The Case for an Independent Scotland

 “As my nations linguistic engagement with Christian nations illustrates nationalism need not be a disease. When yoked to the reforming power of the Bible, it can become a powerful redemptive force.” Mangalwadi, The Book That Made Your World – p. 177

Some people are very worried. The end of the world is near. George Robertson, leading Labour politician and former NATO General Secretary warned on the 8th of April 2014 in New York that Scotland leaving the United Kingdom would be the break up of the West and the ending of Western Civilisation. Even if you don’t accept that somewhat grandiose version of events there are other warnings that are causing fear amongst some people. If we leave the United Kingdom we are going to be poor, have no pensions, invaded by the Russians and not be able to watch Dr Who! Sadly that is the level that some of the ‘independence’ debate has been conducted on. The Record deserves better. Dr John Ross will provide a far better case for staying in the United Kingdom. I hope to provide an alternative point of view. But before I present the case for independence let me add a couple of caveats.

Firstly the Free Church does not ,and will not take a stance either for or against independence. Why? Because the Bible says nothing about it and we are here to teach the bible. In applying Gods word to our current society there is nothing in it that would tell us we should vote yes or we should vote no. Each has to be persuaded in their own mind. The Church should not make pronouncements on issues for which it has no scriptural warrant. These are my personal opinions and I hope I would never proclaim them from the pulpit as though they had the authority of Gods Word.

Secondly I do not believe that Scotland’s problems will be solved by becoming independent or by the United Kingdom remaining united. It is righteousness that exalts a nation, whatever that nation consists of. The crying need of our time is a renewal of biblical Christianity so that we can once again be the land of the people of the book. Thirdly no one should vote for independence because of racist reasons. People who talk about being free of English domination are missing the point. The question is how Scotland should be governed, not one of nationalistic hatred. I was born in England as was my father, but I will still be voting for Scottish independence. Why?

1) Britain is past its sell by date – There are many people who are attached to the idea of Great Britain. They like British values, they think of Queen Victoria, Winston Churchill, the Dunkirk Spirit, the BBC, the Monarchy, the NHS and many other great British institutions. Why would we vote to break that all up? The trouble is that it is all breaking up anyway. The United Kingdom was formed on the basis of the Empire, Protestantism and capitalism. Capitalism has triumphed but the other two reasons have gone. An independent Scotland could retain the monarchy as an independent Australia has.

2) We should govern ourselves – There is a basic principle of self-determination. Scotland should be governed from Scotland. Some will argue that with devolution we get the best of both worlds, we are able to govern ourselves on local issues whilst having the clout of a bigger nation. The trouble is that that is only partially true. Can Scots determine our own taxes? Can we determine on the time that abortions would be allowed? Can we decide if nuclear weapons should be based in Scotland? Can we set up an oil fund? No. This might not be so bad if the Westminster government governed in the interests of the whole of the United Kingdom. But they don’t. The stock market and the City of London are the prime motivators. For example we are about to enter another housing bubble because of the overheated and over centralised economy in the South East of England – £60 billion of taxpayers money is going to be spent on taking 25 minutes of the rail journey from Birmingham to London!

3) Scotland is a wealthy nation – Apparently we are the 14th wealthiest nation in the world. And yet the Unionists keep telling us that we are too poor to be on our own. Apparently we are a nation of subsidy junkies who are incapable of looking after ourselves. A great deal of the argument is about oil but there are many other factors involved as well. Scotland is a small country with just over 5 million people. We have substantial resources in agriculture, industry, education, whisky, fishing, renewable energy, commerce and the arts. We are an inventive and creative people. If we have become a nation of subsidy junkies then we need to grow up and start making our own way. As regards the oil it is a tragedy that instead of setting up a 470 billion dollar oil fund (as the Norwegians have managed to do) and saved in the time of plenty, the money has been spent on destroying British manufacturing, foreign wars and creating a more unequal and unjust society.

4) Social, economic and political justice – I don’t believe that the Scots are inherently more communitarian and into social justice than the rest of the United Kingdom. That is a lazy and somewhat racist perspective. Although it has to be said that there is a strong tradition, stemming from our Christian heritage, of a desire for equality and justice. A mans a man for a that! But I do believe that in a smaller nation with a strong democratic tradition, and less dependence on the City of London and Big Business, there is a greater prospect of a more just and equal society. And we certainly need it. There is a profound rottenness and corruption at the heart of the British Establishment. Corruption and greed are not just third world problems. They are becoming increasingly endemic within the United Kingdom as we move away from our Christian heritage. Why should we expect to retain the fruits when we are rejecting the roots?

5) The Church will have more influence in an independent Scotland – My atheist and secular friends will be having kittens at that idea. Such is their hatred for Christianity that it is enough to make them vote no. But some of my Christian friends will be horrified as well. Isn’t the Scottish parliament an institution that wants to distance itself from Scotland’s Christian past? Wouldn’t we be better staying in what David Cameron has called ‘Christian Britain’ with our Christian institutions and traditions? It’s a moot point whether the UK or Scotland is going downhill quicker, but the fact is that they both are. Indeed they have descended at such a speed that I think we have to say that Christendom has gone. We are in a new situation and it is somewhat clutching at straws to have a misty-eyed view of Christian Britain. It’s gone. The Established churches are a dysfunctional mess, a pale disintegrating shadow of their former selves. I believe it will be easier for the Church and Christians to have a say in a society which is not centred on the worship of Mammon (the City of London), and which is a lot smaller. I certainly feel far more connected to Holyrood than Westminster. An independent Scotland will mean a new beginning. And the Church should be in there from the beginning seeking to be salt and light.

Of course nothing is as simple and simplistic as the above. In the modern world Scotland will not be completely independent. We will probably be tied in with NATO, the EU and other groups. We may not even have our own currency. But we will have more independence than we do now. In conclusion, I am somewhat bemused by people who warn about the evils of nationalism when it is Scottish, but seem to think it is ok when it is British. As the Mangalwadi quote at the start of this article states, nationalism when yoked to the reforming power of the Bible, can become a powerful redemptive force. At the end of the day – that is what I will work for, whether in an independent Scotland or a dependent Britain.

This article was first published in the Free Church’s ‘Record’ – together with a case for staying in the UK presented by Dr John Ross.

16 thoughts on “The Case for an Independent Scotland

  1. Stick to the Bible, David. It’s your strong point.

    I’m afraid your points are simply reheated tripe. Especially the final one. Yes, the Tommy Sheridans, Nicola Sturgeons, Patrick Harvies and Humza Yousufs of the ‘new’ Scotland are absolutely desperate for a strong Christian voice in the country!

    This is the sort of lily-livered Protestant response one would normally expect from the Church of Scotland. Do better, David!

    1. William – please feel free to respond to the points. But don’t jsut call them tripe because you do not agree with them. You do realise that your point about Tommy, Nocoa, Patrick etc will still be around in the old Scotland and that you will still have David Cameron, Ed Milliband, Nick Clegg etc. Which kind of invalidates your point….

  2. “Self determination” is, I agree, a basic principle. This is a strong point in the debate. It is particularly relevant today when the state increases its centralised powers against a backcloth of national deterioration in family, community and local governance. As an ‘undecided’, even after hearing excellent presentations by Murdo Fraser and John Mason, you provide a helpful case for independence. My remaining question is; what is the rhema word from the King of Scotland and Head of the Church? Because self determination only properly functions when we are submitted to Him.

  3. I’m not with you on this one David, especially your final point. I suspect that liberties for believers in an independent Scotland will more rapidly deteriorate than in a united country. An independent Scotland means a constantly left-wing government with little opposition for its more liberal agendas. Whether one is left or right a degree of power-balance between the to seems to me to be desirable.

    I also fear that an unhealthy hostility between Scots and English will find an unhelpful catalyst in independence.

    In my view, the real issue is between London and the rest of the country; Scottish Independence seems to me a drastic way to deal with this.

  4. On a personal basis I agree with you on all of these but quibble on some details. We can share the same argument but on some points and we would approach from different angles on the others (and disagree on the desired outcome).

    I agree that “Church and Christians to have a say in a society” but I do not believe it should be a special say. Everyone in an independent Scotland should be equal and no-one group should have privilege over another. Unelected Bishops in the House of Lords is an affront to democracy as is an unelected Head of State.

    If I could offer my own quote it would be Voltaire who said “We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation”.

  5. David, I usually appreciate your posts very much but this just leaves me with a very heavy heart. I never thought I would see the breakup of the Union in my lifetime but I now fear it is an inevitability, even if the outcome of the referendum is a ‘no’ this time. I’m sure it will be a close vote. I have watched and experienced the anti-English sentiment grow over the years from the light hearted banter of ‘friends’ to a nationalist rhetoric that appears to be altogether more sinister in tone and content. One can only hope that if independence comes it will bring a return of the cordial relations of old friends and allies who have worked and cooperated together, fought together, sacrificed together and share a common heritage.

    Your arguments sound vaguely like those I heard from a married couple intending to divorce after many years together. “The marriage is past it’s sell by date, we are breaking up anyway, we want self-determination, we’ll be better off apart and anyway, he hasn’t treated me fairly (or was it the other way round, I can’t remember). They had made it work for their mutual benefit for 25 years though good times and bad so why split now? Why not work at the relationship for their mutual benefit? But you are the Pastor so you know how the conversation goes!

    You are also the historian David but to claim that the United Kingdom was formed ‘on the basis of Empire, Protestantism and capitalism’ seems a bit simplistic to me. The first union dates back well before the days of Empire when Cromwell set up his ‘Godly Britannic union’ and if I remember correctly, 30 Scottish delegates sat in Parliament even back then. Relations were certainly turbulent in the years that followed but there have been compelling reasons for union between the two countries through 400 years of ever-changing history, including the days of Empire. I don’t see that the disappearance of Empire and changing religious allegiances changes much at all in terms of reasons to be united. We have a Union because we have a long history together, a common language and heritage, similar customs; legal, political and economic ties. For the most part we live on the same island and defend common borders so it makes practical common sense to have common defence, trade, currency and so on.

    Some of your arguments sound like all that stuff you get from a teenager complaining about ‘the parentals’. “They spend all their money on themselves and never buy me anything…”. The same arguments are heard in Cornwall and the North East of England. “Our roads have pot-holes while they are spending billions on HS2… ” As for housing bubbles, I think you have some of your own last time I looked at house prices in Aberdeen. As for your chances of ‘equality and justice’ based on the heritage of Robert Burns, I wouldn’t bet on it!

    It will be a sad day for me when Scotland declares independence from the Union that has served our countries for so long. Maybe you should be ‘careful what you wish for’. I hope and pray it will not come to pass.

  6. An interesting post David, thanks.

    I’m a “Better Together” supporter (politics, religion and marriage!) and I would support more devolution to have more local decision making (not just central belt) while keeping closer ties with the other devolved areas of the UK.

    I hear your yearning for a return to us being a “land of the Book” (or perhaps you deliberately wrote the “land of the people of the Book”?). I am not a historian, so you might be better placed to answer this question – were we ever truly a land of the Book?

    If indeed we were, then something went seriously wrong, which led to people rejecting the Good News which we share. No doubt you will attribute this to liberalism (but even if that is true, something happened to turn people towards that). However, I don’t see any mention in the New Testament Church of people referring to themselves as a people of the Book (most of the Bible we know today didn’t exist at that point), but rather followers of Christ. Perhaps part of the problem has been too much reference to a book and not enough of Jesus. It seems to me people often reject the Bible (because they do not understand it or it has been poorly preached) but are more willing to consider the person of Jesus (who you and I would say is revealed within Scripture, but is not limited to this revelation).

    I came to a deep and saving faith in Christ through various encounters with God, and the Scriptures came alive through the Holy Spirit. I love the Bible so much and I am drawn to continually learn more and more about God through it. However, this was from being surrounded by Christians with a real love expressed in their lives. I know others who seemed to experience Bible bashing, rather than Christ loving. Perhaps you meant “people of the book”, in which case we might be describing the same kind of people, but I think “followers of Jesus” would be a more accurate term, as the “Book” is only one aspect of faith, and Christ is all. Many are turned off the concept of submitting to a book, and no preaching at them will change their minds. However, when people experience the love of Jesus first hand and then see more of Jesus in the Bible, a different relationship with God can emerge.

    Will independence have any impact on this? I doubt it. On one hand, a new independent Scotland is likely to want to portray itself as a progressive secular one and people might get the taste of breaking free from what appear to be outdated institutions. On the other hand, God is not limited by nations or borders and wherever there are Christians there will be God’s love to be shown… what we need to do is stop fighting among ourselves and start loving each other as we are commanded to do, and as Jesus prayed for so passionately, so that the world will know we are truly his disciples and that each and every person is truly loved by God.

    God bless you and your readers, whatever their political orientations!

  7. Interesting article. You are very good at presenting a strong case, but someone could present an equally strong case for staying within the UK. I like the fact though that you begin by stating some very useful facts – in itself it does not make a difference.
    It is true that the Government is engineering another housing bubble, as will our Holyrood counterparts. It is one of the biggest injustices in our country. But all governments are the same in that regard, they are going to look after the majority (mortgage holders) and do everything they can to keep house prices high. I suppose I just view things differently, I don’t see any more or less justice coming out of a Scottish government. The only difference is they will look after their interest groups in the same way that Westminister looks after its.
    One slight point on High Speed 1, it is actually a misunderstanding to think that it only benefits Birmingham to London. It speeds up journeys on the entire route, as would be the case with other lines in Europe. Trains from Holyhead, Glasgow, or anywhere else using that section will be faster. It is also the case that there is a vast lack of capacity on the lines, which also affects Scotland if (as is the case) we cannot get enough freight capacity on existing lines. Whether we should build another high speed line, or another conventional line is open to debate.
    But back to independence! I would be voting no, and there are a few reasons for that, in order of significance. First, I am uncomfortable with the idea of ‘independence’. Not in your article, but generally in this debate, it is based on pride, and that is not an attractive quality. It is the one thing, together with arrogance that turns me off the SNP. It is equally unattractive in UKIP. It is easy to see problems with Europe, but it is just pride that suggests ‘we can do it better’.
    Second is division. The world is full of desire to divide (often linked to pride, as above), and often conflict too. What we need and should showcase to the world is a spirit of cooperation and working together. Yes, independent countries can do that, but how much more wonderful if we can actually stick with each other and be dependent on each other. There will be many nations in heaven, but none independent, maybe we should be happy to be part of something bigger than ourselves now. Rather than selfishly wanting our own little bit to be great, working to make something of the whole.
    Third is barriers. We can live and work anywhere in Europe due to treaties and agreements. I have no doubt that would continue, but its not automatic. The only place I have an absolute right to live and work in is my own country, and the SNP want to move that border hundreds of miles further north. I doubt there would be passport control, but presumably two independent countries can fall out in the future and introduce such. But I would certainly see much more subtle barriers. The Republic of Ireland was part of Britain, speaks English and is part of the EU. But we don’t share radio standards (DAB), tax, postage, telephone or regulatory systems. It would likely result in similarly cutting off Christian charities I support. They are not going to set up an office in Scotland to reclaim gift aid from a few supporters. Will we still get Eastenders, of course (what a shame!), but will we get Christian radio – probably only if they want to pay for broadcasts in another country.
    My forth reason is linked to above, it removes economies of scale. Therefore, yes we can be successful, just like Norway, Sweden etc, but I am also aware of how much things cost there! There is always an extra charge for ‘international postage’ putting up costs for internet shopping etc.
    As you said, we will not be entirely independent, which is no bad thing.

    1. David – thanks for this. As always your points are well-considered and presented. It’s good to find another Christian perspective on this whole issue. On your last point, I’m hopeful that there can be a formal separation of Church and state in a new Scotland. It would do both a lot of good!

      Kevin – I do agree with your issue over pride, though I hear the same thing coming from the pro-union side too, with this talk of the UK being one of the most successful nations in the world, “punching above our weight” and so on. Simply recognising that things can be done better than they currently are isn’t pride (though assuming that it can only be done under our own steam would be!), and the scope for meaningful change any time soon in the context of the UK as it is seems vanishingly small. In the spirit of good debate, if I may (and David is okay with it), I’d like to counter a couple of your points. I’ve kept it short to avoid taking over the comments section – I apologise if this has resulted in it coming over a ingracious! (1) Scotland has always had a lower rate of home ownership (below 50% as recently as 1989) and higher rates of social rather than private rental than the rest of the UK, and has only in the last 20 years begun to converge; Scottish average house prices remain 1/2 to 2/3 those of the UK’s. For these reasons it is reasonable to expect at least a subtly different approach to housing in Scotland – as already evidenced by the higher rate of council house building here. (2) I’m a big fan of high speed rail, but HS2 arguably does benefit only Birmingham and London, simply because passengers running from Glasgow only benefit if one of those two cities are their final destination: it doesn’t bring the rest of the country closer together (e.g. Glasgow-Manchester) in a way that would help address the economic imbalance towards South East. (3) You raise some good points about potential barriers (and welcomly acknowledge that they may not be realised in practice), but charities already need to have a separate registration with OSCR if they wish to operate in Scotland. (4) Finally, having visited Norway, I know how expensive things are there: but average salaries are higher to compensate, and more importantly, the gap between rich and poor is considerably smaller than here.

  8. David, thanks for a reasoned and thoughtful approach to the referendum debate. At the risk of being seen as one Englishman taking issue with another, here are some points on the details:

    ‘The United Kingdom was formed on the basis of the Empire, Protestantism and capitalism.’ A bit of a sweeping generalization. For one thing, (discounting America) the British empire only began to really establish itself well after the Act of Union, and with Scots colonists often in the vanguard. When the Union took place, the British Empire of Queen Victoria had yet to be established, and the Union wasn’t about that.

    I don’t think the Union was about Empire. It was a recognition of ethnic affinities, that Angles populated Edinburgh as they did England, and that, thanks to John Knox’s choice of the Geneva Bible, English is our common language. This is, I think, the neglected issue in this debate. On the basis of ethnicity, our two nations are too ethnically interwoven to be torn apart. My niece lives in Glasgow and gets a vote. One of my elders here in Abingdon was raised in the Free Church in Rosskeen, but by living in England gets no vote. Our church plant down the road also has a Scottish elder, and another elder there has a Scottish wife. Is it fair that these people don’t get a vote to determine the future of their homeland?

    True, the Union was about the mutual pursuit of Protestantism, though in this regard the Stuarts had not been as helpful as the Hanoverians who had succeeded them! While I entirely accept your argument that ‘Christendom’ has gone, you only have to travel to a staunchly Catholic country such as Poland or Austria to see how a Catholic worldview shapes their lives even today, and to realise that the pillars on which our academic life, our Parliamentary democracy, and our approach to common law, are all built on the Protestant understanding of nationhood. Our common Protestant heritage defines many of the values of our United Kingdom, however secular we have become.

    You also say ‘I believe it will be easier for the Church and Christians to have a say in a society which is not centred on the worship of Mammon (the City of London), and which is a lot smaller.’ I am not sure the worship of Mammon is unique to the City of London. The banks that overreached themselves were Scottish, which suggests that money will remain the defining characteristic of Scottish politics. Over the past fortnight I passed through Zurich and Munich airports on my way to and from Poland. They are temples to sports cars and priceless watches. Mammon rules among all the urban elites of Europe and beyond, and there is plenty of evidence of it in both Edinburgh and Glasgow, though I can’t speak for Dundee!

    The depressing fact is that since the Enlightenment, the secular understanding of the nation state has been reduced to a narrow definition of ethnicity consisting of money and power. No other values are treasured in binding together the citizens of a secular nation state. The news is dominated by the economy, politics, crime and war. There is no room to explore the deeper values of family, culture, language and literature, morality and spirituality in our national life, because in a secular mindset we don’t ‘do’ these things – they are privatized. I see no evidence that an independent Scotland can buck this trend. Rather, there will be a sense that a new nation-state will be starting again with secularism established as a rejection of its protestant past.

    Vishnal Mangalwadi’s quote is an interesting one, and I must make time to read his book to see what he is saying. But there is a danger that Scotland’s independence becomes instead an example for far too many other state breakups which are fuelled by a much more brutal nationalism

    1. Thanks DG Hart – I find it interesting having an American warning a Scot about being nationalistic! Americans tend to be the most nationalistic people I know – and that is not necessarily a bad thing….

  9. To pick up on the issue of Self Determination, I find that the challenge is to know where do we draw the boundaries of who we are? It’s easy enough to say Scotland should be governed from Scotland, but that is in many ways an artificial boundary line drawn. People living in Berwick might not feel England should be governed from England because they might prefer a more regional devolved government, rather than a London control. Others in Scotland could in years to come say “Tayside should be governed from Tayside” and be angry at the central belt/Glasgow-Edinburgh emphasis. Will we need another referendum again in the future?

    It strikes me that we could keep on subdividing until it becomes meaningless. I’m not sure that the people living in Eyemouth are all that much different from the people living in Berwick or any other pairing of border towns. Regional decision making yes, that makes sense up to a point. Do we need to break away and lose all the benefits of being part of something bigger to get more regional influence? Personally, I don’t think we do. The way we are heading if we get a “no” (better together) vote is actually something I find quite exciting and it fills me with hope. The “devo max” and other policies are really interesting and give us much to ponder.

    I think many of the other contributions to this post have been very interesting also, thank you.

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