04 June 2014
Rare agreement among politicians at first church referendum debate
The first of our hustings on the Scottish referendum, in the city of Perth
Politicians on both sides of the referendum divide went head-to-head with each other and members of the public in Perth on Monday night at the first in a series of church-organised debates.
However, on one of two rare moments, they joined forces on the issue of transformative justice and closed ranks against sections of the Scottish media whom they said were unhelpful in enabling the nation to find a solution to reintegrate inmates into society.
Leading the charge was justice minister Roseanna Cunnngham who said that "chucking" addicts into prison helps no one. Saying her comments should not be construed as government policy, she told a packed St Mark's Church that "we can do something reformative with the justice system but we need the space for debate which is not pounced on by certain sections of the media".
Her referendum opponents from the Conservative and Liberal Democrats on the "no" vote camp supported her. Willie Rennie, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said prison was not the place for addicts.
"Prison help people to become better criminals," he told the audience which comprised members of the general public as well as from about 25 churches across Perth.
He said that education was a better approach but was immediately taken to task by a school teacher in the audience and went head-to-head with her before Murdo Fraser, former deputy leader of the Scottish Conservative party, agreed that more should be done.
Local councillor, Dave Dougan, said that the criminal justice was "badly served" by the media which he said provided "digestible chunks of what people wanted to hear".
There was also cross-party support for a role of religion in a new Scottish Constitution. Cunningham said in an independent Scotland the status quo would remain in an interim constitution but in the new constitution there would be a role for all Christian denominations while consideration would be given for non-Christian religions as well.
The debate also included a wide range of economic issues, family issues –including same-sex marriage and its expected impact on society in the coming years, - and civic society.
The Alliance received widespread commendation from the audience and speakers for the quality of debate.
"The fact that the debate this evening was organised by the Evangelical Alliance was surprisingly irrelevant, if you like, because I thought that was a very good aspect of the debate. It was absolutely fine that it should be organised by a partisan organisation with a particular set of aims but, nonetheless, it worked well as a debate," said Jerry, a school teacher who was a member of the audience.
The Seven Cities Tour provides the opportunity for politicians from 'Yes Scotland' and 'Better Together' sides to answer burning questions from evangelical Christians in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Perth and Stirling. The next debate is scheduled for Edinburgh on 4 June.
In April, the Alliance released its referendum manifesto What Kind of Nation? calling on politicians to broaden the debate from its narrow economic focus and allow the views of ordinary people to be heard on issues of poverty, welfare and investment incentives for the wealthy.
The manifesto contained 38 recommendations on the economy, the family, civil society and the environment which Fred Drummond, national director of the Alliance in Scotland, says are issues he expects will be raised during these debates.
Seven Cities Tour upcoming itinerary
EDINBURGH - Wednesday 4 June: Central Hall, 7.30pm.
Kenny MacAskill MSP (SNP, Cabinet Secretary for Justice)
Dave Thompson MSP (SNP, Chair, Christians for Independence)
Jackie Baillie MSP (Labour Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Health, Wellbeing and Cities Strategy)
Ken MacIntosh MSP (Labour Party)
GLASGOW - Friday 13 June: Queen's
Park Baptist Church, 7.30pm.
Nicola Sturgeon MSP (Deputy First Minister)
Johann Lamont MSP (Leader of Labour Party in Scotland)
Annabel Goldie MSP (Former Leader of Scottish Conservatives)
John Mason MSP
ABERDEEN - Monday 16 June: Gerrard Street Baptist Church, 7.30pm.
Nigel Don MSP
Alex Johnstone MSP
Lewis MacDonald MSP
STERLING - Friday 20 June: Stirling
Baptist Church, 7.30pm.
Alex Neil MSP (Cabinet Secretary for Health)
Jim Murphy MP (Shadow Secretary of State for International Development)
DUNDEE - Monday 23 June: St Peter's Free Church, 7.30pm.
Shona Robison MSP (Cabinet Secretary for Sport and Commonwealth Games)
Jenny Marra MSP (Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Justice)
INVERNESS - Saturday 28 June:
Smithton Culloden Free Church, 7.30pm.
Rhoda Grant MSP
Dave Thompson MSP
All events will have two speakers from Yes Scotland and Better Together. Each event will allow for the panellists to share their vision for Scotland before taking questions on how the independence referendum will affect the four pillars outlined in What Kind of Nation? –economy, family, civil society and the environment. Panellists will also be allowed short closing speeches.
There will be opportunities for photos and interviews at each event with Evangelical Alliance Scotland spokespersons and panelists who consent. Requests for interviews with panellists should be sent in advance to allow the greatest likelihood of interview time.
Further information about What Kind of Nation? can be found at: www.eauk.org/scotland
Notes to Editors
The Evangelical Alliance
We are the largest and oldest body representing the UK’s two million evangelical Christians. For more than 165 years, we have been bringing Christians together and helping them listen to, and be heard by, the government, media and society. We’re here to connect people for a shared mission, whether it’s celebrating the Bible, making a difference in our communities or lobbying the government for a better society. From Skye to Southampton, from Coleraine to Cardiff, we work across 79 denominations, 3,500 churches, 750 organisations and thousands of individual members. And we're not just uniting Christians within the UK – we are a founding member of the World Evangelical Alliance, a global network of more than 600 million evangelical Christians. For more information, go to www.eauk.org