Glasgow East by-election: Abortion and embryo controversies back in spotlight for final days of campaign

CATHOLIC churches are alerting parishioners to the views of the Glasgow East by-election candidates on abortion and embryo research days before they go to the polls.

The Scotsman has learned that information detailing the position of the four main candidates is being pinned to church noticeboards.

An anti-abortion campaign group, Right to Life, has sent letters to 11 churches in the constituency spelling out the beliefs of Labour's Margaret Curran, the SNP's John Mason, Ian Robertson of the Liberal Democrats and Tory, Davena Rankin.

It comes after the leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, described the controversial Embryology Bill as "monstrous".

This week the Bishop of Motherwell, Joseph Devine, in a letter to The Scotsman, said Labour had "introduced more anti-family and anti-life legislation than any government in living memory".

Parish priests said they would not be instructing their flocks how to vote but would emphasise their "moral obligation" to cast a vote.

Labour's Ms Curran believes that a high turnout will boost her chances of success. She told The Scotsman: "One thing I'm picking up is that all the details on human embryos is not a party political issue. People across the parties take different views. It's very much a moral conscience issue."

She refused to discuss whether she held religious beliefs. But she added: "I have got a good relationship with the churches in my constituency. I absolutely respect their morality and their ethics."

Father Allan Cameron, of St Jude's Church in Barlanark, has posted the Right to Life leaflet in his church. He said: "It will be an issue, but I don't know if I would say it was a key issue. It would be something that church-going Christians would take into account. I don't think the Catholic population is any different from anybody else from that point of view. There are people who are life-long Labour supporters, people who are life-long SNP supporters, and people who have a life-long antipathy to politics."

Monsignor John Woods, of St Joseph's in Tollcross, said: "I think I will say to them on Sunday that we have discussed this already at various meetings. All I ask is that you make use of the vote you are entitled to."

He felt he had seen little change in the constituency's problems over the past 11 years.

"Obviously crime, poverty, unemployment, alcohol and drug abuse – these are things that are the real scourge of the community.

"There is better housing but sadly we have got a bad record of voting in this constituency. I would hope in this election, since the spotlight is very much on them, that people will make use of their vote."

Father William Moran, of St Anne's in Parkhead, said: "I pray that people exercise their democratic right to vote and that it will be for the best for the local community and the success of the whole UK."

He said he would not be telling others how to vote, but said: "I'm pro-life. I'm abhorred by abortion. There's no question it's one of the most awful scars on our society. The denial of the right to life by another human being is the most awful decision. We have no right to say somebody else shouldn't live."

Phyllis Bowman, Right to Life's campaign director, said: "People resent being told how to vote. But whatever my decision, I would still want to know whether I was voting for a pro-abortion candidate or one who was against abortion on demand."

Where the candidates stand on difficult issues

MARGARET CURRAN (Lab)

Backs the current 24-week time limit on abortion and supports Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, on the embryology bill at Westminster, which updates the law on human-animal "hybrid" cells for research.

JOHN MASON (SNP)

Opposes abortion on demand and so-called "social abortion". Is "extremely uncomfortable" with embryo experimentation.

However the SNP allows its MPs a free vote and he would listen to all views before voting.

IAN ROBERTSON (Lib Dem)

Supports present abortion laws and backs the embryology bill.

DAVENA RANKIN (Con)

Supports the present law on abortion and would also back the embryology bill.