SCOTLAND must start healing the divisions created by the independence debate before the referendum even takes place, a senior Church of Scotland official has said.
The Rev Sally Foster-Fulton, head of the Kirk’s Church and Society Committee, said the polarised tone that has characterised much of the debate meant that rebuilding a sense of national unity on Scotland’s future could not wait until after the 18 September vote.
She said: “We have common goals in Scotland and I think everyone has that at their heart. I think people come at it from different ways and everyone has different opinions, but if we can all hold on to that together then we will move ahead together.
“That is something the church can help with, it is something our leaders can help with, and definitely something we can all contribute with. But it is something that we do right now, not just wait until after the 18th.”
Ms Foster-Fulton spoke on the eve of a major debate on the referendum in London tomorrow hosted by St Columba’s Church, one of only two Kirk congregations in the English capital. Taking part for Better Together will be MPs Alistair Carmichael and Margaret Curran, while SNP MP Angus Robertson and Scots businessman Tony Banks represent Yes Scotland. More than 400 people are expected to attend, including Lord Steel, Lord McFall and Scottish Labour MPs Anne McGuire and Russell Brown.
Debate organiser Susan Pym said: “Being in England, we don’t get all the Scottish coverage and we felt we were missing out. Also, while we might not have a vote, an awful lot of our families do, and to have an interesting conversation with your family in Scotland, it helps if you’re a wee bit better informed.”
While the Kirk has taken a neutral stance on the independence issue, it has tried to facilitate constructive debate, hosting discussions across the country.
Ms Foster-Fulton said that she hoped the Church’s intervention had helped to take some of the heat out of the exchanges between the Yes and No camps.
She said: “My hope is that it has changed the tone of the conversation and given everyone an opportunity to do something that hasn’t been happening, and that is to take a deep breath and say ‘Ok, we have an opportunity here, regardless of the outcome, to discern the type of Scotland that we want to live in’.”
She added: “Regardless of whether it’s Yes or No, on 19 September there are going to be some elated people and some devastated people. The church’s role will be in healing, in making that space for people to grieve, to be joyful and to be together, because regardless of the result, we’re all in this together.”
A Better Together spokesman said: “There is going to be a winner and a loser of the referendum, but we will all still be living here in Scotland, and it’s incumbent on all of us in the campaign to argue our case passionately but remain mindful that there are plenty of people out there that don’t agree with us, and our job is to persuade people and not berate those who don’t.”
A spokesperson for Yes Scotland campaign said: “Of course it is right that the debate should be lively and robust, but also free from hostility and negativity.
“The people Scotland deserve nothing less.”