AS a seasoned hack I've long since learned the importance of balance.

In the West of Scotland, it means having a chip on both shoulders.

In this part of the world, that religious chip has been used as a malign influence since Bishop Briggs was an altar boy.

You can blame the Scottish establishment — state, police, and, it has to be said, the media - which for years allowed that destructive balance to fester by ignoring such horrors as sectarianism.

But not only Scotland tip-toes round such religious hot topics as sexual abuse, homophobia, faith schools and radical Islam for fear of offending some minority or other.

Religion has become one of the most contentious issues in the UK, exerting as it does an influence disproportionate to its waning popularity.

I mean, we still have bishops sitting in the House of Lords, unelected clergy in our legislature, which puts us on a par with that other great pillar of democracy, Iran.

It makes David Cameron's happy-clappy outbursts last week all the more bizarre.

The PM is under attack for proclaiming that Britain is "a Christian country".

The leader of the Nasty Party, who has likened his faith to a local radio station's dodgy reception - "it comes and goes" - is claiming Christian inspiration for his politics.

So millions use food banks because of the Holy Ghost?

The PM's leap of faith came as a surprise to the nation's atheists and agnostics and other non-prophet organisations.

Cameron excluded them as he urged Christians to "get out there and make a difference in people's lives".

What about the rest of us? If we don't believe in God we can't make a difference?

Of course, I had to chuckle at the irony of denying we're a Christian country, while enjoying a public holiday to celebrate Easter.

The PM, of course, is entitled to his personal views, but they echo Tory thoughts on welfare and the bedroom tax and much else, being totally at odds with the electorate.

When Tony Blair was in No10, Alastair Campbell, his director of the dark arts, urged him to keep quiet about his faith because in Britain "we don't do God".

Blair thought so highly of his faith that he kept it secret, and did not convert to Catholicism until after he had left Downing Street.

Had he wished to strike a huge blow for ecumenical unity — as opposed to a huge and illegal blow against Iraq — he could have converted in office and broken the mould as Britain's first Catholic PM. It could have been Westminster's Mo Johnston moment.

But is it just me, or do you see method in Cameron's madness, spouting about religion for the first time in four years in office?

Is it merely a cynical ploy to woo back Tory voters, who are so appalled by his gay marriage backing and a perceived lack of action on immigration that they are flirting with Ukip?

Either way, not for the first time his facts are wrong.

Asked in the 2011 census: "What is your religion?", 59% of Brits said Christian.

Asked by YouGov more ­specifically: "Are you religious?", only 29% said yes and 65% said no.

So it's a question of culture rather than belief, which mirrors last week's WIN/Gallup International survey listing the UK among the world's least religious countries.

Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, the other main party leaders, may think they are onto a winner as self-confessed atheists, but neither of them is singing from the public's hymn sheet, either.

Non-believers remain in the ascendancy in Scotland.

Congregations are dwindling, churches closing, and there is a huge shortage of clergy.

The Kirk's Ministries Council fears a shortfall of almost 400 ministers within a decade.

More than 80% of serving ministers are older than 50 and just two are under 30.

A report for the Archdiocese of Glasgow predicts meltdown for the Catholic Church.

Within 20 years the city could have just 45 priests, sufficient for fewer than half its parishes.

You reap what you sow. When too many priests weren't praying on their knees, they were preying on their parishioners.

Meanwhile there is an unholy sanctimonious alliance among assorted faith groups to call for the role of religion to be recognised in any written constitution for Scotland.

Why? Football is by far the most popular religion in this country.

Should the beautiful game not be included in any constitution?

Perhaps we could appease the holy willies and kill two birds with one stone, by having the role of the Old Firm recognised.

There is no place for religion in politics — or in schools or football, for that matter.

That's one of the chips on this Weegie's shoulder.