ONLY foolish people and the wilfully ignorant would deny the influence of religious belief on an individual’s secular political choices. The development of a modern and enlightened Scotland can trace its roots back to the Protestant Reformation in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. The great Christian reformer John Knox helped liberate Holy Scripture from the sepulchral grip of Latin, a language deployed by the political and religious elites to keep the masses at arm’s length and prevent them from discovering the true nature of Jesus Christ.

They seemed particularly keen to bury some of the Saviour’s more troubling opinions about the dignity of the human person and those bits about all people being born equal. Best that the Messiah’s radical and democratic outbursts be locked up behind a language that the punters would never understand.

This, though, was more than just about having access to the Word of God in your own language. It fuelled Knox’s vision of free education for all, regardless of birth and position and a school in every parish. This was a radical concept more than a century ahead of its time.

Three centuries later, the forced economic migration of the Irish into Scotland brought with it a thirst for education as a means of escaping poverty. In time, Catholic schools were brought into the state system, the single greatest act of enlightenment in the history of Scottish education. It helped later generations of Irish Catholics to become comfortable in their Scottishness without feeling forced to sacrifice the faith of their ancestors.

These schools formed cultural bridges in a disputatious land and thus Scotland was largely spared the tribal and racial tensions which bloodied much of mainland Europe throughout the 20th century and which now threaten to engulf post-Brexit England. Quite simply, those who would seek to cancel all vestiges of religious belief from civic Scotland know little of this nation’s historical and cultural development and even less about the debt it owes to Christianity.

An unwritten social contract binds church and state in Scotland. The state will not seek to curb the practice of faith by denying public positions to its adherents and, in return, the churches will not seek to influence the outcome of an election based on an exclusively religious agenda. It leaves more than sufficient room for an individual to remain faithful to the beliefs of their church and informed by conscience while asserting the primacy of the secular state. Many claims are made to support Scotland’s status as a modern and enlightened state but nowhere is this more evident than in this delicate balancing act.

Those in the SNP who are currently attempting to use intimidation and conspiracy to stop Christians representing their party are betraying some of the fundamental liberties that bind this most complicated and obstreperous of countries. They’d be advised to behold America and reflect on the depressing course of the presidential election.

If the lamentable standard of discourse at the first presidential debate is a fair reflection then the most powerful country in the world has become infantilised. In the 21st century it’s come down to this: two elderly, super-rich white men: one spouting racist views; the other an emotionless, uncultured automaton: each reaching for the nation’s moral high ground.

Yet, in one of the geographical kinks of US politics a relatively small but disproportionately influential alliance of Christians may hold the key to the outcome. It’s an accepted dynamic of presidential elections that Catholic voters have become crucial in deciding the outcome in crucial swing states.

This year they could provide a lifeline for Donald Trump if he can persuade enough of them to discard all other moral and ethical considerations and base their vote on abortion rights. The President purports to be pro-life (although his empathy for other humans seems to end as soon as they emerge from the womb). His supporters insist that authentic Catholics simply can’t, in all conscience, vote for Joe Biden, owing to the Democratic nominee’s support for abortion.

It is an intellectually barren approach which fails to understand 2000 years of Christian belief and the complex array of cultural and philosophical influences that have shaped it. Thus Catholics are being urged to ignore the President’s treatment of women; his pathological tendency to lie; his pandering to the rich at the expense of the poor; his neglect of God’s creatures, just because he says he is anti-abortion. Many influential Catholic bishops who seem more comfortable in the arms of big business and the embrace of the country-club golf set have urged their flocks to back Trump. Their sympathies aren’t shared by Pope Francis.

Perhaps the Pope’s most withering barb came three years ago following the President’s decision to rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) granting temporary protections to undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children. Pope Francis exercised a nuanced understanding of what it truly means to be pro-life as he eviscerated President Trump. “The President of the United States presents himself as pro-life and if he is a good pro-lifer, he understands that family is the cradle of life and must be protected.”

In Scotland the Catholic Church wisely has chosen not to adopt such a reductive approach to secular politics. It works both ways, though. There is a growing sense of resentment among Catholics that merely to believe in the fundamental sanctity of human life from conception is now deemed unacceptable and tantamount to criminality. There is an inference that Catholics who are faithful to all of their church’s teachings are to be considered unfit for public office.

We are on dangerous and sinister territory here in which Catholics and Christians in the reformed traditions may soon feel forced to vote according to an exclusively religious agenda simply to protect the status of their faith. Modern Scotland has managed thus far to plot an intricately inclusive course and to reject the manipulation of religious belief evident in Trumpian America. It would be a tragedy if this were to happen here owing to the shrill intolerance of a secularist inquisition.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald