Catholic Church’s dismay at move to scrap votes for religious representatives

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
Churches have had a statutory representation on education committees for nearly half a century, but the two have been entwined for much longer. While that role will continue in Fife, it will be minus the historic right to vote - and that change has sparked concern in some quarters.

Fife became the third council in Scotland this year to end voting rights for religious representatives, continuing a trend started in 2019 when Perth and Kinross became the first local authority to break the link.

Supporters say it is a sign of the times with churches not having the same influence in much more secular society, but it is still a significant step, and one which sits uneasily with many within the Catholic church, It provides one of the three representatives to the committee - the others come from the Church of Scotland, which has a policy of not voting, and, currently, the Baptist Church.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

When the Catholic Church transferred its schools to state control in 1918, it was with the understanding that the state would work in partnership with the denomination in whose interest the schools were being run. It argues its representatives remain a key part of that historical, and legally mandated arrangement, ensuring that the trust which the Catholic Church placed in the state many years ago is reciprocated at local government level.

The Catholic church was critical of the decision to end voting rights for religious representatives on the education committee (Pic: Pixabay)The Catholic church was critical of the decision to end voting rights for religious representatives on the education committee (Pic: Pixabay)
The Catholic church was critical of the decision to end voting rights for religious representatives on the education committee (Pic: Pixabay)

And, with 15 Catholic schools in Fife, it said they are educating a high percentage of the children and young people, and, therefore, impacting upon a significant percentage of those live here.

The church argued it was “fair and reasonable “ for its representative to have an input into the management and direction of Catholic schools through the use of their vote - one that has rarely been used in recent years.

The Archdiocese of Edinburgh and St Andrews - which covers Fife - was given the opportunity to address the council chamber on Thursday. Margaret Barton, religious advisor for the Archdiocese, spoke in support of the church’s current representative, Mary Caldwell who was appointed only last year.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

She said: “As it is with yourselves, the church representative is accountable to the parents and families who choose Catholic schools. Like yourselves, Mary’s service to the community is at the core of her work. The representative for the Catholic Church speaks and votes on behalf of a significant community who, for various reasons, do not always get their views represented.”

The church said an estimated 2000 people across Fife contacted councillors before the meeting the decision to end historic voting rights for religious representatives, it has been revealed, and the outcome was not one they welcomed.

A spokesman for the Catholic Church said: “The Catholic community in Fife will be disappointed that the woman who represents them, Mary Caldwell, will no longer have a vote on decisions that affect their schools. It is estimated that around 2,000 people in Fife contacted councillors about this issue, asking them to support the Catholic community on this issue.”

They had support in the chamber. While it was a free vote, it largely split along party lines, albeit with three abstentions.The amendment was backed by SNP councillors, with Sam Steele, arguing: “Times have changed it is time for Fife Council to change.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Labour saw it as fixing something that wasn’t broke, and wasn’t on the public radar. Altany Craik, whose motion called for voting rights to be retained for the remainder of the administration’s time in office, spoke of the haste for change, and “a lack of consideration” adding: “We have appointed representatives with voting rights and should honour that.”