CHRISTIAN VIEWPOINT  –  review in the Highland News, June 2014

When I was 15, I was passionate about Scottish independence. I wrote a flowery, naive letter to the SNP candidate, and put an SNP poster in my bedroom window. The idea of an independent Scotland was a dream I could buy into.

Last week, the campaigning group Christians for Independence (CfI) chose Inverness for the first of a series of discussion evenings they are hosting across Scotland in the weeks before the Referendum. I listened to the presentations and the Q&A session which followed.

The two main speakers – MSP Dave Thompson, and Rev Doug Gay, a Church of Scotland minister and lecturer at Glasgow University – impressed me by their integrity, the depth of their Christian convictions, their grasp of the issues and their graciousness towards those holding different views.

They emphasised the importance of conducting the debate in a civil way, and of working for good relations after the Referendum between people on both sides of the issue. Above all, they insisted that our voting decision should be based not on ‘what’s in it for me’, but rather ‘what is best for the Scottish people as a community, and for the other nations around us.’ To be frank, I find it difficult to be that selfless.

On these points, all Christians – and everyone of good will – will agree. What many of us don’t know is which of the competing visions of the future offers the most hope for our country.

One audience member was convinced that independence is God’s will for Scotland. But few on either side of the debate would be comfortable speaking with such certainty. It’s an encouraging reminder of the true freedom God gives us.

God knows our future choices, but God does not prescribe our futures: we face a range of possibilities, and choose our future moment by moment, rather than being swept along on the current of an immutable divine plan. We partner with God, seeking to catch God’s dream in the creative choices we make. Such is our dignity as human beings.

Dave Thompson and Doug Gay are convinced that independence will give the people of Scotland the best chance of making the nation increasingly a place of justice and fairness, where wealth is shared more equally, where our elected representatives can deliver the decisions Scotland wants on moral and ethical issues, such as the level of benefit, taxation and defence.

Christians on the other side of the debate emphasise the importance of connectedness with others and with other nations as a Christian principle. They highlight the benefits we enjoy through partnering in the United Kingdom, the uncertain economic implications of independence, and concerns over the place religious faith would be given in the new Scotland.

As we are making up our minds we are bombarded with scare stories, passionately-held opinions, and carefully-selected ‘evidence.’ It’s hard for most of us to distinguish truth from propaganda, and so we tend to do either of two things: latch on to evidence which seems to support our existing assumptions and point of view, and ignore the rest; or buy into a dream like I did as a teenager, and then look for evidence to support it.

But in this debate (as in any other debate, such as the debate over the existence of God) we must be as open as possible, ready to think the unthinkable, to ask ‘Are my assumptions correct, or am I blinded by old prejudices? Is there a better way of achieving the dream – or even a better dream?’

As Christians, we have a dream, though too often we lose sight of it in following our own, paltry dreams. We long to see the values of God’s invisible, spiritual nation, the nation of which all God-lovers are citizens, increasingly put into practice on earth. It is a dream of goodness and justice and truth, the dream Jesus spoke in his teaching.

One of the ways we fulfil this dream is through democracy. That’s what Christian MSPs like Dave Thompson are doing day by day – finding common cause with all people of good will, supporting measures which make the land of Scotland more closely approximate to the kingdom of God.

I left my SNP phase behind in the 1960s. The dream faltered. But now I’m wondering – is independence for Scotland in fact the better way?

Whatever the answer, there are other ways of fulfilling the dream – through bottom-up rather than top-down change. Change springing from ordinary people living extraordinarily – showing love in homes and schools, workplaces and hospitals; standing against darkness; speaking when appropriate about the Jesus who sets us free.

Make up our mind we must. Vote we must. But the work of making the dream real in Scotland will continue no matter what the outcome.

John A. H. Dempster