Editors commentary: Scots missed?

I don’t know if the Scots will vote for independence.

But the break up of Great Britain after hundreds of years of beneficial union would surely be another sign of a sick country.
A referendum on Scottish independence takes place next September and the Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, recently unveiled his government’s white paper describing what they hope an independent Scotland would look like. They hope the pound would be kept. 30 hours of childcare per week in term time and a secure pension scheme were pledged. But it seems Britain’s deterrent, the Trident submarines based on the Clyde, would have to go somewhere else. In the UK, government concern is not to see Scotland cut itself loose; already shipbuilding at Portsmouth has been sacrificed in order to keep Scottish yards open.

Christian opinion
Both the Church of Scotland and the Free Church hold to the established church principle. A spokesman from the Free Church of Scotland said: ‘The white paper does not explicitly discuss the historical compact between the state and the church to work for the Christian good of Scotland. We hope that this is because the Scottish Government does not propose any alteration to the current arrangements’.
One minister of the Free Church told me: ‘I think that all feel that the existing Scottish Parliament has led the way in secularism and same-sex-marriage and we see no betterment if there is an independent parliament.’ He went on: ‘I am all for a sense of national identity, but nationalism can be “selfism”.’ Another Scot, living in England, feeling that financial arguments would be crucial, said: ‘I get the feeling that people don’t think Scotland will be better off without England’. But Christian opinion is divided. The figures at present seem to indicate the ‘No’ vote will prevail in the referendum, but we shall have to wait and see.

Scattering and gathering
How can we understand the dissolution of a nation theologically? Perhaps a place to start would be Christopher Ash’s excellent book Remaking a Broken World. It is an overview of Bible history which traces God’s judgement and salvation in terms of scattering and gathering. ‘Adam and Eve were “scattered” from Eden in judgement for disobedience; the people at Babel were scattered as punishment for pride; Israel was gathered by God at Sinai and then again at Jerusalem, but scattered to Babylon in judgement. The cross is the place of gathering (John 12.32) and Pentecost is the gathering reversing the scattering of Babel.’
Surely, in a democracy, godless secularism, with its exalting of the self and the ‘rights’ of different interest groups, must inevitably lead to conflict and the break up of communities. As Britain has grown more secular so the drive for devolution, and now independence, has accelerated. The SNP, founded in 1934, saw its first real breakthrough when Winnie Ewing won the Hamilton byelection in 1967, just as secularism in Britain was gaining real momentum.
Maybe we should see that the Christian ethos of both nations in the past did more to keep us together than we might have realised. But ultimately it is not ‘Britishness’ or wealth which brings people together, but the gospel of Christ. In an ordinary local church, so despised by the world, people from very different backgrounds of class, nationality, colour and culture are gathered, humbled and included by the astounding grace of God. If our nation breaks up, God is still gathering his people and bringing about the miracle of unity which politics and finance can never achieve. And the angels are astonished (Ephesians 3.10).

John Benton

This article was first published in the January 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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