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28 December 2013

Should Scotland be independent?

Should Scotland be independent?

On 18 September, Scotland will take to the polls to vote on whether they should be an independent country. Here, we asked two Christian MSPs with different opinions on the independence debate to air their views…

Next September voters in Scotland will be faced with the most significant political decision they will probably ever be asked to make. There are good Christian people in all political parties and on both sides of this argument. I do not believe that there is any single specific Christian view on independence, but I hope Christians will be fully engaged in this vital debate about the future of their country.

The partnership of the four nations comprising the United Kingdom not only has a great history but is something well worth preserving into the future. We have done many great things together, be that the abolition of the slave trade, the creation of the NHS, or the defeat of the Nazis in the Second World War. Now is not the time for us to go our separate ways. 

Scotland benefits from being part of the UK in at least three specific ways. First, our influence on the world, be that in the EU, the Commonwealth, the UN or NATO, is far greater as part of the larger unit that is the UK. We can all think of great Scots who have contributed to the world through our place in the UK. 

Second within the UK we share risk and reward with our neighbours in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. We enjoy a higher degree of social protection than would be the case if we were a small country with just five million people. That goes for pensions and benefits as much as for security and safety. 

Third, we are economically stronger as part of a bigger unit. Scottish businesses export to the rest of the UK four times as much as they do to the whole of the rest of the world combined. That vital single market that Scottish businesses require needs to be preserved and is at risk if we go down the route of voting to become a separate country. The recent banking crisis showed the value of the safety and security of the broader UK economy, at a time when smaller countries were being buffeted by world economic conditions. 

Theologian Professor Donald MacLeod, wrote recently: "The burden of proof lies on the apostles of negativity who consistently disparage the last 300 years of Scottish history as if the Union had prevented all progress and sapped us of all self-respect. Listening to them, you would never believe that during these years we have successfully negotiated the industrial revolution, produced such world-class writers as Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott, nurtured leading scientists like Alexander Fleming, John Logie Baird and James Clerk Maxwell and reared outstanding athletes such as Kenny Dalglish and Sir Chris Hoy." 

I agree with Professor MacLeod. We bring out the best of Scotland by working together with our partners in the rest of the UK. Now is not the time to abandon the shared endeavour that is the UK. That is why I, and many of my fellow Christians, will be voting "No" on 18 September. 

Murdo Fraser has been Conservative MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife since 2001, prior to which he worked as a solicitor in Aberdeen and Edinburgh. He is Convenor of the Scottish Parliament's Economy Energy and Tourism Committee and speaks for the Scottish Conservatives on Economics and Energy issues. Murdo is a patron of the Conservative Christian Fellowship.

So how is God voting in September 2014? Is He supporting or opposing Scottish independence? Well I do not think God is taking sides on this! And just as there are committed Christians in all the main political parties, so there are committed Christians on both sides of the referendum question. 

My own thinking about Scotland changed in the early 80s while I was working as an accountant with Interserve in Nepal. It is also a small country with large neighbours (India and China) but the Nepalis are keen to maintain their independence. While there and during my previous time with Operation Mobilisation I worked with New Zealanders, Danes, and Canadians, none of whom wanted to be confused with or annexed by their larger neighbours. Living outside one's country can give a different perspective and I returned home convinced Scotland could and should stand on her own two feet. 

When I left home in my early 20s it was not for economic reasons. I would probably have been able to live more cheaply with my parents. But I was keen to set up my own home and run my own life. In fact my relationship with my parents improved after I moved out – we seemed to get on better after that! In the same way it has been said England would lose a surly lodger and gain a good neighbour if Scotland was independent. In previous years Canada, Australia, Ireland and others have left the British Empire and we continue to have good relationships with all of these. 

How might Scotland be different if we left the UK? You may have noticed that there is currently only one Conservative MP in Scotland and most voters seem to want a left of centre agenda choosing either Labour or SNP. The money Scotland currently pays to subsidise the rest of the UK could be better used. We could tackle the rich-poor gap (as small Nordic countries have done) rather than spending on nuclear weapons, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or aircraft carriers. My own constituency of Shettleston in the East End of Glasgow has low life expectancy and high levels of poverty. If this is the result of 300 years of Union, then that Union has failed and I want something better. 

But does the Bible have nothing to say on all this? I would maintain there is no one Christian line to take on Scottish independence. However, there is a principle from the time of the Tower of Babel that God split the peoples up as too much centralisation was a potentially a dangerous thing. So it could be argued that we should be wary of larger national units and supportive of smaller ones. 

Anyway I and many Christians in Scotland are looking forward to voting Yes on 18 September 2014. Others will be voting NO. Ultimately our unity in Christ is what matters more than which nation we live in. 

John Mason is the MSP for Shettleston. A trained accountant, he was first elected as the first SNP MP for Glasgow East in July 2008. At Westminster, he was the SNP's spokesperson on work and pensions.

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