Vicar’s Letter to ‘The Church Times’
On the Scottish Independence Referendum, 18 September 2014
6th September 2014.
From: The Rev Dr Ian Meredith (formerly of the Scottish Episcopal Church)
St Mary’s Parish Church
As a Scot living in exile, though in regular contact with friends and family north of the border, my main regret in having recently moved south, is that I will be not to be able to vote ‘No’ to independence on 18th September.
Douglas Gay (5th September) accuses the ‘No’ campaign as being largely colourless and fearful, compared with the colourful buoyancy of the ‘Yes’ campaign. Perhaps the ‘No’ supporters have every reason to be a nervous, even gloomy. The prosperous Scotland we have seen in recent years has not been an independent one, but one which has flourished as part of the United Kingdom. If the ‘No’ campaign is accused of scaremongering, it is only because we look with dismay at the ‘Yes’ campaign being driven into an uncertain future, by sentimental nostalgia from which there will be no way back, unless Scotland is to be forever bailed out by the European Union.
Given the recent comments of leaders of countries as diverse as China, USA and Australia, the international community does not want an independent Scotland. It is not even certain that Europe wants an independent Scotland; it is not even certain if NATO wants it; it is not certain if the Bank of England wants it; it is not certain how many more decades of oil will sustain it; and I don’t believe the majority of Scots want it either, but we’ll have to wait and see.
My real concerns, however, are not economic but spiritual. Douglas Gay has mentioned the various groups such as Greens and Socialists who have aligned themselves with the SNP and the ‘Yes’ campaign. He has forgotten to mention that the National Secular Society has also come out in favour of independence, believing that a ‘Yes’ vote, will be more able to help it achieve its vision of the absence of religion from public life.
Independence is a spirit which in the past few decades has shed much blood and has divided much of Europe. The Bosnian/Serbian wars were basically as parts of nations sought independence from the greater. The present conflict in Ukraine is also fuelled by the spirit of independence – Ukraine from Russia, and pro-Russian elements from Ukraine.
Patriotism is the love of one’s own country, but all too often nationalism, which is something else, takes this one step further – the hatred of others. Nationalism tends to need enemies to define itself (take Irish nationalism as an example). The ‘Yes’ campaign is not simply fuelled by pro-Scottishness, but also anti-Englishness.
As an example of this, take the cringe-worthy doggerel, ‘Flower of Scotland’ which has been adopted as Scotland’s national anthem and was sung with gusto by winning competitors at this summer’s Commonwealth Games:
‘For we can still rise now and be the nation again that stood against him…’(Proud Edward = The English!)
And that’s their vision for the future, not even the past. God help us!
Douglas Gay in his article has portrayed the ‘Yes’ campaigners as a folk-singing, pop-singing, fun loving tartan army. This is how they see themselves, but this is not how others perceive them.
Among the ‘Yes’ campaigners we have witnessed a great deal of thuggery. When I was in Scotland this summer I was struck that there were far more ‘Yes’ posters in windows than ‘No’. My ‘No’ friends told me that if they put up a ‘No’ poster they would probably get a brick through their window. Various letters to the press at that time suggested similar experiences, and that cars displaying ‘No’ stickers had been vandalised. Douglas Gay has admitted that the ‘Yes’ campaign has been particularly vitriolic on the internet. Authors such as JK Rowling have been vilified, and Labour MP Jim Murphy had to abandon his ‘No’ series of meetings because of physical harassment.
The ‘Yes’ campaign would be hard pressed to provide a similar litany of abuse from their opponents. In the main, the ‘No’ people tend to be ‘the quiet in the land’, and let’s hope that on the 18th September, the silent majority will rise up to say ‘No to independence.’
If independence wins on 18th September, and the ‘auld enemy’ England is cast asunder, who will the enemies be then? Nationalism needs enemies, and I think we are seeing signs of what could be ahead. I fear that Alex Salmond’s legacy is going to be a bitterly divided Scotland which will take a long time to heal.
The Churches are saying that we will all need to forgive and be reconciled after the 18th September. Fine, but some of us never picked this fight in the first place.
IAN MEREDITH,The Vicarage 164 Castle Street, Portchester, Hants. PO16 9QH