Alex Massie Alex Massie

Holy Gordon’s Prayer

There’s a telling line in this story from the Mail which (if true!) gets to the heart of Gordon Brown’s sense of himself. Apparently he was unhappy with the line of questioning being pursued by a recent TV interviewer, leading Brown to complain, off-camera, that “You are impugning my integrity.” Now if ever a complaint reeked of the Manse, this is it.

Not that the Prime Minister is alone in parading his own estimation of his integrity as though it deflected not only criticism but, more implausibly still, the very grounds upon which such criticism might be offered; the late John Smith could take such a view himself. Smith was fond of arguing that the Scots are “a more moral people” than the English and, deep down, I’d be (very) surprised if Gordon Brown didn’t secretly agree.

The Prime Minister enjoys reminding us that he’s a Son of the Manse whose “values” still owe much to the Kirk and whose much-vaunted “moral compass” was calibrated at an early age, largely through the example of his minister father and the Church of Scotland. Who, pray, could be against any of that?

Plenty of folk in Scotland, that’s who. Whatever the Kirk’s (very real) achievements and notwithstanding its importance as the defining, single most vital institution in Scottish life for hundreds of years, there’s something to the criticisms that the Kirk was also a limiting, stifling influence upon Scottish lives. That is, for all its public respectability and for all its good works and contributions to social cohesion, it could also be a sanctimonious, joyless church that encouraged its congregation to be suspicious of anything new or different. If there’s a Scottish Cringe, the Kirk must bear some responsibility for it.

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