Same-sex marriage could not be described as a central issue in the Holyrood election, having been legal in Scotland since 2014. However, some are keen to make it one. Earlier this week, the Daily Record published a bizarre story attacking Tory leader Douglas Ross for a seven-year-old comment about marriage.
In an ‘exclusive’ exposé the Record noted that: ‘Scots Tory leader Douglas Ross would have voted against same-sex marriage in 2014 if he had been an MSP’. Ross also made the apparently heinous statement: ‘We need to recognise both sides of the argument.’ Other papers later aped the ‘revelations’, and they were even raised in a Channel 4 leaders’ debate.
Ross has changed his mind on same-sex marriage, a fact alluded to a mere three lines into the Daily Record article. He is ‘now fully supportive of the policy’. The fact Ross’s views have changed did not strike the tabloid as somewhat undercutting of its tale. Rather, the paper handed Ross’s political opponents a platform from which to declaim views he no longer holds and which were entirely mainstream when he did hold them.
Labour MP Ian Murray told the Record that Ross was ‘out of touch with the people of Scotland’. Lib Dem equalities spokesperson Caron Lindsay pronounced that Ross had been on ‘the wrong side of the argument’, as though that would be some dread stigma were it true. If being on ‘the wrong side’ of any argument is a taint that stays with you forever, then it would be wise never to engage in argument lest you come to find yourself among the intellectually reprobate. One wonders if doing away with argument is the point.
The Record article is a perfect example of plain old media bias dressed up as journalism, an attempt by a left-of-centre title to discredit a right-of-centre and ostensibly socially conservative politician. But we have a tradition of partisan print journalism in the UK, so trashing news values isn’t the issue here, even if the definition of ‘news’ has been broadened somewhat to include information previously made public seven years ago.
No, this episode highlights something much more sinister about political discourse in Scotland today. There are hundreds of thousands of religious believers and others who hold a traditional view of marriage. In recognition of this, traditional marriage views are enshrined in law, including in the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act itself. Yet, the Record frames them as beyond the pale, grounds for a good shaming. Does the newspaper not recognise that many of its readers will take a traditional perspective on marriage? Holding these beliefs is not a crime, nor does it denote some sort of inherent hatred towards those in same-sex relationships. For religious believers, it is part of a wider worldview that speaks to every area of life. They cannot be expected to abandon their sincerely-held faith just because it has become unfashionable in political circles.
There is a disparaging attitude towards religious and socially conservative views that pervades the political sphere and the news media. Ian Murray had the audacity to claim that Douglas Ross is ‘out-of-touch’ with the Scottish people, as if every single man, woman and child in the land shares his view of marriage. Many Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs and others with no religion do not, including politicians from all the main parties who opposed the redefinition of marriage in 2014.
Like the Scottish Conservative leader, most fair-minded politicians recognise the legitimate views held by religious citizens and others on marriage. Only the most cynical in the bubble-dwelling media and political class could object to that. They treat Scots who fail to conform with the latest revision of what it is acceptable to believe and say as an irrelevance — or worse.
People who do this tend to think of themselves as liberals but their ethos and their modus operandi are as illiberal as can be. One day they may come to realise the damage they have done to public discourse and trust in our institutions.