Analysis: Just when it seemed row over same-sex marriage would split SNP, archbishop comes to the rescue
Nicola Sturgeon should send Archbishop-elect Tartaglia a thank-you card. The revelations in yesterday’s Scotsman about his comments over the tragic death of Labour MP David Cairns turned the story over her plan to legalise same-sex marriage on its head.
With two-thirds of consultation responses having come down against same-sex marriage, Ms Sturgeon would have known she was on a sticky wicket arguing for reform. With significant figures close to the SNP leadership also urging restraint, she was also inviting division and dissent on her head.
Then along came the archbishop’s extraordinary intervention to shoot the feet of the anti-gay marriage side to smithereens.
Short-term, the archbishop’s comments are likely to alienate many of those weighing up this controversy. That includes those Catholics who do not like their leaders’ belligerent tone and may feel sickened by the casual smearing of an admired MP.
But despite all that, and once the dust has settled, ministers will know they still have a major battle on their hands.
SNP supporters sceptical of the law change are asking why, just when Alex Salmond needs to bring the country together to back independence, he has sanctioned a culture war, which will pit Scots against one another.
They also fear that it will eat into their existing support base and make them plenty of enemies – not just among the Catholic hierarchy, but from other groups, such as Muslims and Evangelicals.
Meanwhile, while there was no comment yesterday from major SNP donor Sir Brian Soutar, there can be little doubt this will not have gone down well with the man who has helped Salmond to win two elections.
Given all that, for Ms Sturgeon to have won backing from Mr Salmond to push the reform through must rank as a significant personal victory.
Meanwhile, SNP aides were also talking up the decision last night as proof the Scottish Government was not in hock to vested interests opposed to the change – and evidence it was capable of leadership by shunning a weak compromise, or the comfort of the long grass.
All true, but Ms Sturgeon and the rest of the SNP must now hope this major social reform does not alienate too many voters weighing up the Big One in two years’ time. Archbishop Tartaglia’s help may be required again.
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
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