19 September 2014
Building a new nation
I’m writing this morning after the night before. About two hours ago the chief returning officer, Mary Pitcaithly, confirmed that Scotland will not be leaving the UK. Like so many others I stayed up all night to watch the conclusion to this unprecedented exercise in democracy where 85 per cent of eligible voters took the biggest constitutional decision in UK democratic history.
And so we stay.
After all the debate, all the campaigning, all the passion and all the argument, the people of Scotland have made their choice and the UK will not be the same.
It’s hard to describe what these last few weeks have felt like. Politics has been everywhere – the talk of the playground, the building site, the swimming pool and the church. At a time of cynicism in the Western world there has been a reinvigoration of civic engagement and debate as politics once again has actually mattered.
The world has been watching and they have seen a nation debate its future without blood, tanks or sword. And they have seen a nation decide to reaffirm its bonds with its neighbours while challenging our leaders to deliver a better governance, not just to Scotland but to everyone in the UK.
There is a sense of unfinished business. Not quite so much for Scotland, for in one sense we have finished this season (though there is more devolution coming). Rather the debate now moves to England, Wales and Northern Ireland to decide how they see their own settlement in relation to their neighbours. How do we reflect on what has just passed in Scotland and what may be to come for the rest of the UK?
First, we learn to love our neighbour. In Luke 10 the parable of the Good Samaritan contains the telling question ‘Who is my neighbour?’ and in many ways that has been the key question of our debate. As believers we’ve had to consider that question as we vote – am I just voting for what is best for me or am I voting for what is best for my society? And we now have to consider it as we reconcile to those who have passionately disagreed on this question. As a nation we’ve had to consider the very practical question of neighbourly relations – who are my people? What is my nation? Now that we have reaffirmed that the UK will remain as a family of nations how are we to build God-honouring relationships between our own nation and the others that make up this United Kingdom?
Second, we must learn to build a just society. Much of the desire (not all) for independence was driven by a sense that the current Westminster political system is fundamentally unjust, particularly to the most vulnerable in society. The Yes wins in Glasgow and Dundee were driven by a heart cry for social justice and for a society of greater equity. Right throughout scripture we see God’s interest in a just society. From Adam’s initial mandate to the vision of Israel, to the Kings, the Prophets and the ultimate kingdom of God, scripture points us to the values of a godly society. If we do nothing else on the back of this referendum let it be that we build such a society with God’s kingdom values at the heart.
Finally, this debate has been about identity. Who am I and what is this nation I call home? The reason this debate has been felt so closely by so many across the whole UK is that it is about the core of who we are, how we see the world and our place within it. Flags and symbolism are powerful tools and the thought of gaining or losing can have a powerful effect. Yet as Christians we know our identity is not primarily found in nation or symbol but as adopted children of God. Our citizenship is not in England, Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland but rather it is in heaven and we eagerly await a saviour from there (Philippians 3:20). Constitutional change is coming but as we consider politics and nationhood we must remember who we are.
Kieran Turner is public policy officer at Evangelical Alliance Scotland