THE controversial left-wing MP George Galloway has been attacked by pro-independence politicians and anti-sectarian campaigners for dragging religion into the debate over the 2014 referendum and claiming the SNP poses a danger to Catholics.
Speaking to the Sunday Herald, Galloway warned Scotland's Catholics to be "careful what they wish for" in the 2014 independence referendum, and claimed that as a Roman Catholic he would have concerns about living in a post- independence, SNP-led Scotland.
The Respect MP for Bradford West said "there's an historic crossover between Scottish nationalism and anti-Irish-Roman Catholicism" and warned Catholic schools would be threatened by independence.
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Galloway said: "My own experience of growing up as a Roman Catholic in Scotland has led me to fear independence in Scotland.
"The possibility of Scotland being a kind of Stormont [the Ulster parliament] is a real one. I wrote a book recently about Neil Lennon's year of living dangerously and in the course of it I had to revisit some of my own experiences.
"Of course, most Scottish people are not swivel-eyed, loyalist sectarians but there are a large number of them. A large six-figure number, and if I were living in Scotland as a Roman Catholic I would be worried about that.
"I really urge Scotland's Catholics to be careful what they wish for, because the SNP has, in its roots, a Tory, anti-Catholic mentality. William Wolfe, former leader – before Alex Salmond's time but still within my lifetime – called for the Pope to be banned from visiting the country."
SNP MSP Bob Doris said: "No-one denies that some individuals hold unacceptable views, but George Galloway is out of touch and clearly doesn't understand modern Scotland at all – a fact reflected in his comprehensive rejection by the people of Glasgow in the 2011 Holyrood election."
He continued: "It is the Westminster Parliament, of which Galloway has been a member for many years, which institutionally discriminates against Catholics in the Act of Settlement – discrimination which an independent Scotland can and will consign to the dustbin of history in a written constitution for the 21st century."
A Yes Scotland campaign spokesperson said: "These claims are mere scaremongering and have little validity in a present-day Scotland.
"The Yes campaign has support from across the spectrum – political beliefs and none, religious beliefs and none, and also include a wide range of national origins."
A No campaign spokesperson said of Galloway's comments: "We don't agree with that analysis at all."
The Catholic Church responded by stating that it would respect any referendum outcome. A spokesman said: "In past generations Scotland's Catholics were concerned that an independent Scottish Parliament may mirror Stormont. While such fears have diminished greatly, some recent legislation has caused great disquiet among Catholics, notably the Offensive Behaviour Bill and same-sex marriage proposals."
Galloway suggested the future of Catholic education in Scotland would be threatened by a Yes vote.
He said: "I recently floated, on Twitter, that Catholic schools would not survive more than a decade in an independent Scotland and I was deluged with people saying 'yes, quite right'.
"Now, you may be against Catholic schools, but Catholics currently have the right to send their kids to Catholic schools and that is a right which will undeniably be in danger in an independent Scotland."
Pressed to provide evidence for his claims, Galloway pointed to the number of Catholics in public office. He said: "Count the number of Catholics in leading positions in various professions. Count the number of Catholic firemen, for example."
But sources close to the SNP pointed out that Dennis Canavan, chairman of the Yes Scotland campaign, is a former head teacher in Catholic schools, while both the Lord Advocate, Frank Mulholland, and Scotland's most senior judge, Lord Gill, are also Catholics.
Anti-sectarian campaign group Nil By Mouth questioned Galloway's comments. Campaign director Dave Scott said: "We do a disservice to the issue [of sectarianism] if we drag it into the constitutional debate for the sake of a headline. The Scottish Parliament already has all the powers needed to tackle sectarianism."