Church explores issues around independence

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Three Councils within the Church are proposing that the Scottish Government’s draft Scottish constitution is published before Scots take part in the historic vote on independence in September 2014. The Councils suggest that it is critical to have a debate on the appropriate constitutional arrangements for governing an independent Scotland, before the vote takes place.

The proposal is among a number in a report from the Councils exploring the implications of possible Scottish independence, which will be put forward for discussion at the General Assembly in May.

Commenting on the report, Rev Dr Doug Gay, co-author of the report and Principal of Trinity College, Glasgow University, said: “I welcome this report and I am looking forward to it being debated at the General Assembly in a few weeks’ time."

“It is vitally important that we are able to see any draft Scottish constitution before the referendum on Scottish independence. I am hopeful that whatever the outcome of the independence vote, we will continue to build a pluralist society where the views of those of all faiths and none can be heard fairly and without fear of prejudice.”

I am hopeful that whatever the outcome of the independence vote, we will continue to build a pluralist society where the views of those of all faiths and none can be heard fairly and without fear of prejudice.Rev Dr Doug Gay

The report also proposes that if Scotland becomes independent, monarchs should have a Scottish coronation to symbolise their role as Queen or King of Scots.

A coronation ceremony would reaffirm the Church’s firm commitment to the monarchy it says and serve as a reminder of the obligations of the monarch to uphold Scottish religious life and traditions and in particular her or his role with regard to the Church of Scotland.

The last monarch to be crowned in Scotland was Charles II in 1651 at Scone Palace, Perthshire. The Stone of Destiny removed to England by Edward 1 in 1296, was returned to Scotland in 1996 and remains at Edinburgh Castle, alongside the Honours of Scotland, Scotland’s ‘crown jewels.’

Dr Gay said: “The Church of Scotland is a broad church with monarchists and republicans in its membership. However, officially and corporately it remains firmly committed to retaining the monarchy.

*“The historic central view of the Church is that any monarch is King or Queen of the Scottish people, not the nation of Scotland. They rule only with the consent of the people. The Church would be in support of a Scottish Coronation to reflect this important role and to celebrate a unique relationship.”

The report from three bodies, the Church and Society Council, the Committee on Ecumenical Relations and the Legal Questions Committee, calls for any draft constitution to recognise that people of faith – as well as those of no faith – will have a role in public life. Whether it be taking part in debates about public policy, leading a discussion on values in a school assembly or taking a ‘Time for Reflection’ service in the Scottish Parliament.

It also suggests that if Scotland becomes independent it should aim to be a member of the Council of Europe, acceding to the European Convention on Human Rights, which includes the right to religious freedom.

The Church also wishes to see the acknowledgement of the lawfulness of the Articles Declaratory in any constitutional settlement. There are nine Articles Declaratory which express the Church’s constitution and lay out its structure, governance and membership. Importantly, the Articles Declaratory state that the Church of Scotland is a national church, providing support and care for all areas in Scotland not just the ones where the church is well-attended or financially supported. They also state that Christ is the head of the church, that no one person holds power over it and that the church has control over its ecclesiastical affairs.* The Stone of Destiny

Addressing the call in the report for a continuing central role for religion in public life Rev Sally Foster-Fulton, Convener of the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council, said: “The Church believes that the best way for all of us to flourish is to celebrate the diversity of Scottish life and make a safe space for the expression of all faiths and none. We want to see a society which acknowledges a role in public life for religion as well as non-religion, one which recognises tradition, respects diversity, and promotes unity.”