Church to run independence debates across Scotland

Church leaders are planning open forums in church and community halls so that Scots can take part in a root and branch review of the kind of Scotland they want.

Next year’s historic referendum on independence has inspired three Church committees to launch this plan. But potential calls for change emerging from the meetings, are not tied to one particular result in the referendum.

An outline of the meetings will form part of a report on independence presented today at the Church’s annual General Assembly in Edinburgh, by the Rev Sally Foster-Fulton, convener of Church and Society Council which has prepared the report in conjunction with two other Church committees - Legal Questions and Ecumenical Relations.

*The plan is partly inspired by the civic assembly which sprang up in Iceland after the financial crash there. It is credited as the origin of subsequent banking and electoral reforms which are believed to have made leading figures more accountable.

The Church Council has already run five pilot meetings in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Moray.

Now it is rolling the scheme out to 20 new locations including Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Planning is under way for more dates and locations so that the initiative is open to as many Scots as possible.

Speaking ahead of her formal speech, Sally Foster-Fulton the Council’s convenor indicated the meetings would not be along the lines of traditional debates. “You might call it brainstorming. We want as many Scots as possible to indicate what their values are. For example we hear a lot about what kind of currency we will have in future- the Euro or the pound or the ‘kiltie’ – but we don’t hear much discussion about what the priorities should be for that money.”

Mrs Foster-Fulton who is associate Minister in Dunblane, said many people are disappointed with debate to date around the referendum. “It seems to be more of a tennis match with two groupings trying to score points - rather than a collaborative effort to imagine a new Scotland. We hope to change the conversation and make space for different voices.”

The Church and Society Council has also joined forces with the Church’s Legal Questions and Ecumenical Relations committees to explore constitutional issues relating to the independence. The report presented today proposes that any draft constitution comes to the Scottish people before they vote in the referendum.

Mrs Foster-Fulton said: ”A written constitution would be a huge shift for Scotland and people need to know what will be in it before they vote.”*

The three committees are also proposing that future monarchs are crowned in Scotland as well as England. Mrs Foster-Fulton said : “Monarchs are the kings and queens of the Scottish people . They rule with the consent of the people. A coronation would be a wonderful celebration of that important relationship.

“It offers an opportunity for people of all faiths and no faith to create together this civic occasion.”

Joint Report on the Implications for the Church of Scotland of Independence for Scotland

The General Assembly:
1. Receive the Report.

2. Call on the Scottish Government to publish any draft Constitution which it may propose for an independent Scotland in advance of a referendum on independence.

3. Urge that, in recognition of the historic and continuing role of the Christian faith in Scottish society, any constitutional arrangements which may be made for an independent Scotland must continue to recognise the Claim of Right, should recognise that human realms are under the authority of God, and should also recognise the role of religion in general and the Church of Scotland in particular.

4. Establish an interfaith conversation to propose how recognition of religion should be addressed in the constitutional arrangements for Scotland following upon a vote for independence, to report to the General Assembly in 2014.

5. In the event of Scottish independence, believes:

a. that the Queen (and her heirs and successors) should be the head of state of Scotland.

b. that the monarch should have a Scottish coronation or investiture to symbolise her or his role as Queen or King of Scots, including the obligations to uphold Scottish religious life and traditions, and in particular her or his role with regard to the Church of Scotland.

c. that the lawfulness of the Articles Declaratory should be acknowledged in any constitutional settlement.

d. that in any constitutional settlement the relationship between church and state should be affirmed by recognising that the role of the Church of Scotland in civic life should be maintained, in particular the provision of prison chaplains, the conduct of marriages, and the appointment of Church Representatives on Local Authority Education Committees.

e. Scotland should become a member of the Council of Europe and should accede to the European Convention on Human Rights, which includes the right to religious freedom.

f. that the plurality of views and beliefs about religious matters should be addressed appropriately in any new constitutional settlement.