Can a Christian Vote for Independence?

This is the text of a short article I wrote for CARE- Scotland. You can get the alternative point of view from my friend Dr Alaister Noble here as well –

http://www.care.org.uk/where-we-work/care-for-scotland

Can a Christian vote for Independence?

Many Christians are understandably concerned about the possibility of Scotland voting for independence. We are concerned about the economics, the politics and the increased uncertainty in a world of increasing uncertainty, but as Christians our concerns are far deeper. We know that ‘sin is a reproach to any people’ and ‘righteousness exalts a nation’. What if Scotland leaves ‘Christian’ Britain and becomes Secular Scotland? One man at Keswick was heard to opine about yours truly ‘he seems such an intelligent and sensible Christian man, I can’t believe he would be for independence”. I offer the following as my personal opinion, not as the opinion of the Free Church or Solas, or even more importantly as the opinion of the bible. I am inclined towards voting ‘yes’ because of the following reasons:

1) Britain is past its sell by date – The United Kingdom was formed on the basis of the Empire, Protestantism and capitalism. Capitalism has triumphed but the other two reasons have gone. I am particularly concerned that the Christian foundation of Britain has been removed and we will not long have the fruits once the roots have gone.

2) We should govern ourselves – There is a basic principle of self-determination. Scotland should be governed from Scotland.

3) Scotland is a wealthy nation –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.

4) Social, economic and political justice – I 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.

5) The Church will have more influence in an independent Scotland –Isn’t the Scottish parliament an institution that wants to distance itself from Scotland’s Christian past? 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. I am very concerned at some of the statements and actions coming from the Scottish Parliament in general and Alex Salmond in particular. But then I am equally concerned at what comes out of Westminster and David Cameron. Besides which voting for independence is not voting for a particular political party or leader.

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.

PS. Here is the best analysis of the current situation I have come across in Scotland – from my old University colleague and now BBC journalist – Allan Little.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/special/2014/newsspec_8699/index.html

23 thoughts on “Can a Christian Vote for Independence?

  1. 1) This is a simplistic assessment of the reasons people came together hundreds of years ago. Nor is there much of an argument to say they are no longer valid or that there are not new reasons for union and co-operation. If the UK no longer has a Christian basis then one wonders what on earth could be said about Scotland.

    2) The argument of ‘self-determination’ can be used for any area, city or region in the world. It is not how a democracy works. My own city, Glasgow, has never been ‘owned’ by the SNP. I have never voted SNP or Labour but have found myself governed by both in Edinburgh. In the unlikely event of ‘independence’, my own party will never govern so where is my ‘self-determination’? Self-determination is the ability to vote for the party of your choice – an ability denied to millions all over the world. It is not a guarantee you will always get the party of your choice. It is also a mistake to view Scotland as a nation that shares the same political outlook. There are political pockets all over the nation, as there is in any nation. These are not arguments for ‘independence’.

    3 and 4) It’s not very Christian or egalitarian to argue that ‘we huv wealth and ur no gettin’ it’. Countries work better with shared resources and shared risks. The argument that we should consider ourselves wealthier and morally superior to our friends in the UK is one of the most appalling and ridiculous argument made by the Guess campaign.

    5) The government that disregarded the democratic view on gay marriage and wants State guardians for every child is going to listen to the Christian church? The First Minister that stated there would be no Scotland without the Roman Catholic Church is going to be a friend of the Protestant churches? The likes of Tom Devine, who regards the Covenanters as the ‘Tartan Taliban’, are going to accept the glory and liberty of the Reformation in the ‘new’ Scotland? Really?

  2. Don’t get point 2.

    Merseyside dislikes London as much as the Scots. Should they be independant?

    If we object to London rule, why would Dundonians be happy with Edinburgh rule. Where does it end? Broughty Ferry declaring independence?

    Silly I know, but drawing a line at the channel seems to make more sense than halfway up the country.

    1. Tag – it does depend what you call ‘the country’! Your point can just be turned on its head – why let the Union stop at London? Why not Brussells or One World Government?!

  3. Dear David, Thank you for these comments, and also for the piece by Dr. Noble. However, I am heartbroken at the thought of the land and people I love and have served, separating from the UK. I will go to the Church Prayer Meeting tonight and cry to God that in His mercy this folly will cease. Is this the outcome of an unhealthy anti-english sentiment amongst many living in Scotland? Independence from whom? The History of our peoples? UK Parliament? Our Christian Heritage? If the future is going to be like the most recent TV debate, then the future is bleak and worrying. If the SNP can only get their way by shouting down any opposition then it is a very sad day. I turned the broadcast off, and I was ashamed to be a Scot. It is like the preacher [?] who wrote in the margin of his prepared taxt: “Argument weak here, shout.” Yes, there was plenty of shouting, indicating that the argument was and is weak. It will not be independence, for independent Scotland wants to be in bondage to the EU. Independnce into blind uncertanty. This will be the beginning of a slippery slope; Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles will ask for “independence.”

    Spiritually there has been much coming and going. Yes, Scotland had John Knox, Samuel Rutherford and Robert Leightonand so on, but Wesley and Whitefield, and also Charles Simeon came to Scotland to evangelise. The latter being the means of the conversion of the minister at Moulin, thereby commencing a revival that area.

    It was an expensive and retrograde step to establish the Scottish Parliament expensive in its setup and recurring costs. Costs that are a sheer luxury. Local government should be truly local, ie. Town and County councils.

    SNP seem to be only interested in ruling Scotland as an enclave. They do not have much regard for the Scots people, especially those who either born in Scotland or who have Scots parents, but happen to live out of Scotland. They don’t belong. Isn’t that telling? Fortunately Christian beleivers look forward to the city that has foundations whose builder and maker is God. Would that the whole of the Uk was thus established. Independence will be a disaster for Scotland and the UK.

    1. Peter, I share your pain. How terrible that it has come to this. But it has. And I don’t think it is because of anti-English sentiment but rather because of a positive view of being able to govern one’s own country. I think you will find that the UK has already separated itself from its Christian past. I agree about the shouting – from both sides. But it seems to me you are being slightly selective, implying that it only came from the independence camp. And you are getting a little fantastical when you declare that the Western Isles will demand independence! The Scottish Parliament has been in general a great success….and well worth the money. And your last paragraph is just wrong. The SNP would have loved to have had exiled Scots vote – it would have given them a much bigger chance of winning….I don’t agree that independence will be a disaster I do however agree with you that we are looking forward to the heavenly city!

      1. David Thank you for your response.

        One’s position is often conditioned by one’s experience. My experience in listening to many around me, has been that the anti-English vitriol was painful. And it is not just me, for the Daily Mail today has an article on this very subject. The anti-English feeling in Scotland is a significant background. At the time the TV was switched off on our home, it was the First Minister who was shouting. What others did thereafter, comment is not possible; but the reports in the media describing how Jim Murphy and J K Rowling were treated was shameful. Pity you pulled me up only on the weakest of the three possibilities of independence mark II !! Would you agree that because the church is not being God’s Church then one of the consequences of that, is society going downhill, and fragmenting? The National Church is slowly falling to pieces; and more and more congregations are becoming independent, and possibly losing inter-congregational fellowship. One of the significant aspects of following Christ is to know reconciliation with God and with one another. Surely that would be better than fragmentation and independence. The verse at the end of Judges comes to mind: “In those [these?!] days, there was no king in Israel: Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” Is that pertinent, for our praying, repentance, and even voting? Who knows that the mess we are in, is an Judgement of God on our rebellion against Him. Again our prayer should be God have mercy on us.

      2. But I also hear the ant-SCottish vitriol – especially from the Daily Mail! Try buying the non-Scottish version and see the racist ignorance espoused in it. Two wrongs do not make a right. I agree about the Church – but that is across the UK and not quite sure what it has to do with the independence debate? And I’m not quite sure why so many Christians seem to want to apply the Bibles teaching about Christian unity to mean that we should have political unity. If that were the case then surely it applies equally to British independence. IN the name of unity why should we not just have a United States of Europe?

      3. Slightly off topic – I’m sorry Peter, but in any argument, reference to the Daily Mail instantly loses you any credibility.
        I cannot fathom any Christian who would willingly pay money to buy that paper, or chose to view the website and refer others to it.
        The way it peddles thinly veiled soft-core pornography, coupled with baiting middle class readers on hot-topic social issues with distorted versions of the truth make it the most dangerous of the papers out there for Christian readers.
        If you want a right wing paper, read something like the Times or the Telegraph rather than that junk.

      4. Peter in my comment refers to “Peter Rae”, who in his comment above uses the the expression “the Daily Mail today has an article..” which as I’ve outlined above automatically means that the following point loses credibility.

  4. Yes fine for Scotland.

    But a “yes” vote will have massive implications for the rest of the UK including the £billions that will be required to set up new institutions, change laws, alter financial services etc etc etc.

    Yet despite all the significant effects on us south of the border, we have no say in the process. 90% of the UK population have no vote in a referendum that will see our country changed for ever.

    This is not democracy, or perhaps only very selective democracy.

    In all the debates I have heard plenty about the benefits to Scotland but NOTHING about the negative effects on the rest of us.

    Tom Goodfellow
    Rugby

    P.S. I am a full Scot by birth.

    1. Tom, You do realise that your standard of ‘democracy’ would mean that Russia should get a vote on whether Ukraine was to be independent, that Australia should have allowed Britain to vote etc. To say that 50 million English should have the right to determine whether Scotland should be free to govern itself – is to say the least, a very strange doctrine!

      1. I hear what you are saying David to Tom and likening it to Russia / Ukraine, Australia / Britain. Of course Scotland has a secular right to determine her future. Is this a “Christian” right though?

        Hmm it’s a difficult one. I come to this with being English, raised in Scotland with a love for Scotland and considering myself more an “honourary Scot” than my birth right of being English due to having spent 42 of my 49 years living in Scotland.

        Yet, Tom’s point about being “fine for Scotland” and “massive implications for the rest of the UK” cannot reasonably be easily dismissed as “very strange” with a likening to political climates elsewhere globally.

        Is it “just and fair” that I have a right to a vote on something that will affect my mother, brothers and sister and their families where they have no say in this in what affects them and me? How can this be a basis for creating as just and fair society as it can be?

        Now if the whole of the UK were voting on whether member countries should become independent, say, with a central government for all then that would be a different matter.

    2. David

      You have set up a fatuous “Aunt Sally” and then knocked it down. Also you have not answered the question – what about the major negative effects, financial and otherwise, on the rest of the UK if it is a yes vote.

      50 million UK residents having a say in their own future is not a “strange” doctrine.

      Cheers

      TomG

      1. Its not a fatuous Aunt Sally – the English have the right to vote for independence if they wish – for their own country. They don’t have the right to determine whether the Scots should be independent or not.

  5. Thanks for sharing your views on this David and allowing comment.

    Your post title is an obvious yes. Christians are free to vote any way they like and should do according to their conscience.

    Your 5 points are quite interesting and if you don’t mind comment, I’ll give a short reflection on each.

    1. The idea of a country having a sell by date is a curious one! Personally, I don’t see a nation as a static entity, but rather an evolving, and in the case of the UK, a devolving one. I think you are right about the Christian roots and fruits, and share your sadness. However, it is an encouragement not to rest on our laurels and in many ways I think Christianity thrives when it is free from the trappings of politics. We cannot any longer promote Christian values from a point of view of tradition, but we need to make more compelling cases.

    2. I find this to be the catchiest, but weakest argument in favour of independence. We should govern ourselves. Yes, but it’s about where we decide the boundaries lie. Britons should govern Britain. Scots should govern Scotland. Taysiders should govern Tayside. Islanders should govern the Islands. I have heard many people outside the central belt complain that too many local issues are being decided by Edinburgh. To me, this is a clear case for appropriate devolution and decentralising of some decision making, but there is no need to draw a boundary line between Carlisle and Berwick to create our own version of HMRC, our own army, our own welfare state and so forth. I am a supporter of further devolution, but cannot see any strength to this as an argument for separation. It is like a husband telling his wife he should be in charge of his own decisions, so handing over a divorce request. There are other ways of managing relationships than seeking total separation.

    3. This may be true, but why ring fence this wealth and try to keep it back from our Northern Irish, English and Welsh neighbours, when they likewise share their own resources with us? If anything, I see more of a Christian argument in remaining in the union precisely to share our inventive and creative skills with our neighbours.

    4. This is possible, and perhaps your strongest argument here. However, I am not convinced that we would see us move away from injustice or social inequality just because we are independent. It is also possible to argue a case that our devolved powers and the imminent arrival of more, have already and will continue to help us move towards a fairer and more just society. I tire of the regular SNP vs Labour arguments and dread watching the new battles for power in a small, potentially wealthy (although probably debt ridden) nation.

    5. While I hear your yearning here, I also hear your very real concerns as expressed in your open letter to Alex Salmond. I fear very much for the Church in Scotland if a new era of independence arises. The dominant trend in Scottish politics is towards an egalitarian, modern society (both of which I personally support), but alongside this is a a growing secularism, which I am happy to see in a plural public square, but not as a bullying, dogmatic worldview. I fear you would experience an even bigger battle on your hands if you vote Yes… However, I agree that the Church does need to be there in the beginning of whatever the next chapter is. This is part of the reason I applaud the moves by the Church of Scotland to offer support and places of healing and reconciliation pre and post referendum.

    It’s never good for the comment to be longer that the post, so I’ll stop there but thank you once again!

    God bless
    MM

    1. The reason why I don’t use the Bible or theology to argue for Scottish independence is that neither the Bible nor theology say anything about it. One of the things we have learned from the American church is how daft it is to think that the Bible was written to give specific instruction for American politicians or anyone else about non-biblical issues!

  6. “There is a basic principle of self-determination. Scotland should be governed from Scotland.”

    Self-determination is the principle that a nation chooses its *form* of government. There are many possible forms, not just the nationalist myth of the tribal leaders being the best people to govern the tribe. For example, the Scottish people exercised self-determination in 1997 when they chose a form of government that shares power between Brussels, Holyrood, Strasbourg, and Westminster. By contrast, the Falklands Islanders have chosen a form of government that divides power between Port Stanley and Whitehall. They have exercised self-determination and decided that some powers are best held far, far away.

    Were you perhaps thinking of the principle of ‘subsidiarity’? This comes from Roman Catholic social thought and is written into the Maastricht Treaty as EU law. It holds that power should be held at the highest level necessary and the lowest level possible. Whether that means Holyrood, Westminster or some combination of the two then depends on an examination of the facts, not the automatic application of a theory.

    Of course, many Christians will want to question whether the nation is really the right category to care about. Aren’t *nations* past their sell-by date? Nationalism brought us two World Wars; the EU has coincided with an era of peace and prosperity. Maybe we should be less concerned with /who/ rules over us and more concerned about how they do so?

      1. Interesting thought. I can’t speak for everyone but as a no supporter I would be very happy for Britain not to be fully independent and part of a united states of Europe. I don’t think full independence or nationalism is a healthy desire in any circumstance. Thank you for the challenge though, no supporters need to consider if we are hypocritical and only opposed to nationalism in Scotland!

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