The Scottish people have the “sovereign right to determine the form of government best suited to their needs”, despite the UK government having the legal right to permit a second independence referendum, delegates at the 2017 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh agreed yesterday.
The Kirk is impartial on independence, but supported devolution. It has supported Scotland and the UK remaining members of the European Union for the past 20 years.
It has also voiced concerns about what will happen to EU citizens in Scotland and the polarisation of opinion following last year’s referendum vote to leave the EU.
Rev Richard Frazer, convener of the church and society council, which compiled a report for the Assembly on the role of the church in the “context of constitutional change and uncertainty”, said: “The Claim of Right, which is not legally binding, states that a Scottish Parliament democratically elected will reflect the democratic right of the Scottish people.
“The UK government has the right to make the decision.
“It has not indicated that it will not, more just ‘not now’.
“We’ve said that we will remain neutral but, should the UK government choose to ignore the will of the Scottish people as reflected in parliament, that could be problematic.
“I would say that people are suffering from election fatigue and [there is] probably not the level of support for a second independence referendum at the moment. That is not a partisan view.”
The reports states: “The Church of Scotland does not have an agreed position on whether there should or should not be another referendum on Scottish independence and recognises that there are strongly held and legitimate opinions on both sides of this debate.”
It also says: “At the time of writing, the majority of Scottish MPs and the majority of Scottish MSPs are in favour of a referendum on Scottish independence.”
Rev Frazer, who also spoke in the debate about the rights of EU citizens in the UK, added: “I don’t think we’re in a position to make a link between our support for the EU and vote for independence.
“However, one of the things we’re very concerned about is that there are a lot of EU citizens in Britain who have felt quite vulnerable since Brexit.We’re very concerned that the UK government has failed to give them any reassurance. It makes people feel that they are ‘bargaining chips’.”
But Rev Peter Phillips, from the presbytery of Angus, said: “My concern is that it is very easy to use language against governments who have very difficult issues to consider. No-one in government is saying they want to take away the rights of EU citizens here, or ones overseas. No-one knows.”