By Eddie Barnes, Scotland correspondent
CARDINAL THOMAS Winning has welcomed a national opinion poll showing that the majority of Scots support the retention of a law forbidding the promotion of homosexuality in schools.
The poll, financed by the millionaire businessman Brian Souter, revealed that 86.8 per cent of respondents were in favour of keeping Section 28. and 13.2 per cent in favour of repeal.
The poll's organisers said that of 3,970,712 papers posted out, a total of 1,260,846 valid votes were cast.
Cardinal Winning said: "The referendum result is a clear statement of the will of the Scottish people. It has been evident from the start that the majority of Scots do not want Section 28 to be repealed. It is to be hoped that politicians will now have the humility of spirit to listen to the people."
He sent a stinging rebuke to members of the Scottish Parliament, who have supported repeal: "The Scottish Parliament was elected to serve, to govern for the common good.
"It was not elected to change the traditions and morals of the nation. Now is the time for all involved to step back and consider the lessons to be learned from this vote.
"There is a tragic irony in the current situation: this issue arose when politicians attempted to lift a ban on the promotion of homosexuality. It has turned into a situation where politicians seem to wish to impose a de facto ban on the promotion of marriage. That is a staggering and shameful turn-around.
"Despite everything, I retain confidence in the Parliament. I believe that our elected representatives will examine their conscience and find a way of redeeming the situation for the sake of the common good. Their responsibility to listen, and to read the signs of the times is now grave."
But Scottish Communities and Local Government Minister, Wendy Alexander, was dismissive of the poll result. She said: "I think what is significant about today's ballot is that two out of three vo ers rejected or binned or simply ignored this glorified opinion poll."
Tim Hopkins, from the Scrap the Section campaign, said the result was not unexpected in what had been one of the most "unbalanced, misinformed ballots in Scottish history".
Mr Hopkins said the fact that three-quarters of the electorate did not take part in the poll showed their "Bin the Ballot" campaign had worked and Section 28 should be repealed.
Cardinal Winning. who celebrates his 75th birthday tomorrow, told our sister paper the Scottish Catholic Observer that his high-profile campaign had shown him the depth of intolerance of people who claim to be liberal,
"What this campaign has brought home to me is that the people who brand others as intolerant are much more intolerant than anybody. That's what the society in Scotland should be thinking about," he said. "There's no-one who has talked about treating homosexuals with anything less than respect that's due to a human being.
"It's one thing what people do in private, it's another what they try to promote in society and I would fight to the end to defend the right of people to live in a healthy society."
The Cardinal defended the Church's right to speak out on grave social issues. "Many of the things today are moral issues and the Church has to make her voice heard.
"The area that the Church needs to take up more in a public way is the prophetic voice of the Church.
"We are here to promote the Kingdom of God and in society it is very important that the voice of the Kingdom should be heard. I don't think that there is enough of it."
The Cardinal said when he turned 75, the canonical age of retirement, he did not rule out the Pope accepting his mandatory letter of resignation.
"You've got to be sufficiently detached to say I am perfectly ready to do what the Holy Father wants me to do. If he wants me to retire right away or within a few months, that's fine.
"It would be different if I weren't a cardinal. It makes a difference because 1 don't think somebody like that can just disappear into oblivion, he's still got a job to do. I would be unnerved and shocked if I were to be given a place in Rome."