Elections

David Renwick Grant, Aberfeldy
(Originally written as the main piece for David’s monthly contribution to the North Perthshire magazine, Comment, May 2005 edition.)

Imagine an election where no-one is allowed to put themselves forward, where there is no canvassing or campaigning yet 100% of the eligible voters voted, where there were no spoilt ballot papers, nine people were elected to office and the whole process took place in a calm atmosphere of harmony and love. Fiction you might say. Pie-in-the sky. But not so, for it was a very real election and I have just participated in it.
It was in fact the annual election to fill the nine places on the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United Kingdom and it took place at the National Convention, held in the magnificent Conference Centre at Llandudno, North Wales. For Bahá’í administrative purposes, the country is divided into 95 units. Each unit elects a delegate to send to the National Convention, mandated to consult with each other and then to cast their votes. The Saturday and first part of Sunday were taken up with consultation. Every delegate had a number on a large card and if he or she wished to speak, they waved the number at the chairman, who, at the click of a mouse, added their name to the list of those already displayed on the screen. The name of the current speaker and the area they were from was posted in bold letters; the next speaker’s name and area was delineated in slightly smaller type and then followed the, sometimes long, list of those who wanted to make a point. Five minutes per person were allotted and if one over-ran one’s time, the little blue figures clicking away the minutes and seconds turned red, to be followed fairly swiftly by the chairman’s gently cutting the speaker off.
Just before we delegates filled in our ballot papers, prayers were said. Ballots were then completed, bearing in mind the guidance that those whom we chose should ‘be of unquestioned loyalty, of selfless devotion, have a well trained mind, be of recognised ability and of mature experience.’ Personalities were not the issue and ‘the elector is called upon to vote for none but those whom prayer and reflection have inspired him [or her] to uphold.’ Later in the day, the result was announced. The nine people who had secured the highest number of votes were elected. Anyone in the Bahá’í community in the UK aged 21 or over could have their name put on a ballot paper and in fact ninety-four people received one or more of the 855 votes cast.
What a vast difference from the snarling, backbiting, muck raking, mud-slinging, personality-trashing that has been clogging our TV screens, radios and newspapers for far too long, to the exclusion of all but the most dominant other items of news. Imagine our parliament, if the primitive baying and point-scoring of Prime Minister’s Questions was replaced by a loving consultation among the Members, with no-one afraid to step out of party line because there would be no party line, only people with the qualities previously mentioned reaching decisions for the genuine benefit of all.
Well, it is not going to happen on Thursday 5th May 2005, but it will happen someday, that is certain. Bahá’ís believe ‘That the violent disruption which has seized the entire planet is beyond the ability of men to assuage, unaided by God’s revelation’ and that ‘The old order cannot be repaired; it is being rolled up before our eyes. The moral decay and disorder convulsing human society must run their course; we can neither arrest nor divert them.’ So, although the world is going to continue to endure a rough time for a while, indubitably better days will follow.
Although the election of the National Spiritual Assembly is the main purpose of Convention, there is more to it of course, including the making of, consultation about and voting on resolutions affecting the running of our community in the UK. However, it is not my purpose here to offer a dissertation about the Faith, merely to show that there is an alternative to the system that currently exists and which is being rejected by more and more of the electorate voting – or rather not voting – with their feet as it spins down to the murk of rock bottom.

My First Fast

Dawn Parris, Edinburgh

As a girl who needs her lunch to keep going throughout the day, I was slightly apprehensive before my first Fast. To me, fasting had always been something I was exempt from, but, at fifteen, that all changed.
I had not given the fast much thought until about a week before it was due to start when I thought I ought to explain to my friends when and why I would be fasting. They were very understanding and open-minded about it, however thought it would be impossible to do.
The fast began and I had to adjust to early mornings and lunch-free days. As I expected, my friends forgot about the fast from time to time and between them generously offered me Maltesers, Smarties, crisps and cake at break time, which I politely declined. Following this, they would suddenly realise why and apologise profoundly for tempting me! It was not until halfway through that they remembered without being reminded that I was not eating during the day.
The first few days were the hardest; the days were long and it was difficult to concentrate in class. Soon, fasting became second nature to me and had a certain ‘normality’ to it. Of course, there were some points that were tough and giving up seemed like an easy option. Looking back, I am glad I didn’t. Amongst other things, the fast has taught me the importance of perseverance. As hard as it may seem to turn down that extra chocolatey chocolate cake, it can always be saved for after sunset.

During the fast, I found the Bahá’í Faith came up much more in conversation (especially in the lunch hall!) amongst the usual chat about boys, films, music and hair. With many of them being atheists or strong Christians, I was surprised at how interested my friends were in my religion.

Now, the fast is over (for another year at least), I have learned some valuable lessons for next time. A word of advice to anyone fasting for the first time next year, always set two alarm clocks to wake you up at dawn, just in case one doesn’t do the trick!

Religious Diversity in Scotland

Barry Thorne
The 2001 Census asked everyone in Britain which religion they belonged to – but in Scotland there was an extra question, asking people what religion they were brought up in. The full results have now been released by the General Register Office for Scotland, and they offer an insight into 21st century Scottish belief.
245 people declared themselves to be Bahá’ís. That’s 0.0048% of Scotland’s population – or to put it another way, more or less every 20,000th person you meet. (There are a little over five million people in Scotland.) Across the whole of Great Britain (which doesn’t include Northern Ireland of course), 4,890 people said they were Bahá’ís. So roughly 1 in 20 British Bahá’ís live in Scotland. Unfortunately, the data doesn’t include information about how many Scottish Bahá’ís were brought up in the Faith.
What does it tell us about religion in Scotland? Christianity is clearly the dominant faith – 65% of Scots declare themselves Christian. Rather more though, in fact 72%, were actually brought up in Christianity. 42% of Scots belong to the Church of Scotland, and 15% are Roman Catholics.
Non-Christian religions are less strong in Scotland than in the rest of the UK – there are 42,557 Muslims in the country, but no other faith group has more than 7,000 Scottish followers. However, relatively speaking, the Bahá’ís are better represented in Scotland than any other non-Christian community. No other faith group can point to 5% of its members living in Scotland – only Buddhists come close, at 4.5%.
Where Scotland really stands out is in the number of people who claim to have no religion. Across Britain, it’s about 15% of the population. But in Scotland, it’s almost 28%. The city of Aberdeen actually has the highest percentage of people in the whole of Britain who claim to have no religion: almost 30%. At the other extreme, fewer people in Eilean Siar (Western Isles) claim to have no religion (<7%) than almost anywhere else in the country.
Barry Thorne
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