Scottish independence: Church of Scotland holds 'dialogue' on Scotland's future

Procession at General Assembly
Image caption The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has been held at The Mound in Edinburgh almost every year since 1560

A senior politician and a leading theologian have set out their visions for Scotland's future at the Church of Scotland's annual gathering.

Labour MP Douglas Alexander said the break-up of the UK "would represent a defeat for progressive ideals".

But the Rev Doug Gay, of Glasgow University, said independence would enable Scotland "to set out on a new journey of reform".

The Church of Scotland has committed to a neutral position on independence.

However, its members said it was important to reflect on issues dominating public life ahead of September's referendum.

Chairing the debate, the newly-installed moderator of the General Assembly, the Rt Rev John Chalmers, said he wanted to see a "respectful dialogue".

Representing the pro-Union Better Together campaign, Mr Alexander said: "That today's event is not a debate but a respectful dialogue is, in itself, a reflection of the Kirk's contribution to the shaping of Scotland; reminding us that we are at our best when we focus on what connects us, not what divides us."

'Common endeavour'

Labour's shadow foreign secretary added: "We have a strong Scottish Parliament and more powers are on the way.

"Given that historic change it cannot be argued seriously any longer that Scotland's culture, its distinctive institutions, or its nationhood are today threatened by the partnership that is the United Kingdom.

"The referendum, in fact, is an opportunity to reaffirm the common endeavour of sharing risks, resources and rewards across these islands and to uphold the ethic and the practice of neighbourliness - being our brother and sister's keeper."

Later, he said: "Friends, the break-up of the United Kingdom would represent a defeat for progressive ideals and a retreat from a shared vision of a multi ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-national state.

"The future I believe will belong to those who build networks of co-operation, because they understand, because they feel, that while our differences do matter, our common humanity matters more."

Image copyright Church of Scotland
Image caption The Right Reverend John Chalmers, moderator of the Church's General Assembly, called for a "respectful dialogue"

Rev Gay, a lecturer in theology and religious studies, said: "As Christians, we believe that respectful dialogue commits us to listen to the other, including our opponents, with attentiveness and respect.

"Among the most disturbing things I ever heard a Christian politician say was Tony Blair saying he didn't have a reverse gear. We all need a reverse gear."

He added: "We are flawed and fallible people - in our political and economic life, as in our personal and social life, there is a lot we don't know, a lot we don't control and a lot we get wrong.

"And if our political scripts or party whips don't allow us to say that, then we need to change them."

'Respectful union'

Backing a "Yes" vote for independence, he told the General Assembly: "I have no truck with narrow nationalism, the nationalism I espouse and the one which is to the fore in Scotland at the moment is a generous, hospitable, liberal civic nationalism - a broad, not a narrow nationalism.

"One which welcomes new Scots who settle here and welcomes those of many nationalities who come to Scotland for a season.

"One which wants to enjoy a warm and respectful social union with England and Wales and Northern Ireland - to be open to a constructive currency union, to maintain a co-operative union with Europe and the Commonwealth - one which wants to take its place as an equal partner in the family of nations."

He argued that the referendum offered "a historic opportunity this year to set out on a new journey of reform" which he did not believe the UK in its present form was capable of.

The discussion was also opened to speakers from the floor.

Among them, former moderator Lorna Hood said she was worried that faith had been given little prominence in the SNP's White Paper on independence.

Others highlighted the role the Kirk could play in healing any divisions caused by the referendum.

Given the Kirk's position of neutrality there was no vote at the close of the session.