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29 August 2014

A message of hope for Scotland

A message of hope for Scotland

Monday was an interesting day to be an English person in Scotland.

First, it seemed like every person I knew down south was complaining about torrential rain on the bank holiday ruining Greenbelt, the Notting Hill Carnival, or just family life in the summer holidays.

Only we had a wonderful day –unbroken, bright sunshine - which I watched through my office window, since it was not a bank holiday up here, and our kids are long back in school. It was a powerful reminder that I do live in a different country to my family, and to many of my friends.

Then, in the evening, we had the ... experience ... of the second and final televised debate on independence between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling. They jabbed fingers, shouted each other down, traded insults, fired loaded questions, and generally tore lumps out of each other for 90 minutes. One tweeter captured my feelings with the comment: "For the first time in history the real life event was more brutal and less informative than the Twitter commentary."

The aggression of the TV debate reflects my experience of the debate on the ground, and perhaps particularly on social media. I've been attacked at length by partisans of both sides for a passing comment that they each thought favoured the other (I just thought it was funny;a partial success…) The visions are apocalyptic: if we say no, our (devolved) NHS will be sucked into privatisation; our children will be thrust into poverty; our natural wealth will be stolen away by London; our pride and nationhood will be destroyed. If we say yes, by contrast, our economy will collapse (not least because we won't have a currency to use); our pension funds will be worthless;our banks will be unsustainable; and our businesses will all relocate south of the border, which will be marked by high fences and patrolled by armed guards to protect England against our lax immigration policy...

Either way, barricading the doors, converting the savings to gold, and stockpiling food in the cellar seem like prudent ways forward just now…

…but the gospel is a message of hope, and of hope for the world, not just for individual human beings. When all things are made new, Loch Ness too will be made new;when the great crowd from every tongue, tribe, and nation gather, there will be Glaswegian accents in the great chorus of praise. And that will be so whichever way we vote next month.

There is a striking early Christian text, The Letter to Diognetus. We do not know the author, or the date - sometime between 100 and 350 is the best we can do. In a few brief chapters, however, the anonymous writer offers a wonderful vision of what being a Christian meant in those early centuries, and of how Christians navigated the politics and cultures of the nations around. Christians, s/he says, have few visible customs of their own;they are not Greek or Barbarian in dress or speech;they happily follow the customs of whatever culture they find themselves in. These customs do not define them, however: they are strangers in all the cultures they live in, behaving as natives for the sake of politeness and ease. "They live on earth - but they are citizens of heaven."

S/he says much more, about ethics and martyrdom; the text is online and well worth reading. It challenges me this week as I consider whether to cast my (postal) vote for an independent Scotland, or for continued membership of the United Kingdom. The Letter to Diognetus reminds me, in the spirit of Hebrews 11, that either way, I will be only passing through, a stranger in a strange land, my real citizenship and identity in heaven.

This does not suggest that the vote is unimportant; real good, or real harm, may flow from one decision or the other. It does, though, deny that this vote is all-important: for Christians, our identity is not bound up in the political realms we inhabit, and our flourishing is not bound up in their prosperity. Wisdom and foolishness will both flow from elected governments in Holyrood and in Westminster, and economies will strengthen or weaken; the future - for me; for my family; for Scotland; for the world - is in God's hands, though, and so is held secure, whichever decision we make on 18 September.

Steve Holmes, senior lecturer in theology, University of St Andrews

The Evangelical Alliance Scotland has launched a manifesto entitled What Kind of Nation? ahead of the Scottish independence referendum. It comprises 38 recommendations covering the four pillars of Scottish society –the economy, the family, civil society and the environment.