LEICESTER, United Kingdom – A Catholic bishop in Scotland is urging the country’s political leadership to affirm freedom of conscience, “and hold in high regard those in public life who remain true to their conscience, even at the expense of personal popularity or political advantage.”
Bishop Hugh Gilbert, the president of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, made his comments in a letter to Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
Although a part of the United Kingdom, Scotland has its own parliament, and authority over much of its own policy.
The ruling Scottish National Party, which advocates independence from the UK, is also the third largest party in the UK Parliament in London.
On June 9, one of the party’s members of the UK parliament, Lisa Cameron, voted against an amendment to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill that would have lifted the pro-life legal protections for the unborn child in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland is the only jurisdiction in either Britain or Ireland where abortion is illegal.
No member of parliament from Northern Ireland voted for the amendment, but it still passed by a large margin in the House of Commons.
Cameron has faced hostility from fellow SNP members for her vote, and even been threatened with “de-selection” from the party in the next election, meaning she wouldn’t be able to run as an SNP candidate in the next election.
“It was a free vote, a conscience vote. I didn’t rebel or vote against the party whip. And yet now it’s virtually certain that abusive party activists will make sure I’m deselected and lose the job I love,” she said.
Gilbert has now called on Sturgeon publicly to re-assure Cameron that she will face no retribution for her vote.
“It is a long-standing parliamentary convention that votes on such ethical issues are considered matters of conscience and, thus, are not subject to the party whip,” the bishop wrote, noting that this position had been reaffirmed to Cameron prior to her vote.
“In the days following the vote, however, Dr Cameron has been subject to a significant degree of hostility from many quarters, including ordinary members and officer bearers of the Scottish National Party, some of which she describes as being ‘nothing less than vitriolic’ in nature,” the letter continued.
The bishop said Cameron was told by local officials that holding pro-life views might be “incompatible” with being a candidate for the SNP, the largest party in Scotland.
“I believe I write on behalf of all who cherish freedom of conscience within the public square and hold in high regard those in public life who remain true to their conscience, even at the expense of personal popularity or political advantage,” Gilbert wrote.
The bishops of Northern Ireland have called on the UK prime minister to stop the law, saying it violates the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement that ended “The Troubles” and promised a great deal of devolved power for the province.
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