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20 April 2011

Scottish Parliamentary Elections 2011

On 5 May Scotland heads to the polls to vote for members of the Scottish Parliament. The polls suggest a close battle between the Scottish National Party and Scottish Labour, making the reality of another minority or coalition government more than likely, especially due to the second list vote on each ballot. At the same time, voters in Scotland will join the rest of the UK to vote in the Alternative Vote referendum.    

More than ever before resources are available to help Christians vote in this election. In preparation, churches right across Scotland are hosting pre-election hustings meetings with their prospective parliamentary candidates. Remarkably, more than 50 have been organised - a result of the hard and proactive work of Alliance member CARE and a new collaborative and ecumenical initiative called Churches Vote.  

Hustings provide a fantastic opportunity to raise issues of particular concern to Christians which candidates are unlikely to be questioned about in any other setting. They also represent a great example of church engagement and service within the local community.  

For the secular media, issues such as freezing council tax and job creation have grabbed the headlines, but for many Christian lobby groups it is equal marriage proposals that are causing the greatest steer. Marriage and civil partnership law is devolved to the Scottish Parliament, although some of the consequences (e.g. tax rates) are reserved. Similar to the rest of the UK, in Scotland marriage is legally between a man and a woman, with civil partnerships only available to same-sex couples and unable take place within a religious building.  

At the end of January the Equality and Human Rights Commission held a symposium to consult on the widening of marriage to same-sex couples and allowing civil partnership to take place in a religious ceremony. Their subsequent report urged any future Scottish government to bring forth legislation to allow marriage to same-sex couples. The Scottish Green Party and the Scottish Liberal Democrats support such a measure while the SNP and Labour are approaching this issue with greater caution, suggesting a general willingness to consult on the issue if elected as the next government. The Scottish Conservatives do not mention the issue in their manifesto.  

While it can be natural for individuals to decide how to vote on issues that directly affect them, as Christians we should see our vote as an opportunity for mission and service to our community. We must be thinking always of the least, the last and the lost, appreciating how our vote might affect the poorest within our communities. We would urge all our readers in Scotland to prayerfully consider how to use their vote on 5 May, utilising the many resources available to choose a candidate and party.