My experiences with the Scottish Parliament

On Tuesday 6th May 2014, I became the fourth humanist to lead a ‘Time for Reflection’ in The Scottish Parliament.

This article was originally written for Humanist Society Scotland.

I’m very proud of this, and it was a great honour to be invited. The reason I came to be invited was a result of a conversation I had with the Deputy Presiding Officer, Elaine Smith MSP whom I had met at an ‘interfaith’ event held by the Xaverian Missionaries in Coatbridge (Elaine’s constituency). I had been elucidating my concerns at the lack of non-religious contributions (only 9.1% of TfR contributions have been from non-religious organisations) and also the over-representation of men (73% of TfR contributions have been led by males). Much to my surprise, The Deputy Presiding Officer agreed with me, and admitted that they simply don’t get many applications from non-religious women.

The decision to have a multi-belief approach in Parliament was one of the first decisions it ever made, although objections were raised, the consensus was clear, and this was encapsulated by Alex Salmond MSP (later to become First Minister of Scotland), when he said during the formal debate; “We must not just tolerate: we should be proud of an inclusive approach that is different from that which many institutions have had in the past.”

My words were carefully chosen, and there was a lot of tense negotiation with the Parliamentary authorities – although I must say they never at any stage sought to change the content of my message, they were very anxious to avoid my words being too critical.

Despite my appreciation for being asked, and my graciousness for those who came to support me, particularly longstanding HSS member Prof Tehrani who endured a 3-hour round trip(!), I remain frustrated by the lack of secular voices in TfR.

I wonder whether this is due to a lack of humanists trying, or perhaps as in-built religious bias. I’m going to continue to encourage the Parliament to publish details of all those who have applied or been recommended, we need much more transparency in this area.

I was very humbled by the kind feedback I received from folks, even some with whom I disagree on many matters. Although, surprised when I received a message praising my performance; and explaining that I might be fit for a life in Ministry! It seems for some, ethics and religion are still inseparable.

I realised the importance of showing the value of non-religious ethical reflection. As humanists we support the legal/political principle of a secular Scotland, however there will always be a need for us to speak out on ethical issues.

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