Independence and the church

Antidisestablishmentarianism. Bet you never thought you would be reading that on this site. And, no, it's not the final round in a spelling bee.

The word sprung to mind as I noted the intervention by the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland into the debate over independence.

According to said church, the union secured the Protestant religion and Presbyterianism. They are concerned that change might remove that security - and would thus be a "provocation of God".

In response, Dr Alasdair Allan of the SNP noted that his party had "no plans to alter the present role of the established church upon independence and is respectful of the role of religion in Scotland".

Respect duly noted. But the established church? Established? Which church did he mean by that? Being a professional nuisance, I inquired of the SNP.

He meant the Church of Scotland, the Kirk - for whom he previously acted as press officer. But, I persisted (see above), is it not one of the key characteristics of the Kirk that it is not established?

Is it not the Church of England which is the "church by law established", the ecclesiastical wing of the state with Bishops in the House of Lords?

At this point, we parted amicably - agreeing that Dr Allan had used the word in lower case: established not Established. He meant the Kirk, the national Church.

Does any of this matter, other than to establish my carefully nurtured reputation as a pedant? Not, I would suspect, for the vast bulk of the population.

However, it set me thinking - always a danger. What exactly is this independence business about?

Is it solely or predominantly about the economy - as might be suggested by today's exchanges between John Swinney and Alistair Darling at a conference run by The Scotsman?

Mr Swinney feels Scotland has been let down by successive Westminster governments. Mr Darling - who will launch the No/pro-union campaign on Monday - believes that independence would risk destabilising Scottish finances?

Is it about identity, history and pride - the characteristics represented in graphical illustration by the new Disney/Pixar movie, "Brave"?

Alex Salmond, who is in California for the premiere, would endorse those elements - although he would probably prefer to stress more immediate matters such as economic growth.

Is it then about the type of Scotland we might want to create, either under independence or a reformed union?

Few, I suspect, will fret about the establishment or otherwise of the Kirk. Fewer still, I suspect, will alter their views on independence on the basis of advice from the Free Presbyterian Church.

But, as suggested by Patrick Harvie of the Greens among others, there is perhaps a debate to be had which goes beyond the economy and identity.

It might encompass issues including equality, excellence or otherwise in educational attainment, the nature of public service and the role of the private sector.

And, yes, the role of religion in the Scotland of the future.

I am grateful to Michael Fry, esteemed historian, politician and man of letters, for a comment anent the issue of the Kirk.

Michael notes that the Kirk is definitely not Established in the sense of being part of the machinery of the State: indeed it is a core element of its make-up that it rejects any political interference.

However, he asserts that it is established in the very real sense that the Protestant religion and the observances of the Kirk were explicitly preserved in the Act of Union.

The term "established", he says, thus refers to "the re-establishment of Presbyterianism in 1690."

Michael kindly wishes me luck in setting this out concisely. In return, I offer him my thanks.