Scottish independence: Episcopal Church debate warning

The Scottish Episcopal Church has warned over the nature of the independence referendum
The Scottish Episcopal Church has warned over the nature of the independence referendum
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THE leader of the Scottish Episcopal Church has said that the referendum debate has been too narrowly focused on the economic viability of an independent Scotland.

The Most Rev David Chillingworth said that he had been surprised that there had not been greater discussion about about national identity.

He said: “Clearly there has to be an economic dimension to it, would an independent Scotland be viable, but I think what I expected was that the debate would be about whether people who live in Scotland feel a shared sense of being Scottish, whatever that means, to justify independent constitutional arrangements and independent governance, it hasn’t really been about those kind of identity questions.”

The Primus also voiced concerns about the impact on Churches and faith groups of a purely secular constitution in an independent Scotland.

Chillingworth said that he understood that both sides of the referendum campaign had “fought shy” of focusing on the issue of identity but believed it was a vital part of the wider debate.

He said:”I’m Irish and I’m very aware that the debate about identity often becomes negative imaging of the others, so I do absolutely understand that. But on the other hand, I’ve found the debate limited in its scope. It’s been about these economic issues, it’s been about the advantage of decisions made in Scotland over against them being made as part of a larger unit. I think the average person finds it hard to make a judgement about the force of those arguments either way. I certainly do.

“I think what I would have expected was that there would be a large number of different types of thinking in the debates, some of economics, some on identity, some how we relate to our neighbours.”

The Synod will be the platform for the launch of the Church’s annual Grosvenor Essay, a set of writings focusing on a high profile issues, which this year addresses Scottish independence.


In it, former Edinburgh University theologian, William Storrar, director of the Princeton Center of Theological Inquiry in the US, warns that pursuing an unrelentingly polarised campaign could have far reaching implications on a post-referendum Scotland: “If we succumb to... seeing Scotland in the binary terms of our dueling polarities – ‘Scot against Scot’– then we are indeed lost and facing a bleak post-campaign landscape, a Scottish winter, the morning after the referendum vote, whoever wins.”

Consisting of contributions by theologians from both within and outwith the Scottish Episcopal Church, which has maintained a neutral stance on the referendum, the essay calls on both sides to find a peaceful way of “living with our deep differences and yet handling them with mutual respect and understanding” and “not head-butting one another over our differences, as some would express their Scottish identity.”

Storrar stresses in his contribution that Scotland’s problems will not vanish with the announcing of the poll’s final result.

“The complex problems of unemployment, poverty, poor health, addiction, abuse and violence that we face admit of no simple solutions,” he writes. “They will not be solved by a Yes or No vote but by working on all fronts, with all approaches, in the unceasing search for the possibility of practical and sustainable change in some measure.”

Despite concerns among politicians and other church groups about the divisive tone of the debate so far - the Kirk recently announced that it planned to hold a service of reconciliation after the vote to help bring both sides together and start the process of healing - the Primus said that in his experience he had found the campaign to be less adversarial than he expected.

However, the Rev Harriet Harris, convener of the Scottish Episcopal Church’s Doctrine Committee which is responsible for producing the Grosvenor Essays, said that people now had to look at day to day life beyond the vote itself.

She said: “I think that people will, as of now, be thinking about what it will be like to start the day, the morning after the referendum, taking the kids into school, going into work and seeing one another, and knowing that some of you will extremely happy and vice versa.

“We need to hold on to the fact that we all want something good for Scotland. It’s not that one party is going to vote for something that is bad for Scotland, so everyone’s wanting the future to move in a positive direction, it’s just what the interpretation of what that might involve.”

The essay also touches on the implications for the Church if a secular constitution was to be introduced in an independent Scotland.

Chillingworth said that while the Church was interested in “what kind of Scotland will arise” from the vote, he was aware that there were secularist groups who was to use “what is potentially a time of change to renegotiate the place of Churches and faith groups in Scotland”, effectively “squeezing” them from public life.

He said: “The danger is that faith is pushed into being a completely privatised area and people can be involved with that if they want to be, but it’s individualised, privatised. We actually think that a community that reduces to faith to that position will be impoverished.”

His comments echo those made by former Moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Right Rev Lorna Hood, during the Kirk’s General Assembly last month, where she called for reassurances that religious groups would have a place in the written constitution of an independent Scotland.

So far the Government has declined to say how it would afford this constitutional protection, other than to say that it propose “no change to the legal status of any religion or Scotland’s churches.”

Chillingworth insisted that the Church was not looking for any particular privilege, adding: “What we would want to do is celebrate the deeply religious roots of Scottish society, celebrate the new diversity of Scottish society, and we certainly as a Church want to be deeply involved in public and civic discourse - what we expect is protection for the right of religious freedom, we don’t expect the state to defer to religion.”


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