Church of Scotland to be 'impartial' on Scottish independence

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The Church of Scotland has announced that it will not be taking an official corporate position on Scottish independence or the question of whether another referendum should be held.

The last time a referendum was held on Scottish independence was in 2014 when Scots voted to remain in the Union by 55% to 45%. 

A ruling by the UK Supreme Court currently prevents the Scottish government from holding an independence referendum without the consent of Westminster, but the question of a second referendum continues to be widely debated and is a key commitment of the ruling SNP. 

The Church of Scotland General Assembly, meeting in Edinburgh this week, has backed a recommendation by the Faith Impact Forum that it refrain from taking sides. 

The Kirk has instead reaffirmed the policy position it adopted 10 years ago to remain "impartial" on both independence and another referendum. 

The report from the Faith Impact Forum to the General Assembly notes the wide variety of opinion among Kirk members. 

The report stated: "The Forum believes it would be unwise for the Church to take a corporate position for or against independence at this time.

"If the Church were to express an opinion on the highly politicised and controversial debate about whether or how there should be a referendum, or if the next UK Parliament election should or should not be considered a de facto referendum, there is a real risk of alienating a large section of society and impairing the mission of the Church.

"It is also likely to severely impede our role as an institution that builds bridges across the constitutional and party-political divides and our role in society as a safe space that puts the highest interests of the people above the political rifts of the day."

Rev Karen Hendry, convener of the Faith Impact Forum, said the decision to remain impartial reflected the fact that members and ministers in the Kirk "hold contrary views on this question".

"The Church has an important civic role to play in the debate about Scotland's future – in terms of helping the nation think about its values, hopes and vision," she said. 

"Impartiality does not mean neutrality or non-interest; on the contrary we seek to provide spaces for constructive dialogue and to help people recognise that we have more in common than that which divides us.

"In line with the position taken by the General Assembly 10 years ago, we have reaffirmed our position of impartiality on the question of whether Scotland should become an independent country

"This allows us to build bridges and hold honest conversations with political movements on both sides of this divide, to remind them that despite their differences they must always seek the highest interests of the people."

Recent polls suggest growing support for independence. A YouGov poll in March found support for Scottish independence to be at 39%, but in a May poll carried out by Survation for strategic advisory firm True North, support rose to 48%.