An Emotional Decision – Reflections on the Scottish Independence Referendum


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An Emotional Decision

“I was, I think, the last speaker, and after dwelling on the encroachments made by the Court of Session, confirmed by the final judgement of the House of Lords, and on the manner in which we had been treated in Parliament, where the voices of the Scottish Members had been altogether overborne by the English majority, I said, on the spur of the moment, that such injustice was enough to justify Scotland in demanding the repeal of the Union. With that, to my surprise, and somewhat to my consternation, the meeting rose as one man, waving hats and hankerchiefs, and cheering again and again. No doubt the enthusiastic feelings of the people assisted our object, but I took care not to speak of repeal of the Union at our subsequent meetings” Annuls of the Disruption. Mr Wood of Ellie, describing his visit to the south of Dumfriesshire in the winter of 1842/3 . Cited by Scottish government minister, Roseanna Cunningham, when she addressed the Free Church General Assembly in May of this year.

The end is near. The voting booths have just been delivered to St Peters halls for the big day tomorrow. I have lived through one of the most extraordinary campaigns in Scottish history and come Friday we will know the result of one of the most important votes ever in the history of Britain. A vote which will have implications for the whole world. A lot has been said about heart and head. Usually you get the No campaign saying ‘my heart says yes, but my head says no’, which really means that emotionally I find the idea of an independent Scotland attractive, but when it comes to hard headed reality, I come to my senses”. The truth is however that there is a great deal of emotions on all sides and to be honest I suspect that if the No campaign had concentrated a bit more on the heart than on the wallet, they would not be in such trouble. Whichever way it goes I thought I would, as my Southern friends say, ‘share my heart’. I just hope that at the end of this you will ‘bless my heart’!

1) I feel sad –
If the Yes vote win I will feel really sad – let the Prime Minister explain why… “It would be heartbreaking to wake up on Friday morning to the end of the country we love.The country that launched the Enlightenment, abolished slavery, drove the industrial revolution and defeated fascism.A country with the British values of fairness, freedom and justice. Values that say wherever you are, whoever you are, your life has dignity and worth. The greatest example of democracy the world has ever known, of openness, of people of different nationalities and faiths coming together as one.” Despite the hyperbole I agree. It is desperately sad that Britain is within a whisker of ending.

The Scottish journalist and fellow Christian, John Macleod, wrote a beautiful piece on the history of the Union, which highlighted its good points and also its demise. I would love to quote it all but let me just give you the ending: Folk-memory of the war has largely faded and Scotland, in my own lifetime, has become a far more secular country. Going to church is now a distinctly eccentric pastime; parish ministries have folded, merged or disappeared all over the country and the General Assembly no longer commands acres of newsprint and live television coverage. Parliament itself – not least because of our European entanglement since 1972 – is a greatly diminished thing; politics is now a profession – one is tempted to say a racket – rather than the true vocation, the servant-mentality it once was. (Sir Tam was filthy rich already and when Margaret Bain, then a remedial teacher, became unexpectedly an SNP MP in October 1974, she found that meant a pay-cut.) Old bonds are breaking, old ideals disintegrating, old allegiances dissolving, even as we prepare to define ourselves, as Scots, not just as a country but for the next century. And we shall shortly know if that Union endures – battered but unbowed; or if – like trying to run a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost in today’s brash, coarse world – it is stylish, beautiful… and over.”

I agree that it is probably over and it saddens me. I believe that after the Second World War we largely turned away from the Christian foundations that made this nation great. How can we possibly expect the house to stand when the storm comes, if the foundations have gone?

If the No vote win – I will also feel sorrow. I don’t believe Britain will have been saved. I still think the ship is going down and ironically I fear that if Scotland does not take this opportunity then the rest of the UK will lose out as well. The Establishment will still be entrenched and having had a narrow escape will ensure that any meaningful change will not occur. I will also feel sorrow for the tens of thousands of disenfranchised and disempowered poor who have become involved in this campaign and who see some hope for change in a Yes vote. Its as though they will have been told, crawl back to your drinks, drugs and 42 inch plasma TV’s and leave the job of governing the country to the elites.

2) I feel apprehensive
Because we do not know what will happen. Either way. I find it strange that the No campaign have told us that we can have change and the land of milk and honey ‘without risk’ if we stay in the Union. Is that even possible? And I don’t believe on the Yes side that independence will be the promised land either.

I am apprehensive about the abuse on the Yes side continuing. There are those who have invested so much of themselves, emotionally and in other ways in this whole campaign, that I fear there will be ongoing repurcussions if the vote is No. There will be a lot of angry, hurt and disappointed people.

I am apprehensive about the abuse on the No side continuing. The No side like to suggest that it is the nasty nationalists who are not nice, and that they would never indulge in such bitterness. I’m afraid that is not true. What I have seen already in a raising of the emotional temperature when a Yes vote became possible, is nothing to what will happen if a Yes vote actually happens. There will be a lot of angry, hurt and disappointed people.

3) I feel angry
At the way we have been let down by generations of politicians who have allowed the gap between the governed and the governors to increase to an unsustainable level. I am angry at being patronised by George Osborne and others whose ‘let them eat cake’ attitude will ferment unrest and revolution. George Osbourne’s Treasury officials published a document telling us that voting ‘no’ would allow us to ‘share a meal of fish and chips with your family every day for around ten weeks, with a couple of portions of mushy peas thrown in”. And what about that dreadful advert for Better Together – one of the most patronizing and sexist adverts I have seen in a long time.

Contrast that negativity with this – which really to my mind sums up what this is all about:

I am angry that David Cameron did not have devo-max on the ballot paper, and that it was suddenly offered days before the vote, with no guarantees. Besides which Devo-Max is not the issue. The promises made by Gordon Brown (who has been wheeled out to take over from Alaister Darling) , David Cameron and Nick Clegg are extraordinary. Why have they come so late? What do they mean? Will the rest of the UK be consulted? How can they be guaranteed without that? And what use is having extra tax raising powers if they do not include oil and corporation tax? I will go for Devo-Max if it includes the right not to go to war, not to have Trident, to have control of all the wealth produced in Scotland and to determine our own economy. They can call it Devo-Max if they want. I call it independence.

Iain MacWhirter wrote a superb article in The Herald in which he pointed out: “I am still of the view Scots could have been satisfied by federalism. It’s what the vast majority of Scots have said they want. But David Cameron made it a condition of the UK signing the Edinburgh Agreement in 2012 that there would be a binary referendum splitting the Scottish consensus into boxes labelled independence or the status quo. Even then, most Scots were still minded to vote No. So what happened?
Well, in a nutshell, George Osborne happened. The shock announcement in February that Westminster would rule out any currency union after independence – not even think about it, not even discuss it – was a key moment in the disintegration of the old Union. That was the moment many Scots realised that the Union they thought was a partnership of nations was not a partnership at all. London was claiming exclusive rights to the common currency of the UK. It was as if the whole history of the Union had suddenly been rewritten as an afterthought to the British imperialism.
I never say how I will vote in elections. It is not my role as a journalists to tell people how to vote or promote the interests of any particular party. The only party I’ve ever been involved with is Labour and that was an eternity ago. But this isn’t an election; it is a referendum on the future of the country I live in, and I will be voting Yes.”

I am angry at the cack handed way the No campaign have worked Project Fear to death! They really do like running round warning people that the sky is about to fall down. It will be the end of Western civilization. We won’t get pensions. We won’t be able to visit family and friends in England. All Scots living abroad will no longer be Scottish. Supporting independence is a vote for Putin, Isis or the Chinese! Those of us who write daily letters to England will have our postage tripled. And we won’t get to watch Dr Who!

In the these last days they have got so desperate that they are frantically trying to push the narrative that behind every Nationalist lies a Nazi. What happens is that even respectable Unionists start telling stories of posters being ripped down, and people using bad language or intimidating others. Then they move on from that to say ‘if you support Scottish independence you are encouraging this kind of behaviour’. I have even been accused of encouraging anti-semitism because I wrote in favour of independence! It’s the kind of ad hominem argument that Richard Dawkins uses when he implies that all Christians are responsible for Westboro Baptists! I feel a little amused that one Unionist I respect and admire talks about the ‘industrial language’ heard on the streets from some Yes supporters, and yet he is a Rangers fan! I have a sneaking suspicion that ‘industrial language’ is not unknown in Ibrox and yet I don’t think I would condemn all Rangers fans as Orcs!

I am angry that there are some Yes supporters who have soured what has been a largely positive and good natured exercise in real democracy. They infuriate me the way that a few Dundee fans do when they chant their stupid chants and behave like morons. They affect the reputation of the whole club.

3) I am surprised –
Firstly at the level of engagement. I have never seen anything like this. Literally in every town, village, and most interestingly of all, in every housing scheme.

I am surprised at how close the vote is. The received wisdom throughout the campaign was that the most likely result was a 60/40 split in favour of No. At the beginning of September The Guardian pointed out that the No vote were 14% behind and that “public opinion tends to swing towards the status quo in the final weeks of referendum campaigns”. How wrong they have proved to be! At the moment the polls are showing neck and neck, with No having a slight advantage. Personally I think that No will win it, because I still think that when it comes to actually voting people will be scared of change, but the fact that there is even a possibility of a Yes vote sent the Westminster politicians into a blind panic and the London media into overdrive. Love bombing, threats, promises of major constitutional change and a letter from David Beckham all quickly followed. Just why someone thought that a letter from an English footballer who is not exactly an expert in constitutional change, could help the No cause is a mystery!

What makes me doubt my prediction is the role of social media, the prospect of a high turn out and how many new voters have registered to vote Yes. I think that the majority of older people, the half million English voters in Scotland, women, the middle class and evangelical Christians will vote No; and that the majority of younger people, Scots, men the working class and Free Church ministers will vote Yes! The result will hinge on just how much the variation in each group actually is. If the Labour vote continues to collapse then the Union will be in real trouble. On the other hand all the pollsters and pundits could be sitting on Friday morning with egg on their faces if No romps home by 20%!

I am surprised that the No campaign has been such a disaster. Last week in the centre of Dundee I was handed various No leaflets. One headlined – Don’t trust Salmond’s lies. Another, ‘If you don’t know, vote No’. Negative and appealing to ignorance. On the other hand the Yes campaign gave me leaflets with titles like “Your choice – opportunities in an independent Scotland”. If the No campaign had not been so negative, superior and treated us like idiots, we would never have been at this stage. Although in principle I am for independence it is not an absolute principle and I could have been swayed either way. Indeed at one point in the campaign I was almost persuaded to change.

There has been one other big surprise. In this campaign I have come to realize just how much some Christians tie their Christianity in with their politics. There is a significant proportion of the British church which seems to think that Christian Britain still exists and that to be British is to be Christian, and to be Christian is to be British. I am really surprised at how many people treat this as a moral and doctrinal issue. Numerous people have written to me and said that I am going against Gods Word because I am for divorce (I struggle to see why the Bibles teaching about divorce and marriage has anything to do with constitutional arrangements of nation states), that I am playing into the hands of the secularists, and questioned both my intelligence and my spiritual condition. There have been some veiled hints that my ministry would be considered ‘unsound’, and that I would not be invited to meet the ‘right sort’ of people in the right sort of places. Too bad. My personal political views are not those of either Solas or the Free Church – both of whom do not equate the Gospel with one political stance. I wish some other Christians would learn to do the same.

4) I feel hopeful and joyful –
I believe that a nation should be governed by its citizens. And if Scotland ends up independent I am hopeful that in the providence of God, it will turn out to be a good thing.

I am hopeful and joyful because it is a privilege to live in a country where we can have such a deep, important and impassioned argument and not kill one another. We don’t live in Ukraine, Syria or Gaza. No-one has been killed here. Despite the passions and some nastiness overall the debate has been a fantastic one for Scotland. We had a lovely older lady in St Peters called Jean Graham. She told me that in between the wars there was a campaign to get Churchill ousted as an MP from Dundee. It succeeded and he was replaced by a Christian Socialist Prohibitionist called Edwin Scrymgeour. She recalled as a child going round the housing schemes singing a song they had been taught about voting for Eddie Scrymgeour or ‘we’ll put yer windies in’. I realize that such ‘robust’ politics is not the nice stuff that the middle class matrons of Morningside except – but neither is it civil war. The No commentators have realized that there greatest weapon is now to stir up the fear of division and hatred and so that is precisely what they are doing. But as Gerry Hassan pointed out in Prospect magazine –
“This is a peaceful debate, and even more importantly, it reveals a public and political culture. The old institutional carve-ups and assumptions are being challenged, and a country is maturing, growing up, and collectively deciding to stop blaming others (the Tories, Westminster) and start to take responsibility. Whatever some of the campaign rhetoric, that is an impressive and fundamental shift which will last long after the vote.
The power of the “divided Scotland” mantra belongs to an earlier age, when Scots colluded in holding themselves back, while blaming others for their predicament. Beyond the relative balances of the Yes and No votes on 18th September, this feels like a seismic cultural change and one from which there is no going back.”

I am hopeful and joyful because even if Scotland remains in the UK, we still have the Good News to proclaim to the poor. The real Good News. Far more revolutionary and radical than any political change.

5) I feel peaceful –
I know this is a contradiction to the point about feeling apprehensive and anxious. But we are talking about emotion here – and who of us does not have a heart full of contradictory emotions?!

If you want to know why have a listen to the statement I made to my congregation this Sunday. you can hear it here – the morning sermon on the 14th of September –

I am at peace because I know that God is sovereign, he already knows the result, and whatever that result he has called us to proclaim the Gospel of peace to all.

That is why it is imperative that those of us who are Christians do precisely that. We are to bring peace. Despite what I have said above about the overall positive aspect of the debate, there are a lot of raw emotions, whatever the result. We need to be sure that we don’t inflame them, and that we remind people not to put their trust in politicians.

The Conclusion?
My heart tells me to vote no. My head tells me to vote Yes. I will go the rational route. But I believe that whatever the result, our nation, whether Scotland or the UK, will be ruined unless there is a return to that ‘righteousness which exalts a nation.

And that’s why the most important thing we can do is pray: I am just heading into St Petes where we are, in common with many other churches throughout Scotland, having an open church to pray for God to have mercy on Scotland. Our bibles are opened at 1 Timothy 2: I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time. 7 And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles.” Amen.

Victoria Osteen – Three Lessons for the Church


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The Osteens are the most popular and powerful ‘pastors’ in the US….recently Victoria came out with a statement that illustrated just how far from spiritual reality their movement has gone. I think there are some lessons for the wider church and have written about it in my Christian Today column here –

You can also see the original video here –

Christians and Politics – A Plea for Tolerance – Quantum of Solas 4


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There is little doubt that the referendum debate in Scotland can get a wee bit overheated. There have been instances of posters being defaced, people feeling intimidated etc – on both sides. However overall this has been a great example of democracy at work – passionate, ordinary people engaged, full public halls, vigorous debates etc….nonetheless we should deplore anything which inflames rather that helps this civic discussion.

But I have been a little bit disappointed with the behaviour of some Christians. We are not immune from the emotions and sins of others! I know my own attitude and behaviour has not always been the best, but I have come across something which to be honest, as quite surprised me. I have been a recipient of several messages which are a particular form of ‘Christian’ intimidation. It runs like this. Firstly they tend to point out how divisive and nasty the referendum debate is and this is of course the fault of the nasty Nats in general or the evil Salmond in particular (the sub text being – how can you as a Christian endorse this? Which I don’t). They then go on to ask me how I as a Christian can support independence. One beauty yesterday accused me of ‘being a bastion of Christian credibility’ but this slipping because of my support for independence. When you point out that its ok for a Christian to have a different political view they then jump to the unbeatable point ‘oh – but its the way you express it, you are arrogant’. That point is unbeatable because it is of course arrogant to claim you are not arrogant! Others drop hints that one is seen as not quite ‘sound’ and so might be blacklisted from speaking at events. Still others have accused me of breaking ordination vows or denying the gospel. It is a subtle ‘Christian’ way of intimidation. A ‘nice’ way of name calling.

The trouble is that far too many Christians identify their Christianity with their politics and their culture. In the US one friend told me that when he became a Christian he became a Republican, because the two were seen as synonymous. In the UK I have known people who thought that if you were NOT left wing then your Christianity was suspect. Likewise it appears that amongst a certain section of evangelicalism if one is a Christian, or at least a sound Christian, then de facto one will be for the Union. After all who wants to be a covenant breaker, hateful separatist, divider of the church, destroyer of Christian Britain etc (all these and more have come into my ‘in’ box). The trouble in all these cases is that people are confusing their culture and their political beliefs with the Gospel – and that is always a disaster. I have very good friends who are totally opposed to Scottish independence and who are fine Christian brothers and sisters. I don’t consider them to be any less Christian, I won’t defriend them, uninvite them from speaking, or hint that they are not quite ‘sound’ because of their political views. To equate the Kingdom of Christ with the kingdoms of this world is a fundamental error, which I expect liberal and non-Christians to make. It is disappointing that some evangelical Christians seem to have fallen into that trap.

Anyway here are some reflections on this and other issues in the latest episode of Quatum of Solas – listen, enjoy and pass on….

Quantum of Solas 3 – Abortion, Australia, Ashya King, Swiss Bells, the Day of Reckoning, an open letter to Alex Salmond


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Abortion in Australia: Helen Thomas tells Zoe’s story | Ashya King | Sunday trading for the Post Office in Scotland | Church bells ban in Swiss town | “Day of Reckoning” remark by Menzies Campbell | Scottish Independence Referendum: An open letter to Alex Salmond.

Please let us know what you think of this….we need all the feedback we can get to develop and improve this new venture in Solas….

An Open Letter to David Cameron: How to Save the United Kingdom


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This is my second article on Christian Today on the Independence debate. After my open letter to Alex Salmond here is one to David Cameron. Given the polls this weekend it seems apposite! As always your comments are appreciated…

Can a Christian Vote for Independence?


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This is the text of a short article I wrote for CARE- Scotland. You can get the alternative point of view from my friend Dr Alaister Noble here as well –

Can a Christian vote for Independence?

Many Christians are understandably concerned about the possibility of Scotland voting for independence. We are concerned about the economics, the politics and the increased uncertainty in a world of increasing uncertainty, but as Christians our concerns are far deeper. We know that ‘sin is a reproach to any people’ and ‘righteousness exalts a nation’. What if Scotland leaves ‘Christian’ Britain and becomes Secular Scotland? One man at Keswick was heard to opine about yours truly ‘he seems such an intelligent and sensible Christian man, I can’t believe he would be for independence”. I offer the following as my personal opinion, not as the opinion of the Free Church or Solas, or even more importantly as the opinion of the bible. I am inclined towards voting ‘yes’ because of the following reasons:

1) Britain is past its sell by date – The United Kingdom was formed on the basis of the Empire, Protestantism and capitalism. Capitalism has triumphed but the other two reasons have gone. I am particularly concerned that the Christian foundation of Britain has been removed and we will not long have the fruits once the roots have gone.

2) We should govern ourselves - There is a basic principle of self-determination. Scotland should be governed from Scotland.

3) Scotland is a wealthy nation –A great deal of the argument is about oil but there are many other factors involved as well. Scotland is a small country with just over 5 million people. We have substantial resources in agriculture, industry, education, whisky, fishing, renewable energy, commerce and the arts. We are an inventive and creative people.

4) Social, economic and political justice – I believe that in a smaller nation with a strong democratic tradition, and less dependence on the City of London and Big Business, there is a greater prospect of a more just and equal society.

5) The Church will have more influence in an independent Scotland –Isn’t the Scottish parliament an institution that wants to distance itself from Scotland’s Christian past? It’s a moot point whether the UK or Scotland is going downhill quicker, but the fact is that they both are. Indeed they have descended at such a speed that I think we have to say that Christendom has gone. I am very concerned at some of the statements and actions coming from the Scottish Parliament in general and Alex Salmond in particular. But then I am equally concerned at what comes out of Westminster and David Cameron. Besides which voting for independence is not voting for a particular political party or leader.

I believe it will be easier for the Church and Christians to have a say in a society which is not centred on the worship of Mammon (the City of London), and which is a lot smaller. I certainly feel far more connected to Holyrood than Westminster. An independent Scotland will mean a new beginning. And the Church should be in there from the beginning seeking to be salt and light.

PS. Here is the best analysis of the current situation I have come across in Scotland – from my old University colleague and now BBC journalist – Allan Little.

A difficult and hard sermon – Psalm 58 – The Righteous Dip Their Feet in the Blood of the Wicked? Do not Destroy!


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Last Monday I woke up in a cold sweat knowing that I was going to have to prepare a sermon on Psalm 58. I was not looking forward to it…as for me it is one of the ‘hard’ and most difficult passages of Scripture. What does it mean “the righteous will be glad when they dip their feet in the blood of the wicked”? My desire was to be faithful to the text and to apply it to todays world. And to do so in the context of a communion service -which this was. Anyway I really got into studying it and instead of finding it a ‘dispensable’ psalm, I found it to be indispensable. I don’t normally share my sermons on here but after preaching it on Sunday evening I was asked to share it. Someone said it really helped them understand what was happening in the world today…I hope you benefit as much from this Psalm as I did in studying it…

Just click on the sermon for the evening of August 31st – Psalm 58

An Open Letter to the First Minister of Scotland – Alex Salmond



This is the first of three letters written in the run up to the Scottish Referendum. Whilst the media and politicians are generally concerned with issues of economics, personality and politics, we need to be a prophetic voice to the nation and remind all our leaders that we are all, including them, answerable to God.

Quantum of Solas 2 – Ukraine, Scottish Referendum, Ebola, Dawkins and Abortion, Soccer Moms, and the Ice Bucket!


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This is our second podcast – the idea behind this one is to provide Christian comment on the news of the past week. This week we talk about Gaza, Ukraine, Scottish Independence Referendum, the US doctor healed from Ebola, Richard Dawkins and aborting children with Downs syndrome, soccer moms suing FIFA and the ice bucket challenge! Should be enough there for all of us….we also provide lots of links for you to follow up! Enjoy and pass on….


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