Belfast Telegraph

Our counterparts in Scotland and the Republic have moved on politically ... so there's no reason why we can't as well

By Lindy McDowell

Earlier this week I interviewed for this paper the Rev Chris Hudson, minister of All Souls' Church in Belfast and a man who has been to the forefront of several campaigns to bring about a liberalisation of the law in Ireland, north and south, not least in terms of marriage equality.

In the course of our conversation Chris, who has been a staunch champion of the LGBT community, mentioned to me his admiration for the Church of Scotland, the Presbyterian church there, in other words, which has led the way both with the ordination of women clerics and also with the ordination of actively gay men and women.

Afterwards, I was giving this some thought and it occurred to me that actually it's not just the church in Scotland that has embraced liberalism but ... well ... Scotland full stop.

This is country where the Conservatives - the fogey oul' Tories! - are led by a young gay woman, Ruth Davidson, whose charisma and fire have seen her now seriously being talked of as a future occupant of Number 10.

This is also the country where they don't even charge students for a university education.

What is intriguing about this, I think, is that many of us here in Northern Ireland, both from a unionist and a nationalist background, would see ourselves, to some degree anyway, as Ulster Scots.

That designation always had a balanced ratio. It made us a wee bit here, a wee bit there.

But the interesting reality is that while the Scots bit now seems to be striding forward on a new liberal path, the Ulster bit appears to be bogged down, ground to a halt, becalmed in the back woods.

And not just in our preoccupied six counties ... At the weekend we also discovered that the only county from down south which didn't overall vote yes in the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment was ... yup ... the county from up north. Our fellow Ulster component, Donegal.

As with just about everything else in the entire universe, there has been an attempt to portray the abortion debate as an Orange/Green affair. Unionists against, nationalists for.

But it is, of course, a much more complex issue than that.

There are many on the nationalist, and indeed republican, side who remain avowedly anti-abortion. And many who are not awfully keen on gay marriage either.

But are we, in general, in this part of the world, so truly out of step with the rest of the UK and Ireland as our current laws - and some of our lawmakers - would suggest?

A few years back I read a great little book The Wee Book of Calvin (Or Air Kissing in the North East) by Dundee writer Bill Duncan. You can still get it on Amazon.

In a fond way, it pokes enormous fun at that dour northern stubbornness - but also grit - that we share with our tartan cousins.

That harsh logic epitomised in old sayings Bill quotes like: "Let the wean play with the knife. He'll learn."

There's a bit of the old Calvin thing in all our DNA in this part of the world, whatever our religion - or none.

But with the intractability, comes a great oul' sense of decency too. A sense of fairness and respect for others.

The world is changing and we have to do the right thing. Not because it's politically expedient. But because it's the right thing.

We have clear evidence that both Scotland and the Republic have moved on.

But I do think it is reading it wrong to assume that people here are much less ready than our counterparts across the water, or down south, to welcome changes in the law and in society aimed at treating our fellow citizens with dignity and respect and kindness.

Ulster doesn't always say no.

Belfast Telegraph

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