The Scotsman reports (7 May) that the Church of Scotland is to have a major debate at its annual Assembly in Edinburgh later this month about September’s independence referendum. There is no doubt that this will be a significant and dignified contribution to the democratic debate. It will, however, be tempered by the fact that the Church itself, which claims to be the national church, will not commit itself one way or another on the most important issue ever to have faced electors in Scotland.
Representatives of the Church have also stated that it will attempt to contribute to a healing and unifying process after the conclusion of the referendum.
The Church should not underestimate the task that it would face in this respect if there was an affirmative vote for independence. In that case, years of turmoil will follow. For two or three years after a Yes vote there will be extremely challenging negotiations over the terms of independence.
There is bound to be hard bargaining with the continuing UK over all the familiar issues of the currency, nuclear weapons, armed forces, membership of the EU and Nato, the future of the BBC and numerous other matters.
The outcome of these negotiations would be far from certain and not necessarily in line with Scottish Government pledges.
And then, when Scotland achieved actual independence, there would be profound and deep debate and contention about the shaping of the new constitution that the Scottish Government proposes. Should Scotland be a religious or a secular state? Should the Scottish Parliament be extended in numbers to cope with its expanded workload? Should there be an upper house and if so, how constituted? How will equality and human rights be protected in the new state? And so on.
We can be assured that if there is a Yes vote on 18 September the long referendum debate will be followed by several years of intense campaigning and mobilising over the terms of independence and the shape of the new Scottish constitution.
The Kirk and others interested in healing and unity after the divisions of the referendum campaign, which may only be the first chapter, should not underestimate the enormity of the task they would face in the event of a Yes vote.