Scotland and the Pope

Pope Benedict XVI’s state and pastoral visit to Great Britain is almost upon us, and there remains much speculation in the national and international print, broadcast and online news media about the extent of opposition which he will encounter while he is in the country between 16 and 19 September.

However, according to an upbeat press release issued yesterday (29 August) by the Scottish Catholic Media Office (SCMO), whatever problems the Pope may face in England (he does not actually visit Wales), his time in Edinburgh and Glasgow on 16 September may be relatively trouble-free.

SCMO’s confidence derives from a poll which it commissioned from Opinion Research Business, among a representative sample of 1,007 Scots aged 18 and over interviewed on 7-9 June 2010, as well as from intelligence that the Protest the Pope campaign has abandoned plans for a big demonstration in Scotland.

The survey found that only 2% of Scots strongly objected to the papal visit with another 3% saying they objected. Six times as many (31%) claimed to be very or fairly favourable, which is about double the proportion who gave their current religion as Roman Catholic at the 2001 Scottish census. The remainder (63%) were neutral. So perhaps apathy rather than hostility is the main risk to the visit in Scotland.

Some commentators have suggested that the low level of opposition to the papal visit in Scotland is quite encouraging, considering the country’s history of sectarian strife. Tom Peterkin, Scottish Political Editor for Scotland on Sunday, took it as a sign in yesterday’s edition that ‘Scotland’s sectarian wounds appear to be healing’. However, he failed to note that fieldwork for SCMO’s survey was some three months ago, and a lot of water has passed under Catholic bridges since that time.

Two other religion-related questions were posed in the poll, presumably to be used in the cross-analysis of replies to the papal visit question. Unfortunately, the full data tabulations with breaks by these variables and standard demographics are not yet online.

The first of these additional questions was ‘Irrespective of whether you go to church, do you regard yourself as a Christian?’ In reply, 70% said yes, 5% more than gave their current religion as Christian in 2001. 26% did not consider themselves to be Christian and 2% affiliated to a non-Christian faith.

The second question concerned frequency of attendance at religious services, other than for rites of passage. 20% claimed to go once a week or more often, 26% once a month or more, 28% less often and 33% never. These figures seem improbably optimistic, even in relation to earlier opinion poll data and certainly compared with trends revealed by the Scottish church attendance censuses of 1984, 1994 and 2002. In 2002 11% of the Scottish population attended on census Sunday.

SCMO’s press release can be found at:


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