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23 April 2015

Scotland: forever divided?

Scotland: forever divided?

Believe it or not, last week marked seven months since the Scottish independence referendum. As we reflected at the time, in the initial aftermath of the referendum result, there were people who were pleased to still be part of the UK. At the same time, there were also a lot of people who were very disappointed because the referendum result was not what they wanted.

The referendum was at the heart of Scottish politics for two years and meant a lot more to people than previous referendums – few people give the 2011 alternative vote referendum a second thought. It's understandable, because the independence referendum cut right at the heart of how people see themselves, their country and their identity. Furthermore, unlike in elections, where if you lose you know there will be another opportunity in four or five years' time, this was different. No one could guarantee when, or if, the chance to make that choice would come again.

So, what next for Scotland? In a political sense, the most obvious change was the massive growth in membership of the SNP. With over 100,000 members, approximately two per cent of the Scottish population are now affiliated with the SNP – figures that UK-wide parties can only dream of today.

Given the SNP's raison d'être – Scottish independence – it is quite understandable that the matter continues to be a prominent part of the debate in Scottish politics, even though it is not a part of the SNP's manifesto for the general election.

Much of the talk in the run-up to this election has been about coalitions. The SNP has ruled out working with the Conservative Party. They say they would keep Labour honest, and make sure they stand up for Scottish interests. The Conservatives argue Labour would be blackmailed by a party that breaks up Britain. Labour contend the Conservatives are threatening Britain by talking up the SNP. It seems, for the moment, that independence divides us as much as ever. Will it always be so?

While there is a natural division between those who favour independence and those who don't, the campaign so far has shown that perhaps once the combative nature of the election has passed, more cooperation may be possible, and attention will likely turn to the Scotland Bill.

The Scotland Bill is based on the recommendations of the Smith Commission and all of the main Westminster parties have agreed to include it in the next Queen's Speech if they form the next government. While many parts of the Scotland Bill have already been agreed by all sides, the Bill will still be influenced by whichever party or parties form the next government.

Whatever the final bill does look like, significant change is coming to Scottish politics and the Holyrood elections in 2016 will give the next Scottish government wide-ranging new powers over a multitude of issues such as tax revenues, the voting age and gambling legislation. While these powers won't be enough to satisfy everyone, the powers will be significant enough to affect Scottish society more than ever before and will be accountable for that. With power comes responsibility – and scrutiny.

Thus, when these new powers are passed into law later this year, attention will hopefully be less on independence, where there is still an undeniable divide, and turn more towards parties putting forward a clear vision of what kind of nation they see Scotland being within the latest devolution settlement. Perhaps then there may be more agreement among the Scottish parties about the issues facing Scotland and how they can work together to fulfil that vision. We will continue, as always, to encourage evangelicals to engage with that.

   Photo credit: Stuart Anthony via Creative Commons.