Thought for the Day - John Bell

What makes for national identity is a fascinating interplay of mysterious relationships.
And different nations show the predominance of one relationship over all others.

So, for example, Australian aboriginal people have been undeniably shaped by their relationship to the natural environment - something which has less significance for urban dwellers.

Affinity to a strong political perspective is a primary feature in the identity of a country such as North Korea.

And then there is the relationship between a people and the dominant religion - Catholicism in Brazil, Lutheranism in Sweden, Calvinism in Scotland.

Scotland….that is where I want to end up, because it seems to me that the debate about whether Scotland should be independent of or integrated within the United Kingdom is about more than a nationalist or a unionist agenda.

I have grown up in a nation where the interplay between land and history and politics and religion has been and still is a constant. A country which is surrounded on three and a half sides by water with no one living more than 50 miles from the sea makes one aware of physical limitations and of a bigger world beyond. A history which witnesses more political and cultural subjugation than glorious liberty affects both personal and national self-confidence. A religious culture which, for all its petty censoriousness, has prized the public good of education, philanthropy and social welfare produces a people who are more sensitive than others to the excesses of unfettered capitalism.

I sometimes wonder what people of my age in the South East of England would have felt if their school history books had been written in Aberdeen. Or if their accent, religion and culture was regarded as the stuff of comedy. Or if the area which they consider their heartland was spoken of as if it were a far-flung outpost of the Empire.

So when the opportunity comes to consider the future of Scotland, the primary issue is not whether there should be one or two options on a voting slip. We are dealing with something much more mysterious. I would even say holy. We are dealing with the dawning of a liberated self- consciousness. We are dealing with how a people can best fulfill their potential to prosper according to their own lights, to live peaceably with others and to be responsible stewards of the earth. And that - from a biblical perspective - can only happen when a distinct people in their distinct land are free to determine their own future.

We are dealing with a very different heavenly charter from that which requires guardian angels to sing Rule Britannia.

Update 10 August 2012: Following the broadcast of this edition of Thought for the Day, two listeners complained to the BBC's Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU) that the speaker had advocated Scottish independence, contrary to the BBC’s requirement of due impartiality on such matters. The ECU found that although the speaker had not intended to be understood in that sense, he expressed himself in terms which created the impression that he favoured one side of a controversial question. The complaints were upheld and the production team were reminded of the need to guard contributors against any appearance of political partisanship in areas of contemporary controversy.

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