Scottish independence: 'The wounds of this campaign will take years to heal'

The biggest democratic decision in British history has seen levels of time, energy and raw emotion invested like no other political battle we have seenLynne Cameron/PA Wire

As I write this we're waking up to the news that nothing has changed – Scotland is still part of the United Kingdom and will remain so. Except of course there is the reality that things will never be the same again.

The No vote may have won the day by a healthy margin, but in no way can we all walk away from the last two years of campaigning, whether we live in Scotland or not, and carry on regardless. The promises of the politicians from Westminster of increased powers for the Scottish parliament now have to be carried through and there is the question of how the outcome will affect the future governance of the other regions of the UK.

As the build up to yesterday's vote has drawn towards its fervent climax, so the divisions between those on each side have become more fractious. Given that the stakes have been so high and the polls so tight, we shouldn't have expected anything else. The biggest democratic decision in British history has seen levels of time, energy and raw emotion invested like no other political battle we have seen, or possibly will see, in our lifetimes.

One image that has stuck in my mind above any other over the last few weeks is that of a window of a house. On the left hand side was a large Yes poster and on the right a large No one. Under the Yes was another hand written piece of paper, with the words 'HE'S WRONG' in large capitals and an arrow pointing to the No.

This referendum has divided families, friends and communities. It has seen anger, harassment, threats and vandalism. It's not often that political leaders give up engaging with voters because they have been shouted down or that the BBC has protests held outside its Scottish headquarters because of its allegedly biased coverage.

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Alex Salmond has called it "a joyous, empowering campaign", but it has ended with a country deeply split with more than 1.5 million Yes voters left bitterly disappointed. Those who have given their lives and careers to pursue the dream of an Independent Scotland will be hurting badly today.

In the middle of all of this the Scottish churches have sensibly done their best to remain neutral, encouraging all those able to vote to consider what sort of society they wish to live in. As a result of their desire not to align themselves with any camp, they now find themselves in a unique position. They are able to initiate the process of reconciliation in a country where the wounds of this campaign will take years to heal.

John Chalmers, the moderator of the Church of Scotland's General Assembly, has invited political leaders to attend a service of reconciliation at St Giles' Cathedral in Edinburgh this Sunday. It may prove to be the first of many post-referendum acts by the churches to rebuild bridges and minister to those painfully scarred by months of this aggressive campaign.

If anyone is able to understand the nature and power of reconciliation, then surely it is those who profess the Christian faith. Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury has written that, "the Christian faith is based on the reconciliation of human beings through the self-giving love of Jesus." Paul makes this clear in his second letter to the Corinthians where in chapter 5 he talks about Christians, having been reconciled to God, being given the ministry of reconciliation to share with the world.

Reconciliation in its widest sense is about the restoration of relationships that have been badly damaged and broken. Jesus taught us to love and forgive those who hurt us. There can be no reconciliation without forgiveness – this is love in practice.

The bonds that unite this country have been tested to near breaking point this week. We will now be together for a long time to come and it is important for the sake of our future that we move forward without carrying heavy baggage full of resentment and distrust along with us.

Politicians have been given a sharp shock and need to wake up to the disillusionment felt by many voters. The incredible turnout in Scotland has engaged an entire population. Fears for some have been dissipated, but hopes for others have been shattered. Politicians cannot ignore those desires for change. They can work towards building a politically fairer society, but reconciliation has a spiritual dimension. If Scotland is to become a united country once again in a United Kingdom, then Christians will need to play their part, pouring out an unconditional love that dissipates resentment and reminds factions who have fought against each other how much they still have in common.

Gillan Scott regularly writes about the relationship between Christianity and society. He is deputy editor at www.archbishopcranmer.com and founder of the God and Politics in the UK blog www.godandpoliticsuk.org

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