Analysis: The truth is, Scotland is no longer the Protestant country it once was

By John Curtice, Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University in Glasgow

ScoziaIT IS a long-standing concern. An independent Scotland would be a Presbyterian Scotland, in which Catholics would find themselves in a position not dissimilar to that of their fellow adherents in Northern Ireland – a minority that was the widespread object of discrimination.

Indeed, it is a concern that did once appear to inhibit Catholics from backing the SNP. In October 1974, at the height of the SNP’s first wave of popularity – but also when the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland were at their height – only 12 per cent of Catholics backed the party. In contrast, no fewer than 30 per cent of Protestants did so.

But, just as Northern Ireland has moved on from those dark days, so also have the attitudes of Catholics in Scotland, both to independence and the SNP. According to the most recent Scottish Social Attitudes survey, 24 per cent of Catholics now back independence, almost identical to the 23 per cent level found amongst the Scottish population in general. Equally, Catholics were no less willing than Protestants to back the SNP on the occasion of their historic successes in 2007 and last May. In 2007, Scottish Social Attitudes found that 30 per cent of Catholics and 31 per cent of Protestants backed the SNP. The Scottish Election Survey reported that in May, 43 per cent of Catholics and 44 per cent of those belonging to the Church of Scotland voted SNP.

True, Catholics are still more willing than most Scots to vote Labour, but that is accompanied by a marked reluctance to back the Conservatives rather than the SNP.

Meanwhile, Scotland is, in truth, no longer the Protestant country it once was. Only around one in eight Scots regularly attend any kind of religious service at all.

Perhaps what some Catholics are concerned about now is what life might be like in an independent, secular Scotland which, for example, might well adopt a very different attitude towards such issues as gay marriage that still concern many of the faithful. Trouble is, England is no less secular than Scotland, and Westminster is unlikely to prove a more accommodating port of call.