Sturgeon asked to protect freedom of conscience on abortion matters

Scotland’s bishops with Bishop Gilbert (right front row), Claire and Andrew Muir, St Patrick’s Church, Canon Gerry Conroy, Nicola Sturgeon, Martin Docherty Hughes MP and and Brendan O’Hara MP.

By Bill Heaney

The President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Scotland has written to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to express his concerns at the support for abortion currently being expressed by SNP politicians.

Bishop Hugh Gilbert, who was a monk becoming Bishop of Aberdeen, has told Ms Sturgeon he deplores the attacks launched against the SNP MP, Dr Lisa Cameron, following her vote in the House of Commons against an amendment to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill that would have lifted the legal protections presently afforded to unborn children in Northern Ireland.

In his letter, on behalf of the Catholic Church in Scotland, Bishop Gilbert calls on the SNP leader, on behalf of all those “who cherish freedom of conscience within the public square” to provide an urgent reassurance that freedom of conscience will be protected within the SNP and valued in Scottish public life, at every level.

The full text of the letter, which deals with abortion, which is a “hot potato best avoided” subject for the majority of politicians, particularly Catholic politicians, is shown below.

Letter to the First Minister

Dear First Minister,

I write following recent public comments made by Dr Lisa Cameron, SNP Member of Parliament for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow. 

On Tuesday, July 9, Dr Cameron voted against an amendment to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill that would have lifted the legal protections presently afforded to the unborn child in Northern Ireland.

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. Indeed, this was confirmed in writing to Dr Cameron prior to the 9 July vote by the SNP Chief Whip, Patrick Grady MP.  

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. 

She adds that according to local officials it may “now be incompatible to hold pro-life views and be a SNP MP, candidate, to pass vetting or be elected in any capacity”. She further notes that, despite prompting, she has presently received no public re-assurance from the leadership of the SNP that this is not, in fact, the case. I therefore am writing to you as Leader of the Scottish National Party to seek such a public re-assurance.  

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.   

“Moral courage is readiness to expose oneself to suffering or inconvenience which does not affect the body,” wrote the co-founder of the Scottish National Party, Sir Compton Mackenzie, in 1962, “It arises from firmness of moral principle and is independent of the physical constitution.”  

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter First Minister. 

I await your reply with anticipation. In the meantime, please be assured of my continued prayers and good wishes. 

I am,

Yours sincerely, 

Bishop Hugh Gilbert, 


Bishops’ Conference of Scotland 

Meanwhile, anti-abortionist Andrew Muir, has commented this subject, which was raised in an address by him at West Dunbartonshire Council last August.

He said: “The Bishop’s letter states that according to local officials it may “now be incompatible to hold pro-life views and be a SNP MP, candidate, to pass vetting or be elected in any capacity”.

Mr Muir added: “This is what happened to me. I was in the SNP for four years, but was not allowed to be a candidate and I am now banned from the party indefinitely – presumably for Christian views.

“In last week’s [Church] Bulletin it stated that our MP Martin Docherty [Hughes] voted for abortion.  However, I believe that two of our parishioners supported his nomination and delivered leaflets on his behalf.

“Last August, I submitted the attached open forum question about abortion to West Dunbartonshire Council.

“A council member gave me a neutral reply saying it was not for them to decide. I then asked what the other councillors had to say.

“Jim Bollan said that he defends the woman’s right to choose. Then two SNP members stood up, clapped and cheered. Not one member spoke against abortion. There was an effective 22-0 vote for abortion.”

Mr Muir said that he and his wife, Claire, have stood in elections against SNP politicians they believe support abortion. We did this based on our Christian values.

He added: We asked Fr [Gerry] Conroy to promote us in the church Bulletin.

“We believe he was lobbied by the SNP not to do this and that he agreed.

“He said that he could not do this, as the Church does not get involved in politics.

“Recently though, Fr Conroy asked parishioners in the Bulletin to write to Martin Docherty [Hughes] to ask for relief cover for priests’ holidays, and the MP’s reply appeared on the church notice-board.”

This followed the Home Office decision not to allow priests to come into the UK from abroad to cover for priests here going on holiday from their parishes.

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