There are some issues where clarity of view is given only to those who are at either end of a spectrum of opinion. Increasingly I fear that Scottish Independence is one of those issues.
Those who believe that Scottish Independence is a self-evident good – those whose passions drive this issue and whose expectations Nicola Sturgeon tries to manage – they have clarity. So too do those who believe in the indissolubility of what the Prime Minister called “this precious, precious Union”.
But what of the rest of us?
The rest of us swim in a sort of soup of complexity because this apparently simple issue has been made more and not less difficult by the Brexit vote.
There are the Scottish Independence supporters who voted for Brexit. There are those who are not Scottish Unionists by affection but who don’t quite see the point of Independence. Some in Scotland feel that the Brexit vote has strengthened a perception that Scotland’s values are very different from those of much of the rest of Britain. Some feel a sense of national identity which they call British – some feel Scottish – some feel that they carry both identities. Some might welcome Independence but feel that the economic case doesn’t work or that there are too many unanswered questions about currency and EU membership. There are also strongly-held views about when any Referendum should be held because of the level of political uncertainty which the Brexit process will bring over the next two years.
Nobody should be surprised by this apparent confusion. Essentially it means that, ‘What you are strongly for is not the same as what I am strongly against’. Our positions are not mirror images of one another.
Scotland’s faith communities have adopted a position of ‘active neutrality’ in the midst of this. That neutrality comes partly because all of us have members who are on each side of the debate – as they are entitled to be. We are also acutely aware of how dangerous it is for faith communities – as has happened historically in Ireland – to find themselves identified with one or other position on the constitution. We offer a visible expression of diversity – a diversity which Scotland is keen to affirm. We share with many people in Scotland a deep concern about migrants and refugees. We have some concerns about the place of faith and faith communities in an independent Scotland.
Of course Scotland is not the only part of the British Isles where Brexit has thrown existing constitutional arrangements into uncertainty. The recent death of Martin McGuinness has reminded us of the delicacy of the Northern Ireland peace process in which Irish and British identities are carefully balanced. Brexit threatens to make the Irish Border into the hard border of the European Union. If I had my wish, our politicians would be sitting down to explore new constitutional arrangements for all the nations of the United Kingdom. We need subtlety of response as we move forward – a Referendum always risks obscuring the complexity of the issues.
I said earlier that faith communities have adopted and will maintain an attitude of ‘active neutrality’. That is not indifference or unconcern. It means that we are agnostic about the result – but deeply concerned about the process. We should do as the Church of Scotland did in the 2014 Referendum when they provided opportunities for people to discuss the issues quietly and carefully. We should always affirm those who seek an inclusive Scotland and challenge those who stridently pursue narrow ideological agendas.
The Independence debate has been teaching members of the Scottish Episcopal Church about their own history. We are a deeply-rooted historic Scottish church. That historic root is in the Scottish Reformation rather than in an Anglicanism which arises from Canterbury. As is the case with all faith communities, our Scottishness feels different in different places because it arises out of different strands of Scottish history.
Whatever the next few years bring, we shall remain firmly Scottish and will take our place in the developing story of Scotland. We shall pray for our leaders. We shall maintain the strongest possible links with the people and the faith communities of England, Wales and Ireland – and we shall strengthen our place in the world church. For we believe that we are called to nothing less.
About the author
David Chillingworth is Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church. He was born in Dublin and grew up in Northern Ireland. He was a student at Trinity College, Dublin, and trained for ministry at Oriel College, Oxford and Ripon College, Cuddesdon. He was ordained in 1976 and spent the next 29 years in the ministry of the Church of Ireland. Most of that time was spent in places which were deeply affected by the continuing community conflict – particularly the last 19 years which he spent as Rector of Seagoe Parish, Portadown. In 2005, he was elected Bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane and moved to Scotland. In 2009, be became Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church. Throughout his ministry, Bishop David has given a high priority to communication. He is a regular broadcaster and for the last ten years has written a blog at www.bishopdavid.net. He is married to Alison and they have three adult children and three grandchildren