Faith, Politics and Me: Ian Blackford
(Credit: Ian Davidson / Alamy Stock Photo)
In her occasional series, Seun Matiluko catches up with politicians to discuss faith and how they balance religion with politics. Here, Ian Blackford, SNP MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, talks about his Christian faith journey
I must confess, as I speak over the phone with Ian Blackford – who has been an MP since 2015 and is vice-chair of the Christians in Parliament All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) – I am struck by his reluctance to directly answer questions about his religion.
Knowing he grew up in the church, I ask him what Christian values had been passed on to him. He says: “The values of being a Christian and the value of respect are important.”
He says he keeps a Bible in his London flat as well as in his Westminster office. Why? “If you really push me on it…it’s just one of these things that I did.”
Does he ever find himself flipping through his Bible in Westminster? “Yeah, I mean, I guess because we’re having the conversation, I’ve just done that and picked it up.”
Are there any verses that particularly stick with him? “I think obviously as you grow up, you’re brought up with the scripture and I think, in many respects, I suppose like a lot of people, over time you collect a number of different Bibles and they mean different things to you for different reasons…So, these things stick with you and you do, from time to time, dip in and read certain passages and so on and so forth.”
I wonder if he is tired, or lacks confidence in his convictions, or is wary our conversation might derail his career – as a similar one did for Kate Forbes MSP, who narrowly lost in the SNP leadership competition earlier this year. After all, it was only in December that Blackford stepped down as the SNP Westminster leader following some internal party conflict.
However, when he starts talking about “God’s grace” and why, because of that, “we shouldn’t judge anybody” because at the end of the day “you will be judged by God”, I remind myself to give him grace as well. And when we start talking about his church community in the Isle of Skye – an island in the Inner Hebrides – things get a lot less frosty.
Blackford credits moving to Skye 25 years ago with strengthening his Christian faith as, upon relocating to the “traditional” community, he and his wife Ann “took that decision that we wanted to be regular churchgoers”. While he acknowledges “you don’t have to go to church to be a Christian”, he and his wife thought it important “to have that fellowship with the community”.
They attend their local church, the Duirinish Free Church, which is a “thriving congregation” that forms part of the Free Church of Scotland.
“It’s a very straightforward service that we have. [It] tends to be fairly traditional insofar as you would have a reading [and] a sermon. We…participate in Psalm singing and that would normally be unaccompanied.”
Psalm singing is a Scottish Presbyterian tradition in which a precentor sings the opening line of a Psalm which acts as an invitation for the congregation to respond in turn with the remainder.
Blackford is a precentor at his church. “I find it really quite uplifting, quite joyous, when you’ve got a congregation that are engaged.”
He tries to make it to church every Sunday, although recently “lambing duties” have caused him to miss services. “We’ve got something like 46 lambs! We do sometimes give them names [particularly if] a sheep has rejected their lambs. It hasn’t happened this year, I’m glad to say.”
Last year, his daughter-in-law named two lambs Mango and Chutney.
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