Scottish independence: Kirk critical of debate

Reverend Lorna Hood changing in to her robes at Assembly on the Mound. Picture: Lesley Martin
Reverend Lorna Hood changing in to her robes at Assembly on the Mound. Picture: Lesley Martin
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The debate on Scottish independence is focused on “political point-scoring” that is “turning people off”, the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council said today.

The Church of Scotland plans to hold meetings around the country to discuss issues relating to the constitutional debate ahead of next year’s referendum.

The General Assembly today overwhelmingly backed a report calling on the Scottish Government to publish any draft constitution for an independent Scotland before the vote is held next year.

The body also backed a call for Queen Elizabeth II’s successors to have a Scottish coronation or investiture to “symbolise her or his role as Queen or King of Scots” in the event of a Yes vote.

Addressing the Assembly, the council’s convener, the Rev Sally Foster-Fulton, said the referendum discussion so far had been more akin to “a sparring ring”.

“It seems to be more of a tennis match with two groupings trying to score points – rather than a collaborative effort to imagine a new Scotland. We hope to change the conversation and make space for different voices.”

Speaking outside the Assembly hall, when asked if she thought the political classes were doing a disservice to the public, Mrs Foster-Fulton said: “Yes I do and they must stop and change the conversation and listen. If they don’t we will have an ill-formed response and a low turnout which would be incredibly disappointing.”

To help bring the debate into the public arena, she said, church leaders planned to open forums in church and community halls so that Scots can take part in “a root and branch review of the kind of Scotland they want”.

Describing the independence vote as a “pivotal decision”, Mrs Foster-Fulton said that the Kirk could play a vital role in helping to define what sort of society an independent Scotland would have. She said that the church had been developing the project to offer people the “imaginative space” to help them come up with the values they would want embodied in the constitution.

Mrs Foster-Fulton said the people of Scotland needed more information in order to make their decision.

“In a call for clarity, this report proposes that any draft constitution be in front of the Scottish people before the referendum,” she said.

“Such a monumental change must be as transparent as possible and engaging with a draft constitution, it there is to be one, must certainly be available to the people who will abide by it.

“We need to see what change will look like before we vote to accept or reject it,” she added. The council’s report stirred debate last month, when it emerged that it recommended that future monarchs should be crowned in Scotland as well as at Westminster Abbey if Scotland becomes independent.

Speaking about the proposal for a Scottish coronation or investiture she said: “Monarchs are the kings and queens of the Scottish people They rule with the consent of the people. A coronation would be a wonderful celebration of that important relationship.”

The report says that any future constitutional arrangements should continue to recognise the role of religion and the Kirk in Scottish society.

The debate came on the same day that the Free Church of Scotland announced that it is to explore the place of Christianity in an independent Scotland.

A special working group to consider proposals from the Scottish Government on the issue has been set up and will report to next year’s Free Church General Assembly.

Personnel cuts ‘will test’ ability of armed forces to do their job

GOVERNMENT cuts in the number of servicemen and women will mean the armed forces’ capacity to carry out their roles will be “severely tested”, a senior naval officer has told the Assembly.

Vice Admiral David Steel, Second Sea Lord, said that the armed forces would still be required to fulfil its many roles but with fewer people.

“By 2015, the navy and its Royal Marines will total 31,000 people, that’s less than half the size of a full house at the Calcutta Cup match at Murrayfield,” he said.

“Similarly, the army will be reduced to 82,000 and Royal Air Force, 38,000. Our resilience will be severely tested. We will be ‘one brick thick’, as the saying goes, and it will be our men and women who bear the burden.”

He said that even with the introduction ever-more advanced technology and weaponry, personnel remained the “fundamental core”.

“None of these very shiny and expensive pieces of equipment are of any practical utility whatsoever without the highly trained men and women who operate them,” he said.

“They remain the fundamental core of our capabilities, and we rely on them as much now as Nelson did with his sailors at Trafalgar or Wellington, his Red Coats at Waterloo.”

Mr Steel, who is chief of personnel and military training for the Royal Navy, said that the “uncertainty and constant demands” placed on people by cuts, meant chaplains fulfilled a “vital role”.

Rethink calls on Promised Land report are rejected

THE General Assembly has ignored calls by Scottish Jews to rethink a controversial report on the Israel-Palestine situation.

The Church and Society Council’s Inheritance of Abraham? A report on the Promised Land document prompted a storm of controversy around the world when it was first published.

Although primarily about the treatment of Palestinian people by the Israeli government, it was interpreted by Jewish groups as questioning the assumption that the Bible supported the existence of Israel as the Promised Land for Jews.

The report was criticised by the Israeli government as playing into “extremist political positions” and that it had damaged inter-faith relations.

In the wake of the row, the Kirk entered talks with Jewish groups and revised the report, changing some of the language and adding a preface giving context to the document.

Despite these amendments, the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities (SCoJeC) said that the report’s “unacceptable underlying message remains unaltered,” and hoped that “rather than adopting the report, the General Assembly will refer it back in order to permit a serious and sustained dialogue that will bring our communities together rather than driving us apart”.

During the debate on the report yesterday, the Rev David Randall echoed the SCoJeC’s call and brought a motion for the council to continue its work on the paper to find out “what is troubling the Jewish community” and report back in 2014.

Although she agreed that talks with Jewish communities should continue, the council convener, the Rev Sally Foster-Fulton, rejected the motion, stating that council had been in “good dialogue” with them and had addressed their concerns. But she said that it was “a report for the General Assembly to discuss and debate” and that the central message “was robust”.

A standing vote was taken and Mr Randall’s motion was overwhelmingly rejected, and the report was accepted by the Assembly.

Speaking outside the hall, Mrs Foster-Fulton said: “This is primarily a report highlighting the continued occupation by the state of Israel and the injustices faced by the Palestinian people as a consequence. It is not a report criticising the Jewish people. Opposing the unjust policies of the state of Israel cannot be equated to antisemitism.”

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