality exists throughout this country and privilege is embedded in our government, civil service and judiciary. In Glasgow, the biggest and most important city, there has been no improvement in statistics of health and educational inequality after a decade of SNP government. The Humanist Society Scotland, numbering a significant number of MSPs among its supporters, would prefer to target the Catholic church.

If Tommy Sheppard and his campaign against the influence of Catholicism succeeds, Holy Week and Easter Sunday will have an intriguing look in the “enlightened” Scotland of the future. Palm Sunday will be banned because plants might have been damaged. Marauding bands of hooded secularists will swoop on chapels during Holy Week as the Stations of the Cross are venerated. “The scenes of torture and mutilation are inappropriate for children,” a spokesperson for Sheppard might declare.

The burning of so many large paschal candles at this time of year is a clear health-and-safety issue. And, as there is no incontrovertible proof that God is male, a special humanist gender squad will want to ask questions. God might be a woman and, if so, perhaps might even have embarked on a transgender journey around the time of the Protestant Reformation.

In modern, enlightened and diverse Scotland we are all equal… as long as we sing from the state-approved hymn sheet and worship a state-approved tree deity. A happy and Holy Easter to you all and could someone please pass me the Buckfast?

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