General Assembly to debate independence referendum

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland is to debate the question of Scottish independence.

In recognition of the historic decision the nation will make this September, more than 800 commissioners from the Church will have the opportunity to contribute their views in a special session on the afternoon of Tuesday 20th May.

Speeches will be made reflecting arguments for and against, before contributions are taken from the floor.

The Church of Scotland is committed to a position of neutrality on the referendum, but the Kirk recognises its ministers and members have much to contribute to the substance of the discussion.

The session will provide a platform for this debate, but will not result in any outcome which would compromise the impartial stance of the Church. The debate will be chaired by the Moderator Designate, the Rev John Chalmers.

Speaking of the need for the Church to reflect the national conversation, Mr Chalmers said:
"I have decided to host a dialogue within which the commissioners and others can share their perspective on the referendum and importantly how it is informed by their Christian faith.

"While much of the discussion around the referendum has been combative, the Church recognises the need for respectful dialogue that harbours trust and respect.

"Whatever our choice on the 18th of September our discussions and actions now must be ones that we can all live with in the future.

"Within this dialogue I hope that the role of Christian faith in informing our choices can be shared.

"While it is important to note the objective of the debate is not to take votes or make decisions it will, I hope, provide some profound contributions on how we as Christians can make sense of Scotland's future."

The General Assembly will hear from four speakers before the session is opened for contributions. Former Moderator of the General Assembly, Alison Elliot OBE, will pose some of the serious questions facing undecided voters.

Author and lecturer the Rev Dr Doug Gay of Glasgow University will speak for the Yes campaign.

Douglas Alexander MP will propose his views on the Better Together campaign.

John Sturrock QC, a leading proponent of the need for respectful dialogue on Scotland's future, will then take a few minutes to reflect on the debate and highlight some of the most helpful and profound contributions.