It’s been a long day…
I was looking forward to reading the Scottish Government’s white paper on Independence, but first a ministers’ fraternal, community cafe, Presbytery strategy discussion, presbytery “Christmas” curry (far too early, we’ll need to get together again later on), moar presbytery meeting, and a missions speaker… home, talk to my wife, and then, finally… I got to sit down and read.
I’m trying to get my head around this massive document – 670 pages is a lot, ever for a Free Church minister to plough through. Where to begin?
First Impression: There is a lot that is good, so many positive policies that the current Scottish Government would seek to implement in an independent Scotland. That’s maybe a draw back: it is a manifesto, not a true blueprint. This isn’t what an independent Scotland will look like, it’s what the SNP want an independent Scotland to look like. The real thing will be different, but maybe not very much so, going on the SNP’s electoral form.
But right now I’m drawn to page 564, question 590 in the Q&A.
590. What will be the position of churches and religion in an
We propose no change to the legal status of any religion or
of Scotland’s churches.
This is a conspicuously short answer – because in a document where just about every term has been carefully outlined and explained, no effort whatsoever is given to define “the legal status of any religion or of Scotland’s churches.” Earlier in the paper churches are described alongside other parts of Scotland’s civic society, and as charities – players in the future process of crafting Scotland written constitution. Great stuff – even if it downplays the contribution of churches! But what exactly is the “legal status” which will be unchanged? My suspicion is that this term has not been defined because, in short, our politicians, and possibly even our judiciary, don’t actually know for sure. What it possibly entails is in the independence of the church to manage her own affairs – or as we like to call it in Scotland, Presbyterian Church Government.
And so, I have a related question. Back on page 354, (Chapter 10, Part 4, Building a Modern Democracy, The Monarch and the Crown) we read:
Earlier this year the rules on succession to the Crown were
amended (for Scotland and elsewhere) to remove outdated
gender discrimination. An independent Scottish Government
will promote, and support amongst the Commonwealth States
with the Queen as Head of State, a similar measure to remove
religious discrimination from the succession rules.
This second part relates to the 1707 Treaty of Union with England – a treaty which will be in effect revoked on a “Yes” vote. While the religious tone of the treaty is obvious, it’s framework relates back to earlier principles enshrined in both Scottish and English law – the monarch, as head of state, shall be a Protestant, because in England they enjoy the odd office of “Supreme Governor of the Church of England”, and in Scotland they are bound to maintain Presbyterian Church Government. The discrimination – and frankly, I’m happy to concede that – exists because of the “legal status” of Churches in these united Kingdoms.
And this presents a challenge to the framers of this white paper: How can you propose that the legal status of churches will be unchanged, while fundamentally changing the relationship of the Monarch, as head of STATE with these churches? Suppose the “legal status” of churches really is a degree of independence in their own sphere, and this is what question 590 is about, surely we need to know how the Scottish Government propose to ensure this, while tinkering with the relationship in other areas?
These are perhaps, for most people, questions of mere window dressing in the context of Scotland’s constitutional future. But I would like a lot more clarity from our politicians. I don’t want to wake up and suddenly find I’m living with a secular constitution – which is intolerant of dissonant voices like independent churches, let alone open to listening to them on a range of moral and social issues. I’d rather a partnership. I believe a Christian heritage has shaped Scotland for good – in education, in democracy, and in civic values. And I don’t want Scotland’s Future to slip that anchor.