THE signing of an agreement last month by Alex Salmond and David
Cameron about a referendum on Scottish independence brings decision
time a little closer. There will be a vote in 2014 (
Comment, 22 June).
The ballot paper will offer only the independence option. The
alternative choice of enhanced devolution - more powers to the
existing Holyrood Parliament - will not be presented (although the
Calman Commission of 2009 established the popularity of this with
the Scottish electorate).
Young people aged 16 and 17 will be allowed to vote. For both
Westminster and Holyrood governments, the political stakes are
I believe that Churches and faith groups should be agnostic
about issues of flags and jurisdiction. My Irish background tells
me that it is profoundly unwise for Churches to become advocates or
defenders of particular constitutional arrangements. But we should
make a strong contribution to discussion of the values and
character of any new state that may emerge. And we should be
particularly alert to any tendency to shape the debate in
adversarial terms around questions of identity.
There are some significant issues that need to be addressed.
Scottish independence has been a vision, and, as the debate
proceeds, that vision will need to take concrete form in plans,
policies, and proposals.
One of the first signs of this has been the Scottish National
Party's decision to commit itself to future membership of NATO.
This has been described as the SNP's "Clause 4" moment. It is
significant, because the removal of nuclear weapons from Scottish
lochs has long been a uniting issue in the nationalist movement and
beyond. But I wonder whether it is realistic to think that an
independent Scotland that is a member of NATO can still get rid of
the list of other challenging issues grows ever longer. There is
financial regulation and the currency, health-care, defence, and
education policy. At a deeper level, it seems not quite clear what
the independence debate is about. Terms such as "national
self-determination" are not much used.
Scotland is undoubtedly distinctive in law, education, culture -
and a surprising liberalism. But is that distinctiveness such that
it justifies independence, or requires independence to protect it?
Economic issues will inevitably be important: people will need to
be convinced that they will be no worse off in an independent
One further issue interests me. I am at present attending the
Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Auckland. The preservation
and use of the Maori language is at the heart of the complex
nationhood of New Zealand. Yet the place of Scots Gaelic at the
heart of the life of an independent Scotland is hardly
What is needed is a political debate that makes a strong case
for the economic and political viability of an independent
Scotland. My colours are nailed firmly to the fence; but let me
offer you this picture of how it looks to me.
My heart is with the self-confidence and the vigour of small and
independent nations - as I believe Scotland could become. I proudly
carry my Irish passport. I am not an instinctive unionist. I
respond with caution to the suggestion that we can survive and
thrive only as part of something bigger.
Yet it does seem to me that there are two significant issues
that make Scottish independence a difficult political challenge at
this point. Scotland has seen itself as a place of high-quality
management in the financial sector. The excesses and the bonus
culture that destroyed the reputation of the City of London as a
financial centre were never so obvious here; so the collapse of the
Scottish banks has greatly damaged Scottish self-confidence. People
worry about the ability of an independent Scotland to survive a
further crisis in the financial sector. They see what has happened
to Ireland and Iceland.
The second significant change is the position of the European
project, and the problems of the euro. Even ten years ago, it would
have been possible to promote the idea that Scotland might
substitute the shelter of the European Union for the shelter of the
United Kingdom. It is not so now. I do not believe that the
European dream is over, but I do not think that it is available for
2014 as a Scottish-independence vote-winner.
Finally, I think that we in the Scottish Episcopal Church need
to be careful of our identity and belonging. It is right to be
agnostic about the outcome of the referendum. But that requires us
to make clear that we will live comfortably with either
We need to show that we are in touch with the Scottishness of
our culture and history as a Church. The "English Church" jibe is
still all too common. We can easily become complicit in allowing
others to dispossess us of our Scottishness.
This is not, however, just about our relationship with our past.
It is about the future - our future in mission in the complexities
and challenges of 21st-century Scotland, whether independent or
not. This is our story. We are part of it, and part of it we shall
remain, whatever the outcome.
The Most Revd David Chillingworth is the Bishop of St
Andrews, Dunkeld & Dunblane, and Primus of the Scottish