Countdown to the Scottish referendum on independence

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Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond and Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon walk past a sign showing the date for the Scottish independence referendum outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh

A year today people in Scotland will be voting in a historic referendum to decide whether the country should remain as part of the UK or become independent.

On 18 September 2014, fiercely waged campaigns will come to an end and Scotland will be voting for or against independence.

The Church of Scotland plans to help Scots understand the implications of their vote and support them in their decision.

A spokesman for the Church of Scotland explained that the Kirk will be hosting around 25 public meetings and discussion sessions in the run-up to Christmas.

The Church will be working with local congregations to create "safe spaces" where people can come and share their values and aspirations for Scotland's future.

From spring next year, the programme of events will step up a gear, with local congregations holding referendum meetings where voters can hear and discuss the arguments for and against the big question.

The outcomes of the meetings will be compiled in a report to be presented to the political parties and the public in the hope that the issues raised will be properly discussed in the national debate.

"We believe that questions about the future of Scotland are too important to be left to politicians and the media," the spokesman said.

The Church of Scotland is not taking a stance on whether Scotland should be independent or not, but it has said that an independent Scotland should come under the European Convention of Human Rights, which includes the right to freedom of religion.

It has also proposed a "civic investiture or other ceremony" for future monarchs in the event that the country votes yes to independence.

The spokesman added: "The Church believes that it is important to recognise that Scotland's history, tradition and culture – as well as legal framework – are distinct and different, and that for many centuries the monarch has had a special role in relation to the Church of Scotland."

The Free Church of Scotland is also looking for a robust debate to take place ahead of the vote. Speaking on behalf of the Church, the Reverend Iver Martin said that, regardless of the outcome, it was important that the Church is able to speak freely.

He said: "The Church's task is the same in any and every country. That is to bring the gospel of Jesus to the people. To that extent its task is the same whatever identity the country decides to adopt. Whatever the outcome of the referendum I would hope that the Church will continue to follow that objective.

"When it comes to the prospect of independence, there are more important questions like, 'What kind of Scotland will it be, what place will the Church have in public life and what kind of freedoms will be afforded to Churches to speak freely, reach its people with its message and live freely by conscience without fear of discrimination?' These to date are unknown."

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