Will Scotland's new constitution continue to defend the faith?

Published 29 April 2014  |  
(PA)
Scots will have their say on 18 September 2014 on whether Scotland should become independent

Will an independent Scottish constitution maintain the church and state status quo in Scotland, or will the country be taken in a new direction?

That is the question on the minds of the leaders of many faiths, after the Scottish National Party's paper "Scotland's Future" only skims over this question lightly.

The view from the Church of Scotland is that it is expecting and hoping that its current status will be maintained. Although it is not an 'established' church in the model of the Church of England, it does retain certain connections to the state.

The most notable of these connections is the Claim of Right of 1689. This pre-union piece of legislation which pushed James VII of Scotland off the throne, condemned the king for being "a profest papist" who "did assume the Regall power and acted as king without ever takeing the oath required by law wherby the King at his access to the government is obliged to swear To maintain the protestant religion".

Since that time, it has been expected that the Head of State in Scotland would swear an oath to maintain and preserve "the True Protestant Religion and the Presbyterian form of church government in Scotland".

It is this form of oath that the Church of Scotland wants to see defended. In May 2013 the Church of Scotland said: "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."

The Scottish National Party has avoided direct questions from the Church of Scotland on this issue thanks to careful timing. Plans to create a draft constitution was announced in late March, with the publication date being set for June. This is after the Church of Scotland's Annual Assembly in May, meaning any discussion they have will only be speculative.

However, the Church is not alone in its concerns on these issues, and has announced plans for a major interfaith conference on the issue of religion's place in Scotland's future in July.

The Right Reverend Lorna Hood, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland said: "We are working together to show the remarkable contribution of faith groups to Scottish life, in particular helping serve the needs of those who require the greatest support.

"In doing so, we want to discuss the most appropriate way this service could be recognised by Scotland's civic society, whatever the outcome of the referendum may be this September."

Other Christian groups have also raised their concerns regarding the future of the relationship between church and state in Scotland.

The Evangelical Alliance published its manifesto "What Kind of Nation?" earlier this month, encouraging Scottish Christians to get more involved with shaping the country's future.

"In building a better future for Scotland, the contribution of the Christian faith both in the past and the present must not be forgotten," the Evangelical Alliance said.

"Drawing upon the Christian values of wisdom, justice, compassion and integrity... the Alliance reminded politicians that the Church has something to say about the future of Scotland – whether independence takes place or not following September's referendum."

Fred Drummond, national director of the EA in Scotland said: "We want to say the Church has things to say and the Church has a vision for a better Scotland and the Church – which is so often characterised as miserable grumpy 'no people', we wanted to say that we're positive people with a positive vision who believe in a positive God.

"We need to work together to ask what kind of Scotland we actually want to live in. Our manifesto calls on Christians to get involved in shaping a vision for the future that is one of hope.

"Our heart is to work with anyone who will work with us to see a Scotland that is a place of inspiration and hope; a place that's marked by grace and love and forgiveness."

The policy concerns contained in the EA's manifesto include "a ruthless commitment to the eradication of poverty, restoration of the dignity of those who rely on the welfare state and tax incentives to encourage the rich to invest in projects that would tackle Scotland's most pressing social needs".

Roseanna Cunningham, the Scottish government's minister for community safety and legal affairs, praised the involvement of the EA and numerous other Christian groups.

"We look forward to your continuing participation in Scotland's future, including the drafting of a constitution," she said.

"One of the first and most exciting tasks in an independent Scotland will be the drawing up of a constitution. It's inconceivable that churches and faith groups would not be foundational to the process of drawing up a constitution."

The ultimate outcome of the constitutional direction on this matter has not been made clear by the SNP, but based on previous decisions, the Church has little reason to be optimistic.

Little attention was paid to Church of Scotland concerns over issues relating to gay marriage, with none of the amendments proposed on the final day of negotiations receiving a charitable hearing, and Christian support for the recognition of marriage in the tax code was broadly ignored.

Reverend David Robertson, Free Church of Scotland minister in Dundee and director of the Solas Centre for Public Christianity, said to the BBC that: "It is true that £200 [the tax incentive for married couples] is largely tokenism but instead of removing that, the SNP would have been better to have increased it."

The biggest sign that the SNP are likely to support a secularist constitution is seen in their earlier exercise on this issue, when they produced a draft constitution in 2002, which was completely silent on the issue of secularism or religion.

Writing in the journal 'Parliamentary Affairs', pro independence academic Dr W Elliot Bulmer said: "The 2002 draft does not take a stance on secularism. The choice between secularism-as-neutrality, pluralist accommodation, and even weak forms of vestigial establishment, is not decided in the Constitution.

"Scotland's future Constitution-makers could learn much from the careful silence of the SNP's 2002 draft on matters of religion, church-state relations.

"Scotland's new written Constitution does not have to come down on one side or other of the secularism debate, or commit the future Scottish state to any particular model of church-state relations.

"Rather, the Constitution should be neutral and silent on matters of religion, restricting itself to provide the institutional structures and procedures which guarantee freedom for all in a pluralist, open, and democratic society."

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