While most attention is focussed on the electoral fate of Labour in Scotland on Thursday, and whether the Scottish National Party can gain a majority in the country for the first time, a controversial group appearing to speak on behalf of a whole religion has been fighting a vociferous electoral campaign on behalf of what it says are Christian values.
The Scottish Christian Party (SCP) is fielding 72 candidates across Scotland on the regional list – more than any other political party. It claims to have distributed 2 million leaflets opposing the newly introduced Sexual Orientation Regulations, which its TV election broadcast likened to Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda.
The broadcast, shown on BBC and STV last Tuesday, featured footage of Hitler addressing a rally in 1933. Playing “the Nazi card”, as one media analyst dubbed it, has caused offence in many circles, and has lead to accusations that SCP has “lost the plot altogether”.
The Scottish Christian Party’s leader has also suggested in interviews and press comment that a Christian anti-crime policy would include overseas transportation of convicted criminals, a 9pm curfew for children aged up to 10, the restoration of capital punishment and securing more criminal convictions by ending the requirement of 'beyond reasonable doubt' in trials.
The group is led by the Rev George Hargreaves, a Pentecostal pastor who ironically came to public attention for writing and producing the 1986 Sinitta number 2 hit single ‘So Macho’, which was accused of blatant sexism and became an ironic gay anthem. Its double A-side, ‘Cruising’, is a celebration of sexual promiscuity.
The lyrics of ‘So Macho’ present a stereotypical and aggressive view of masculinity, in which a woman sings “I want a man who will dominate me” and “I don’t want no seven stone weakling or a boy who thinks he’s a girl.”
Mr Hargreaves says that he has left his showbiz past behind, but he is unashamed about taking money from the songs and his campaigning is reportedly backed by an income from them of several thousand pounds each month – leading to accusations of hypocrisy, not to say macho politics.
Meanwhile the extreme views continue. On the Richard Evans show on BBC Radio Wales, the SCP chief questioned whether people living with HIV-AIDs and drug users should get treatment on the NHS, because their conditions were “self-inflicted”.
The Christian People’s Alliance (CPA), another of the new breed of UK Christian political parties, is also standing in Scotland. It hopes to win sections of the Catholic vote disillusioned with New Labour, but is embarrassed by its unwanted rival, implacably opposed to capital punishment, and has decided that it is best not to say anything about SCP in public.
CPA has a much longer track record and a respected councillor, Alan Craig, in the East End of London. Although its policies on sexuality and bioethics-related issues are in the conservative evangelical and traditionalist Catholic camp, it also promotes a wider social justice agenda and has been developing community roots.
Many, however, question the very notion of a ‘Christian political party’, believing that it is inappropriate to seek to incorporate the views of a whole religion in one political expression, or to seek legislatively to impose a single moral framework on a nation or region.
Mr Hargreaves says “we are a Christian party but not a party of all Christians”. But he also says that SCP is “standing up for the Lord”, which looks to be a larger claim. He recently declared: "We intend to high-jack the political agenda as far Christians are concerned.”
Green MSP for Glasgow Patrick Harvie, a prominent gay rights campaigner who has been targeted by the SCP, says that the policies of the Scottish Christian Party are “old-school homophobia” and that it has no right to claim to speak on behalf of all believers, let alone all of Scotland, in the 3 May Holyrood elections.
In the Glasgow and the Central region of Scotland three-quarters of a million leaflets attacking equal rights for lesbians and gays have been sent to voters in personally addressed envelopes with a covering letter.
There is concern among mainstream Christian and civic leaders that SCP’s extremism has not been condemned by major organisations like the Evangelical Alliance.
The party is also fighting in Wales. Their manifesto proposes lifting controls on over-fishing on the basis there is "a supernatural element in the restoration of fish to our seas."
Mr Hargreaves also says that the Welsh dragon on its national flag is a cause of sickness. He declared to the South Wales Evening Post back in March 2007: “Wales has been under demonic oppression and under many curses because of this unwise choice.”