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An Emotional Decision – Reflections on the Scottish Independence Referendum

An Emotional Decision

“I was, I think, the last speaker, and after dwelling on the encroachments made by the Court of Session, confirmed by the final judgement of the House of Lords, and on the manner in which we had been treated in Parliament, where the voices of the Scottish Members had been altogether overborne by the English majority, I said, on the spur of the moment, that such injustice was enough to justify Scotland in demanding the repeal of the Union. With that, to my surprise, and somewhat to my consternation, the meeting rose as one man, waving hats and hankerchiefs, and cheering again and again. No doubt the enthusiastic feelings of the people assisted our object, but I took care not to speak of repeal of the Union at our subsequent meetings” Annuls of the Disruption. Mr Wood of Ellie, describing his visit to the south of Dumfriesshire in the winter of 1842/3 . Cited by Scottish government minister, Roseanna Cunningham, when she addressed the Free Church General Assembly in May of this year.

The end is near. The voting booths have just been delivered to St Peters halls for the big day tomorrow. I have lived through one of the most extraordinary campaigns in Scottish history and come Friday we will know the result of one of the most important votes ever in the history of Britain. A vote which will have implications for the whole world. A lot has been said about heart and head. Usually you get the No campaign saying ‘my heart says yes, but my head says no’, which really means that emotionally I find the idea of an independent Scotland attractive, but when it comes to hard headed reality, I come to my senses”. The truth is however that there is a great deal of emotions on all sides and to be honest I suspect that if the No campaign had concentrated a bit more on the heart than on the wallet, they would not be in such trouble. Whichever way it goes I thought I would, as my Southern friends say, ‘share my heart’. I just hope that at the end of this you will ‘bless my heart’!

1) I feel sad –
If the Yes vote win I will feel really sad – let the Prime Minister explain why… “It would be heartbreaking to wake up on Friday morning to the end of the country we love.The country that launched the Enlightenment, abolished slavery, drove the industrial revolution and defeated fascism.A country with the British values of fairness, freedom and justice. Values that say wherever you are, whoever you are, your life has dignity and worth. The greatest example of democracy the world has ever known, of openness, of people of different nationalities and faiths coming together as one.” Despite the hyperbole I agree. It is desperately sad that Britain is within a whisker of ending.

The Scottish journalist and fellow Christian, John Macleod, wrote a beautiful piece on the history of the Union, which highlighted its good points and also its demise. I would love to quote it all but let me just give you the ending: Folk-memory of the war has largely faded and Scotland, in my own lifetime, has become a far more secular country. Going to church is now a distinctly eccentric pastime; parish ministries have folded, merged or disappeared all over the country and the General Assembly no longer commands acres of newsprint and live television coverage. Parliament itself – not least because of our European entanglement since 1972 – is a greatly diminished thing; politics is now a profession – one is tempted to say a racket – rather than the true vocation, the servant-mentality it once was. (Sir Tam was filthy rich already and when Margaret Bain, then a remedial teacher, became unexpectedly an SNP MP in October 1974, she found that meant a pay-cut.) Old bonds are breaking, old ideals disintegrating, old allegiances dissolving, even as we prepare to define ourselves, as Scots, not just as a country but for the next century. And we shall shortly know if that Union endures – battered but unbowed; or if – like trying to run a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost in today’s brash, coarse world – it is stylish, beautiful… and over.”

I agree that it is probably over and it saddens me. I believe that after the Second World War we largely turned away from the Christian foundations that made this nation great. How can we possibly expect the house to stand when the storm comes, if the foundations have gone?

If the No vote win – I will also feel sorrow. I don’t believe Britain will have been saved. I still think the ship is going down and ironically I fear that if Scotland does not take this opportunity then the rest of the UK will lose out as well. The Establishment will still be entrenched and having had a narrow escape will ensure that any meaningful change will not occur. I will also feel sorrow for the tens of thousands of disenfranchised and disempowered poor who have become involved in this campaign and who see some hope for change in a Yes vote. Its as though they will have been told, crawl back to your drinks, drugs and 42 inch plasma TV’s and leave the job of governing the country to the elites.

2) I feel apprehensive
Because we do not know what will happen. Either way. I find it strange that the No campaign have told us that we can have change and the land of milk and honey ‘without risk’ if we stay in the Union. Is that even possible? And I don’t believe on the Yes side that independence will be the promised land either.

I am apprehensive about the abuse on the Yes side continuing. There are those who have invested so much of themselves, emotionally and in other ways in this whole campaign, that I fear there will be ongoing repurcussions if the vote is No. There will be a lot of angry, hurt and disappointed people.

I am apprehensive about the abuse on the No side continuing. The No side like to suggest that it is the nasty nationalists who are not nice, and that they would never indulge in such bitterness. I’m afraid that is not true. What I have seen already in a raising of the emotional temperature when a Yes vote became possible, is nothing to what will happen if a Yes vote actually happens. There will be a lot of angry, hurt and disappointed people.

3) I feel angry
At the way we have been let down by generations of politicians who have allowed the gap between the governed and the governors to increase to an unsustainable level. I am angry at being patronised by George Osborne and others whose ‘let them eat cake’ attitude will ferment unrest and revolution. George Osbourne’s Treasury officials published a document telling us that voting ‘no’ would allow us to ‘share a meal of fish and chips with your family every day for around ten weeks, with a couple of portions of mushy peas thrown in”. And what about that dreadful advert for Better Together – one of the most patronizing and sexist adverts I have seen in a long time.

Contrast that negativity with this – which really to my mind sums up what this is all about:

I am angry that David Cameron did not have devo-max on the ballot paper, and that it was suddenly offered days before the vote, with no guarantees. Besides which Devo-Max is not the issue. The promises made by Gordon Brown (who has been wheeled out to take over from Alaister Darling) , David Cameron and Nick Clegg are extraordinary. Why have they come so late? What do they mean? Will the rest of the UK be consulted? How can they be guaranteed without that? And what use is having extra tax raising powers if they do not include oil and corporation tax? I will go for Devo-Max if it includes the right not to go to war, not to have Trident, to have control of all the wealth produced in Scotland and to determine our own economy. They can call it Devo-Max if they want. I call it independence.

Iain MacWhirter wrote a superb article in The Herald in which he pointed out: “I am still of the view Scots could have been satisfied by federalism. It’s what the vast majority of Scots have said they want. But David Cameron made it a condition of the UK signing the Edinburgh Agreement in 2012 that there would be a binary referendum splitting the Scottish consensus into boxes labelled independence or the status quo. Even then, most Scots were still minded to vote No. So what happened?
Well, in a nutshell, George Osborne happened. The shock announcement in February that Westminster would rule out any currency union after independence – not even think about it, not even discuss it – was a key moment in the disintegration of the old Union. That was the moment many Scots realised that the Union they thought was a partnership of nations was not a partnership at all. London was claiming exclusive rights to the common currency of the UK. It was as if the whole history of the Union had suddenly been rewritten as an afterthought to the British imperialism.
I never say how I will vote in elections. It is not my role as a journalists to tell people how to vote or promote the interests of any particular party. The only party I’ve ever been involved with is Labour and that was an eternity ago. But this isn’t an election; it is a referendum on the future of the country I live in, and I will be voting Yes.”

I am angry at the cack handed way the No campaign have worked Project Fear to death! They really do like running round warning people that the sky is about to fall down. It will be the end of Western civilization. We won’t get pensions. We won’t be able to visit family and friends in England. All Scots living abroad will no longer be Scottish. Supporting independence is a vote for Putin, Isis or the Chinese! Those of us who write daily letters to England will have our postage tripled. And we won’t get to watch Dr Who!

In the these last days they have got so desperate that they are frantically trying to push the narrative that behind every Nationalist lies a Nazi. What happens is that even respectable Unionists start telling stories of posters being ripped down, and people using bad language or intimidating others. Then they move on from that to say ‘if you support Scottish independence you are encouraging this kind of behaviour’. I have even been accused of encouraging anti-semitism because I wrote in favour of independence! It’s the kind of ad hominem argument that Richard Dawkins uses when he implies that all Christians are responsible for Westboro Baptists! I feel a little amused that one Unionist I respect and admire talks about the ‘industrial language’ heard on the streets from some Yes supporters, and yet he is a Rangers fan! I have a sneaking suspicion that ‘industrial language’ is not unknown in Ibrox and yet I don’t think I would condemn all Rangers fans as Orcs!

I am angry that there are some Yes supporters who have soured what has been a largely positive and good natured exercise in real democracy. They infuriate me the way that a few Dundee fans do when they chant their stupid chants and behave like morons. They affect the reputation of the whole club.

3) I am surprised –
Firstly at the level of engagement. I have never seen anything like this. Literally in every town, village, and most interestingly of all, in every housing scheme.

I am surprised at how close the vote is. The received wisdom throughout the campaign was that the most likely result was a 60/40 split in favour of No. At the beginning of September The Guardian pointed out that the No vote were 14% behind and that “public opinion tends to swing towards the status quo in the final weeks of referendum campaigns”. How wrong they have proved to be! At the moment the polls are showing neck and neck, with No having a slight advantage. Personally I think that No will win it, because I still think that when it comes to actually voting people will be scared of change, but the fact that there is even a possibility of a Yes vote sent the Westminster politicians into a blind panic and the London media into overdrive. Love bombing, threats, promises of major constitutional change and a letter from David Beckham all quickly followed. Just why someone thought that a letter from an English footballer who is not exactly an expert in constitutional change, could help the No cause is a mystery!

What makes me doubt my prediction is the role of social media, the prospect of a high turn out and how many new voters have registered to vote Yes. I think that the majority of older people, the half million English voters in Scotland, women, the middle class and evangelical Christians will vote No; and that the majority of younger people, Scots, men the working class and Free Church ministers will vote Yes! The result will hinge on just how much the variation in each group actually is. If the Labour vote continues to collapse then the Union will be in real trouble. On the other hand all the pollsters and pundits could be sitting on Friday morning with egg on their faces if No romps home by 20%!

I am surprised that the No campaign has been such a disaster. Last week in the centre of Dundee I was handed various No leaflets. One headlined – Don’t trust Salmond’s lies. Another, ‘If you don’t know, vote No’. Negative and appealing to ignorance. On the other hand the Yes campaign gave me leaflets with titles like “Your choice – opportunities in an independent Scotland”. If the No campaign had not been so negative, superior and treated us like idiots, we would never have been at this stage. Although in principle I am for independence it is not an absolute principle and I could have been swayed either way. Indeed at one point in the campaign I was almost persuaded to change.

There has been one other big surprise. In this campaign I have come to realize just how much some Christians tie their Christianity in with their politics. There is a significant proportion of the British church which seems to think that Christian Britain still exists and that to be British is to be Christian, and to be Christian is to be British. I am really surprised at how many people treat this as a moral and doctrinal issue. Numerous people have written to me and said that I am going against Gods Word because I am for divorce (I struggle to see why the Bibles teaching about divorce and marriage has anything to do with constitutional arrangements of nation states), that I am playing into the hands of the secularists, and questioned both my intelligence and my spiritual condition. There have been some veiled hints that my ministry would be considered ‘unsound’, and that I would not be invited to meet the ‘right sort’ of people in the right sort of places. Too bad. My personal political views are not those of either Solas or the Free Church – both of whom do not equate the Gospel with one political stance. I wish some other Christians would learn to do the same.

4) I feel hopeful and joyful –
I believe that a nation should be governed by its citizens. And if Scotland ends up independent I am hopeful that in the providence of God, it will turn out to be a good thing.

I am hopeful and joyful because it is a privilege to live in a country where we can have such a deep, important and impassioned argument and not kill one another. We don’t live in Ukraine, Syria or Gaza. No-one has been killed here. Despite the passions and some nastiness overall the debate has been a fantastic one for Scotland. We had a lovely older lady in St Peters called Jean Graham. She told me that in between the wars there was a campaign to get Churchill ousted as an MP from Dundee. It succeeded and he was replaced by a Christian Socialist Prohibitionist called Edwin Scrymgeour. She recalled as a child going round the housing schemes singing a song they had been taught about voting for Eddie Scrymgeour or ‘we’ll put yer windies in’. I realize that such ‘robust’ politics is not the nice stuff that the middle class matrons of Morningside except – but neither is it civil war. The No commentators have realized that there greatest weapon is now to stir up the fear of division and hatred and so that is precisely what they are doing. But as Gerry Hassan pointed out in Prospect magazine –
“This is a peaceful debate, and even more importantly, it reveals a public and political culture. The old institutional carve-ups and assumptions are being challenged, and a country is maturing, growing up, and collectively deciding to stop blaming others (the Tories, Westminster) and start to take responsibility. Whatever some of the campaign rhetoric, that is an impressive and fundamental shift which will last long after the vote.
The power of the “divided Scotland” mantra belongs to an earlier age, when Scots colluded in holding themselves back, while blaming others for their predicament. Beyond the relative balances of the Yes and No votes on 18th September, this feels like a seismic cultural change and one from which there is no going back.”

I am hopeful and joyful because even if Scotland remains in the UK, we still have the Good News to proclaim to the poor. The real Good News. Far more revolutionary and radical than any political change.

5) I feel peaceful –
I know this is a contradiction to the point about feeling apprehensive and anxious. But we are talking about emotion here – and who of us does not have a heart full of contradictory emotions?!

If you want to know why have a listen to the statement I made to my congregation this Sunday. you can hear it here – the morning sermon on the 14th of September –


I am at peace because I know that God is sovereign, he already knows the result, and whatever that result he has called us to proclaim the Gospel of peace to all.

That is why it is imperative that those of us who are Christians do precisely that. We are to bring peace. Despite what I have said above about the overall positive aspect of the debate, there are a lot of raw emotions, whatever the result. We need to be sure that we don’t inflame them, and that we remind people not to put their trust in politicians.

The Conclusion?
My heart tells me to vote no. My head tells me to vote Yes. I will go the rational route. But I believe that whatever the result, our nation, whether Scotland or the UK, will be ruined unless there is a return to that ‘righteousness which exalts a nation.

And that’s why the most important thing we can do is pray: I am just heading into St Petes where we are, in common with many other churches throughout Scotland, having an open church to pray for God to have mercy on Scotland. Our bibles are opened at 1 Timothy 2: I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time. 7 And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles.” Amen.

An edited version of this was posted on Christian Today- http://www.christiantoday.com/article/scottish.independence.an.emotional.decision/40747.htmSee also –





  1. I hope your congregation gets better sermons than the incoherent, ill-informed drivel that has been your posts on this referendum.

    You are going to vote Yes but have never once listed an evidence-based reason as to why. You’ve staggered all over the place and pulled statements out of nowhere, e.g. ‘the disenfranchised are voting Yes’ (says who?) You attack the No campaign for being negative when they have faced the most evasive and dishonest campaign that I’ve ever seen in politics. The Yes campaign has offered lie and lie. The only thing the No campaign can do is to tell people if you believe these lies, this will be the consequence. You have never refuted a single argument made by the No campaign and their experts in pointing out the legal, financial and employment consequences of a Yes vote. Instead, you have chortled away in your bunker in complete ignorance.

    We are at Germany in 1933. We are witnessing the rise of a virulent, aggressive, hate-filled nationalism – as if there is any other kind. When presented with the opportunity to fight against it, you took the coward’s way out and stood alongside it. Many in the church did so in 1933 and, sadly, many have done so again. History will record this and God is a witness to it. You will account to Him.

    1. William – I believe the UK, particularly England, is in a position worse than Germany in 1933 with the rise of militant Islam, encouraged by the UK political parties. There are already areas in various English cities governed by Sharia Law in which cities Britons are not welcome, nor are our values shared – quite the opposite – breeding grounds for terrorists. If we vote Yes, as Christians, at least we have the voices of ‘Christians for Independence’, no doubt re-branded, and SOLAS Centre who are the only organisations I can find, in this whole sorry saga, standing for the cause of Christ in our land in a positive way. I am certain that their input into Scotland’s New Constitution (with religious liberty already assured) leaves the Christian interests in an Independent Scotland in safe hands. Nothing even approaching this gives any hope for the Christian voice in the UK. Yesterday, CFI posted a prayer by John Mason MSP and this morning another by Mr Mackenzie, one of the founders of CFI. It is remarkable that we are hearing prayers at all and it is most noteworthy that neither man prayed for Independence – only for the good of our nation. That fills me with hope for my grandchildren. Nothing the No campaign has put forward gives me that – only a sense of foreboding.

  2. We cant ever go wrong with efforts for everyone including those in authority, so we may live peaceful lives, pleasing to God.

    Does making a choice involve a dichotomy between heart and mind or can they be united – reason and emotion complimenting each other with conviction? (Prov 3:5,6).

  3. One of the best pieces I have read about the vote. Were I in Scotland, I would vote “Yes”..I will pray for God’s grace and peace.

  4. That bit about the leaflets… just put me in mind of the kind of things you write about the church in Scotland.

    Sweetie nice, sentimental soundbite sermons with no substance behind them versus the real life hard stuff – thinking through the likely consequences and having a reasoned approach.

    Not pointing out lies is the very thing you get at the Kirk for.

  5. Thank you David. Being Welsh I am envious of the opportunity you have, and the great debate which has bben happening in your country. I also have been praying and will continue to pray that the God who rules us all in wisdom and goodness will do good to your country and it’s people, and will also bless the rest of the UK whatever the outcome on Friday

  6. Hi David,

    What’s happened to your usual lucidity? Quite confusing at points.

    You certainly have a mixture of emotions – sad – apprehensive – angry – surprised – hopeful – and peaceful.

    Just one question – Are Free Church ministers not evangelical Christians? – I’ll need to know, so I know which way to vote!

    It’s a funny thing but my heart tells me to vote ‘Yes’ though my head tells me to vote ‘No’

    It just shows we’re not all the same! –

    It’s getting late – but it’s not too late to change your mind.

    And by my name you’ll see I’m a Nationalist!

    Your good friend,

    John A M

    P.S. – I’ll come and wipe the egg off your face on Friday if you want.

  7. Hi David,

    It’s very interesting – and refreshing for an Ulsterman – to follow a debate about national identity and political allegiances from a distance. Thankfully, I have no dog in this fight, and I don’t envy Scots in having to make a choice.

    I have a couple of questions, though. I haven’t thought through my own answers in any great depth, so I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

    It’s one thing for a country to base their laws on Christian ideals. Most of the ideals in question can, in principle, be defended to those of all faiths and none. Conflating national identity with Christian identity is a bit trickier. I’m not at all sure that someone can be born Christian in any sense. Perhaps a Presbyterian or Catholic would disagree. But then you’re diluting what we mean by Christian identity. Or so it seems to me.

    Secondly, it seems to me that secularism is a stronger force in Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Now, there are secularists in the Tory party – conspicuously so. But those secularists in the Tory leadership will be hit very hard by a “yes” vote. So it seems to me that a “yes” vote will aid moral and religious conservatives in England. But will it help Scotland – where the political elites seem to be in love with secularism?

    So, I suppose I’m asking 1) do you think that Scotland could regain a Christian identity and 2) if so, do you think this is an unqualified good?

    Graham Veale

    PS: I’m a bit of a lefty on economic issues, so personally I agree with your social justice arguments. Some of my co-conspirators on Saints & Sceptics might disagree – but I want to make clear that I a sympathetic to some of your arguments. And I think Christians should factor social justice into their political decisions.

    1. Graham – its an interesting question. I don’t think a country can really be called Christian – except insofar as it has its laws based on Gods Word acknowledges King Jesus. I think that secularism and mammonism is strong in all parties and I believe that whether we are in a secular Scotland or secular UK we are in trouble. I do however think that the church will have greater potential in a self-governing Scotland…

  8. David, I write as an Englishman in the South West and like saints and sceptics I don’t envy your choice. On the one hand I am convinced that there is real truth in the No campaigns arguments. Without a currency Scotland is not truly independent and without a central bank the banks and related businesses will surely relocate. The next few weeks will be difficult whether yes or no and it should be noted that there is real frustration in England over the last minute Devo max promises made without consultation. Last night in an attempt to stir up some nostalgic feelings I read some of H E Marshalls Our Island Story. She writes in the chapter “how the Union Jack was made ” “..(that although the crowns were united) there had been very little real union between the two countries. For union means ‘oneness’ ..”. I fear the oneness has gone and therefore the union is to all intents and purposes dead. Like you I hope and pray that this will be an opportunity for people to reflect where true unity can be found irrespective of political opinion, class, race or gender. Thank you for your thoughtful blog. God bless Scotland.

    1. Well FC ministers are a tiny subset of evangelicals….most evangelicals tend to be conservative (at least with a small c)….most FC ministers I know are a bit more radical!

      The FCC are both outdated and unbiblical. They are completely out of touch with what is actually happening in society and their paper demonstrates that misunderstanding. They are unbiblical in telling people how to vote on a matter for which there is no specific biblical warrant. I have my own political views and I would be horrified if the Free Church ever expressed them! By the way amongst several amusing things in the FCC report is their assertion that a national anthem tells us a lot about a country and because God save the Queen has God in it that must be a good thing. They clearly don’t know the second verse in which the Almighty is asked to ‘crush the rebellious Scots’!

      1. The National Anthem point was fairly weak. I would note that I’m not an FCC apologist, I saw the link to the document on an article about the Referendum on a US website. I thought the best point was the second half of this paragraph:

        “(4) We believe that independence as proposed cannot be morally justified.
        It is questionable whether it is legally possible for the Treaty of Union to be ended.
        The Acts of Union state: “the two Kingdoms of England and Scotland shall… for ever after be united into one Kingdom by the name of Great Britain.” Of even greater importance however is whether such an action would be morally justified. The Treaty is a civil covenant but it is binding nonetheless (Gal. 3:15). When Saul broke the covenant that Joshua made with the Gibeonites God sent a famine as a punishment (2 Sam. 21:1).”

        The civil law point is one for constitutional lawyers, the binding nature of a civil covenant is however something which Christians should take into account.

  9. I think you misrepresent both the position of the FCC within Presbyterianism and the stance that they took on Independence. They presented a factual, historical account of the Kirk in Scotland and they did not tell anyone to vote no; they gave their view. And your misrepresentation of what they said regarding the Queen and the National Anthem was in poor taste.

    1. Nice try….they were telling people how to vote – based on a completely outdated view of history and Britain. Its very bad when a Church endorses one particular political position. Actually I did not misrepresent what they said about the national anthem. I just repeated it. I know it sounds ridiculous but that’s only because it is!

  10. Just decided to come back and look at this article which interested me at the time. And you called the percentages bang on – full marks for predicting Scots’ behaviour. I assume you’ve watched too much football or rugby.

    I must admit that the thing I’ve found disgusting about the whole matter is the behaviour of some Christians over it. I’m afraid that on one occasion, ten days ago, I lost the heid somewhat (which only happens, openly, at another person about once a year on average) at a brother. They treated me to about ten minutes of how heretical all yes voters were. (The trigger was the small “Aye” badge I was wearing.) At the next opportunity I must apologise for my sarcastic remarks in reply.

    I admit I’ve always been something of an Alex Salmond fan, not least because of his positivity. In recent circumstances I feel weight has been added to that view by the lack of genuine dirt that has been found against him. With the entire force of UK government looking to undermine, what did they come up with? He married an older lady (44). As a single woman (39) who still hopes that some men see past the “outward appearance” I don’t find that a vice. Regardless of what rubbish he might ever spout I think it’s unlikely that many skeletons would have remained hidden.

    As we all know it’s “not about him”. But I think he does mean that I’ll never agree with my sister’s rhetorical question shortly before the vote: “Do you ever believe anything any politician says?” So my prayer is that the country he finally finds himself in will contain “the city which is to come…whose maker and builder is God” and with that “an inheritance and a name, better than of sons and of daughters”.

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