Kirk says community, not money, must be at heart of independence debate

(Photo: John Young)Scotland heads to the polls on September 18

The Church of Scotland is to release a report on Thursday that indicates that Scottish people are more interested in the effect that independence will have on local communities than the economic benefits that a split could bring.

The results of the report, which is entitled 'Imagining Scotland's Future: Our Vision', were shared at John Knox House in Edinburgh this morning, and the document itself will be published on 27 February.

Based on conversations and debates with over 900 people who attended 32 community events run by the Church, the report explores the impact of independence on a civic, political and local level, with a particular concern for the effects it would have on the most vulnerable members of Scottish society.

Though the Kirk has taken a neutral position with regards to independence, the report notes that "being impartial does not equate to passivity", and expresses a Church-wide commitment to "making theological, ethical and spiritual contributions to public policy and decision-making with a bias to the poor".

"The Church believes that it is vital to encourage public participation in this momentous decision about Scotland's constitutional future by creating space for people to think about what values they want to underpin Scottish society and what shared vision we aspire to," an accompanying statement reads.

"We cannot tell people what Scotland would be like as an independent nation or how that would compare with remaining in the UK. However, we can seek to understand the values that our communities hold and reflect them in to the public debate. We can be part of a movement across Scottish civil society to revitalise our democracy."

Conclusions are made regarding public opinion on welfare, community services and care of the environment among other issues within the report, though perhaps the most significant findings were those pertaining to the values that Scottish people hold most high.

Upon asking participants to give a word or phrase encapsulating the values they believe to be most important, the "dominance of values which focussed on the relational, rather than the personal, was overwhelming", the report states.

"Poverty was the most frequently expressed value which had any economic content, but it was not until #53 that the term 'prosperity' appears; the first indication of a value that is associated with wealth and money."

In fact, among the top ten values given were equality, justice, community and compassion, indicating that Scots are less concerned about the financial benefits of independence, but are rather more concerned with the way it will impact their localities.

"What we found was that people were concerned with far more than the simple question 'what is in it for me?'" explains Convenor of the Church of Scotland's Church and Society Sally Foster-Fulton in a blog on the subject.

"Participants wanted to see values such as fairness, justice and sharing within whole communities at the heart of public discourse and did not make their decisions based primarily on economic considerations."

The Church of Scotland has responded to the feedback from the public meetings by calling for integrity and community to be at the heart of the debate about the nation's future.

The report also found that Scottish people are unhappy with the political system as it stands, both within Westminster and Holyrood. There was a clear desire for more local decision-making and greater transparency within politics that "reaches beyond the immediate lobbying and financial scandals and challenges the nature of the relationship between national government and local communities [and] the nature of the party political system".

Many of those who took part in the research also indicated that sharing the Gospel is "integral" to Scotland's future, showing God's love in a practical way, as well as demonstrating Christian values such as "love, hope, tolerance and forgiveness".

Ms Foster-Fulton has expressed her delight "that people in communities across Scotland are challenging the political status quo".

"The Church of Scotland is committed to finding ways to transform our political debate to ensure that wellbeing and values, such as justice, cohesion and sustainability become the measures for economic activity," she concluded.

The Scottish referendum on independence takes place on 18 September this year.