Life and Work article

Here is the full text of Dave Thompson’s article in Life and Work magazine in July 2014:

Article for Life and Work by Dave Thompson MSP

Where in the Bible do we find a clear instruction to vote for or against Scottish independence? The answer, of course, is nowhere. Political conclusions of that nature are what Christian social teaching would traditionally call a “prudential judgement”. That means it is an issue upon which Christians can and do disagree and, when they do, they do so in good conscience. The Biblical principles that guide our discernment, however, are quite clear and unambiguous.

In three of the Gospels, we find Our Lord Jesus Christ’s injunction to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. In the Gospel of Matthew, He gives us a further challenge; when I was hungry did you give me food? When I was thirsty did you give me drink? When I was a stranger did you welcome me?  When I was naked did you clothe me? When I was sick did you visit me? When I was in prison did you come to me?

It is the firm proposition of Christians for Independence that a vote for self-governance in September’s referendum gives Scottish Christians the best platform upon which to work collaboratively with others to build a more socially just society at home and abroad.

Does that mean abandoning our vulnerable brothers and sisters in the rest of the United Kingdom?  Of course not. That would be unethical. However, as the UK Business Secretary, Vince Cable MP, recently observed, it is London that “is becoming a giant suction machine draining the life out of the rest of the country.” Independence for Scotland will almost certainly reverse that trend, kick-starting a decentralization of power and wealth across the British Isles. Localities such as the north-east or north-west of England can only stand to gain from such a process of regional re-empowerment.

As for relations between Church and state, the situation post-independence will be exactly the same as it is now. The Church of Scotland will continue as the national church.

Will Scottish Christians have more influence upon a Scottish state than we currently have upon the British state? Well, we could hardly have less. Within the United Kingdom, church-going Scottish Christians are fewer than 1% of the electorate. That means we can be ignored with impunity.

Remember when the UK Government left the Moderator of the Church of Scotland sitting in a side-room during the 2010 Papal Visit while the Archbishop of Canterbury was introduced to Pope Benedict? Such oversights – which are not infrequent – typify a more significant point. Simply by virtue of relative numerical strength and geographic proximity, Scotland’s Christians will have greater hope of influencing a Scottish government than an administration based in London.

Make no mistake. Whatever constitutional future we choose over the next few years, times could get pretty tough for Christians. All across the western world the march of intolerant secularism is increasingly threatening hard-won religious liberties. We have to pray for the faith, hope and love to stand firm in the storm.

But if we Scottish Christians are choosing an optimal constitutional environment within which to stand our ground, fight our corner, survive or even prosper there is only one realistic option—independence.

Throughout the long history of Scotland, the benign influence of Christianity similarly shaped a political culture that strove to educate the young, care for the sick, nurse the dying, feed the homeless and give hope to the hopeless.

As it was then, so it is now. Christians still play a hugely significant and overwhelmingly positive role in contemporary Scotland. Over 50% of Scots describe themselves as Christian. More than 500,000 go to church on a Sunday. More than 2500 church communities are to be found across the country. In many of our more deprived areas, it is the churches that provide essential care for the most vulnerable. In every locality, it is often church members who are the most active participants within grassroots civil society: credit unions, housing associations, food banks, youth groups, community councils and more.

It is therefore imperative that anybody seeking to propose a new constitutional settlement for Scotland engages in a serious and respectful way with our churches. This is what Christians for Independence – as part of the wider Yes Scotland campaign – has been trying to do over the past few months.

Commendably, this is also what the Church of Scotland has been doing in return over the same period of time. The Kirk is to be congratulated for its “Imagining Scotland’s Future” report which was based on the views of more than 900 people who attended 32 community events run by the Kirk. It proved to be a real alternative national debate on the referendum. It found that congregations across Scotland are deeply concerned about fairness and social justice.

As it happens, one of the most eloquent expositions of the case for independence as the best path towards that social justice came from the floor of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in May. I was privileged to be a guest at that afternoon session.

“I do not believe the UK as it stands is capable of making the journey of reform it so badly needs to make,” said the Reverend Doug Gay of Glasgow University.

“It cannot make the cultural journey of properly recognising and respecting, Scottish, Welsh and Irish cultures; it cannot make the political journey of creating a fair voting system, ending the West Lothian question and ridding us of the absurdity of the 780 member unelected House of Lords and Bishops… it cannot make the political and economic journey towards a significantly more equal society.”

On September 18th we have the choice of two futures. I would propose that the surest route towards the socially just future that all Christians seek is achieved by voting Yes.