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21 May 2015

Just when you think you’ve seen everything in Scottish politics...

Just when you think you’ve seen everything in Scottish politics...

"Just when you think you've seen everything in Scottish politics a night like this comes along."

I sent that tweet at 3.31am on election night as the scale of the political upheaval in Scotland started to become apparent. Cabinet ministers like Danny Alexander, campaign chiefs including Douglas Alexander, former party leaders such as Charles Kennedy, and current ones – Jim Murphy – all losing their seats like dominoes as a tidal wave of yellow crashed over the political map of Scotland. Gordon Brown might well have lost his seat if he had been standing. After living and breathing the referendum all of last year, once again Scotland managed to produce a political night to leave even the most seasoned Westminster commentators stunned by what they had seen.

Much has been written about the politics of this result, both in terms of the future of Scotland and the future of the UK, which is on the agenda once again. It's understandably bewildering to those in the rest of the UK that this result has come barely seven months after Scotland voted No –when it had the opportunity to leave the UK for good. Can Scots just not make up their mind what they want or are other factors at play? It is important to understand some context, and then as Christians to see how we are best to respond in our constant call to be biblically faithful salt and light to those we have elected to serve us.

To understand the context is firstly to understand that Scots are massively politically engaged and that is combined with a social movement that has emerged from the Yes independence campaign. This, added to an extremely slick, smart campaign by Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP meant that the 45 per cent who voted Yes galvanised behind the SNP, and that in itself is enough to win most constituencies in a First Past the Post system. But part of the SNP appeal was also to No voters, by making clear this election was not a referendum re-run, but rather about 'making Scotland's voice heard' in Westminster. With the polls suggesting a hung parliament and a constitutional debate ongoing about the powers of the Scottish Parliament within the UK, this had an appeal to those tired of what was perceived as a Westminster elite that are out of touch with ordinary voters. 

Finally, to take both the referendum result and the election result together probably reflects what has been the desire of the Scottish people in opinion polls for a number of years: some sort of federal arrangement, with further tax and welfare powers in the Scottish Parliament, but still within a reformed United Kingdom.

So how should we respond to this result beyond praying and supporting our leaders to act in godly ways as we are commanded to do? Well firstly we must do that. Secularism is as prevalent in the SNP as is in any other party in the UK, and we must pray that God will raise up those within the party who promote kingdom values for the common good of society. We must build relationships with the new MPs, pray for them and encourage them in their work as well as showing them how much the Church brings to society and how much the values of the gospel work.

Secondly, we must promote good relationships between the nations of the UK. In this campaign there were some very unhelpful tactics used by some – and in some cases on both sides –to try and pit the English and Scots as enemies engaged in a fight. As God's people we must be better than this, loving our neighbour and challenging attitudes that turn the future of the UK into an "us and them" discussion, incidentally something we will also have to consider in our relationship to the EU over the coming months.

Finally, we must engage well in building a nation of biblical social justice, whatever party we support. There will be debates to come on how that best happens over the coming years, but let us support the MPs who seek the common good of society and who look to the scriptures as the foundation for a truly flourishing society in its economy, family life, community and the environment we live in. In 2014 our vision document What Kind of Nation? pointed to the kind of biblical society we could try and build. In 2015 there has never been a greater need for this vision to become action.