As a Christian my ‘Kingdom’ is not of this world but is the eternal and everywhere Kingdom of Jesus Christ – the ‘king-dominion’ present across the world wherever there are men and women who are seeking to live under God’s rule. The kingdoms of this age rise and fall but the Kingdom of Jesus Christ will ultimately fill the earth and outlast the years.
So the outcome of the Referendum on September 18th will ultimately, for all the drama and hyperbole now, be just another footnote in the history of a dying world. That means Christians should be very wary of attaching themselves to this debate in ways that might cause antagonism or create ill-feeling. It also means that any elation or despair felt on September 19th must be tempered by Biblical realism and Biblical hope - as neither The Union or Independence will solve our deepest problems. Rather it is Christ alone, whose power is contingent on neither outcome, who will still be the only Saviour worth Scotland’s trust.
That is not to say I have no opinion or preference; in fact this is an issue I feel strongly about – but not for spiritual reasons, rather the everyday mix of emotion and pragmatism that influences us all. Biologically I am a ‘child of the Union’ with a Scottish father and English mother (who in turn had a Welsh mother). Politically I lean to the right more than the left, so thoughts of non-left wing governments are not the stuff of nightmares for me. These factors in themselves would probably make me pro-Union but more than that I’m perhaps just a bit cynical in my middle-age.
Firstly, my faith in grand political promises has worn thin over the years. A while ago I came across some old newspapers from the 1950s and noted that they were full of stories about problems in the National Health Service and worries about the economy. I fully expect that, in the event of Independence, Scottish newspapers in the 2050s will still be full of political wrangles about education, complains about welfare and accusations of economic mismanagement. My worry, however, is that we will have an intervening period of huge upheaval and enormous financial costs – all accompanied with a lot of ‘bad blood’ as negotiations over defence, currency, shared assets and even the ownership of artworks are painfully progressed with the remainder of the UK. At the end of which we will just be left with another set of politicians arguing over the same basic problems.
Where does the confidence come from that Scottish politicians will become much more just and capable if they have an office in Edinburgh as opposed to London? Up until 2010 (just 4 years ago) the UK had 13 years of a Labour administration – which incidentally was exactly the government Scotland voted for. We had a Scottish Prime Minister and during every one of those years we had a Scottish Chancellor plus a sack-load of Scottish Ministers. Presumably those same Scottish politicians weren’t able to make all the changes they would have desired because they were constrained – by available finances, by interest groups, by international business and trading conditions, by European Union obligations and all the other political realities of Statehood. It seems unlikely, to say the least, that Scotland, being a tenth of the economy and population of England, would be in a stronger position to resist such pressures or negotiate more favourable terms for itself. If the 6th largest economy in the world struggles to get Amazon and Starbucks to pay their taxes what hope will there be for the country entering the world rankings at No.45?
Some hope that Independence will allow greater ‘social justice’ and ‘equality’ (terms of course, that can mean very different things depending on who you talk to – including some deeply un-Christian definitions at times); but a genuinely good society will not arise out of Nationalism but out of Christian principles. If the Gospel gains influence again in Scotland then society will improve; otherwise we can expect further moral and social decline even if we do get richer. As a Christian, money is not the least of my concerns but it’s certainly not No.1.
Independence seems to rest on a degree of hubris that Scottish people make better choices that English people. We are told that Scottish politicians would never take us into an ill-judged and catastrophic war such as in Iraq – but they did. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but Scots have to wait for it just like everyone else.
I worry about nationalism as a political agenda. I accept the SNP’s claim to be civic nationalists as opposed to xenophobic ones but either way the thrust seems to be divisive. That’s not to say I believe in a great international brotherhood of man with aspirations for some kind of global government (that would give me nightmares) but, where peoples have lived peacefully and rather successfully together for centuries, it seems to me retrograde and tribal to agitate for their break-up and separation.
I also bridle at the suggestion that I’m oppressed by England generally or London specifically. I have never had the council I voted for in Glasgow or the government I voted for in Scotland – but that’s democracy for you. I don’t like everything David Cameron stands for and I don’t like everything Alex Salmond stands for; but the beauty of living in Scotland just now is that neither gets it all their own way – which strikes me as ‘the happy avoidance of the worst of both worlds’ (now there’s a slogan for you!).
So much for the cynicism – but my tendency to the Union is not all ‘better the devil you know’. I love the fact that one of greatest, most international and exciting cities in the world is ‘my Capital’ (along with Edinburgh). I like the fact that Mo Farah, Jess Ennis, Steve Redgrave et al win medals for ‘my country’. I like the fact that Robert Burns and William Shakespeare are both part of ‘my country’s’ contribution to world culture. I like the fact ‘my country’ sits at the ‘top table’ in world affairs and decision making because I think on the whole it stands up for good things like democracy, the rule of law and being tolerant. I love the fact that my son was born in England but is a not foreigner. I love the fact that Edinburgh Castle and Windsor Castle, the Clyde and the Thames, The Proclaimers and The Beatles, The Black Watch and The Welsh Guard, the invention of the Steam Engine and the invention of the Internet, are all equally part of 'my country’s' heritage.
Should ‘auld acquaintance be forgot?’ – not for the sake of a few hundred pounds, not for some new branding on old problems, not for an even less constrained and more parochial politics, not for a narrower and contracted heritage, not for less ability to be an influence for good in a fractured and menacing world. Not for me.