Call to end bar on Catholic monarch

Long may she rain? The Queen shelters during a visit to Lancaster yesterday. Picture: AFP/Getty

Long may she rain? The Queen shelters during a visit to Lancaster yesterday. Picture: AFP/Getty

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CENTURIES-old legislation which prevents there being a Catholic monarch is continuing to foster division and should be scrapped, a major report into sectarianism in Scotland has concluded.

The Scottish Government-commissioned study said the 1701 Act of Settlement was evidence for some of the state “harbouring implicit and unacknowledged sectarianism”.

Changes to the succession laws in 2011 gave sons and daughters of future monarchs an equal claim to the throne and lifted the ban on the monarch marrying a Catholic.

But the reforms did not go as far as lifting the ban on Catholics ascending to the throne, which has existed since the end of the Stuart monarchy in the early 18th century.

A report produced for the government by an advisory group said: “The formal existence of the Act of Settlement continues to represent a symbol with significant consequences for belonging and attachment to the state.”

The report notes that scrapping the legislation would be “complex and controversial”, but said it was imperative to ­reject the idea that Catholics are excluded from full equality by the state.

It said: “Changing such a pivotal element of the British constitution will inevitably be a complex and controversial task, raising questions of the disestablishment of state religion and questions of the implications for different church approaches to such issues as divorce, remarriage and the religious obligations on parents.

“However, it is imperative that any implication that the state excludes Catholics or any other (non) belief community from full civic equality is repudiated in principle and practice.”

The recommendation was made in the report produced by an advisory group led by Dr Duncan Morrow, a lecturer at the University of Ulster.

The report also called for sanctions to compel football clubs to do more to tackle sectarianism, and for Churches to do more to promote better understanding of other faiths.

But the advisory group said it did not support the idea that sectarianism could be eradicated by closing denominational schools.

And it said there was “little evidence” of sectarianism at the heart of Scottish politics.

Dr Morrow said: “Our work over the last two years has explored how sectarianism continues to manifest itself in Scotland today and how it still has the power to impact negatively on people’s lives.

“But we have also seen a strong hunger for change across Scotland and a real desire to make sectarianism a thing of the past. I believe that this desire amounts to a real commitment from Scotland’s communities and a challenge for leaders and institutions to set out a clear and inclusive vision that rejects avoidance and blame.”

He added: “Above all, it is time to step up and take action to build a Scotland where difference stops being a cause for division and becomes a cause for celebration.”

The Scottish Government said the work of the advisory group would shape its agenda on tackling sectarianism.

Responding to the report, legal affairs minister Paul Wheelhouse said: “This publication marks a significant step forward in helping us to tackle the issue of sectarianism in Scotland once and for all and I would like to offer my thanks to the advisory group for their hard work in producing a very informative and useful report.”

There have been numerous attempts over the years to change the succession laws, which are a matter not just for the United Kingdom, but for the 15 other countries which have the Queen as their head of state.

Announcing the changes in 2011, Prime Minister David Cameron said it was important for future monarchs to remain in “communion with the Church of England” because he or she would be the head of that Church.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government has always supported the repeal of the Act of Settlement.”

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