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Keep desire for change in Scotland going, says Kirk Moderator

26 September 2014


Joy cometh in the morning: sup­por­ters of the No campaign in Glasgow celebrate the result of the Scottish in­depen­­dence referendum on Friday

Joy cometh in the morning: sup­por­ters of the No campaign in Glasgow celebrate the result of the Scottish in­depen­­dence referendum on Friday

CHURCH leaders in Scotland have begun to lay out their vision for the nation as it starts to move on from the referendum campaign.

The constitutional questions were settled by the 55-per-cent vote to remain in the UK last Friday, but the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Rt Revd John Chalmers, has said that the campaign to change Scotland must continue, with the Church at its heart.

Speaking shortly after the result was announced on Friday, he said that the Church had run events during the referendum campaign, in which it had invited Christians to "imagine Scotland's future", and that these would continue.

"We have already got the first meeting planned for 5 November," he said. "The level of participation of people in this debate probably hasn't been equalled anywhere in the world. The key now is not to lose that energy."

The Church of Scotland, along with all the main denominations, remained neutral on the independence question, but worked hard to engage ordinary people in the debate. Mr Chalmers said that neutrality did not mean disinterest: "We knew our membership would be as divided as the country. I initiated a project where, instead of the rough and tumble of debate, we would hold a respectful dialogue."

He said that the Church's efforts to "disagree without being disagreeable" seemed to have helped Scotland to remain calm after the campaign. "The first signs today are that the leaders of each side of the campaign have been very restrained in what they have had to say. Today, there has been no triumphalism, and an acknowledgement that those who had a lifelong commitment and passion for independence are feeling bereft."

Preaching at a service at St Giles's Cathedral, in Edinburgh, on Sunday, Mr Chalmers said: "Post-referendum, there are those who are elated . . . and there are those who are desperately disappointed. Feelings like these will take time to heal, and I want no one to think I think that there is a quick fix or an easy dusting down."

The Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Most Revd David Chillingworth, said before the vote: "I think some people have found the political discourse distressing. It will take time for those passions to fade. . . . Part of the reconciliation is to allow people to make much more nuanced statements which allow space for alternative views - encouraging a different kind of political discourse."

Bishop Chillingworth, who spent most of his ministry in Northern Ireland, said, however that it was encouraging that the Church remained a neutral voice during the independence debate.

"It is appropriate for us to be involved in values and standards, but not about which flag should fly. [That is] akin to sectarianism. Our faith, culture, and politics [could] become negatively intertwined."

The Scottish Episcopal Church, he said, would also be involved in the process of change. "Who people are - will that be valued in a new Scotland which will emerge?" he asked. "That's a praying business and a talking business. We expect to be as vocal after [the vote] as we have been restrained before it."

Mr Chalmers said on Friday that the referendum campaign could be used as a springboard for the Church to begin to recapture the country's imagination. "I want the Church to be at the centre of public life, to be the social conscience and moral voice of the nation.

"I want it to be that, however, not because it is there by law established, but because . . . it has contributed something worth while."

Alison Elliott, the associate director of the Centre for Theology and Public Issues at the University of Edinburgh and a former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, said on Friday that the Churches in Scotland deserved credit for the part they had played over the past two years.

"They now can say, this is what people in Scotland want the country to do; we have now got an agenda. [But] most of the things the Churches are concerned about didn't actually make any difference, whether you were independent or not.

"I'm unconvinced that social justice would be better delivered under independence. I think the things that are stopping social justice are in Scotland: they are fundamental human traits which we have to face up to. It is not a magic wand to change the constitution."

Neil MacLeod, an elder in the Free Church of Scotland who has been involved in the Church's debates over independence, said that the campaign had woken Christians up to their ability to make a difference.

"Anything that can get people interested in politics and prepared to vote . . . is good. Christians should realise the power they have to lobby their political representatives. The Christian priorities we would have for the poor, or against excess, if we can capture some of that engagement and use it to articulate what we would like to see in society - then that would be a good thing as well."


Coverage of last week's referendum by Tim Wyatt in Edinburgh:

Squabbling and prayers as Scotland goes to the polls

Scotland votes 'No' and Cameron promises to deliver

Welby calls for reconciliation in referendum aftermath

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