Scottish Separation: A Faith in Search of an Adequate Rationale

25 October 2023. By Nigel Biggar for the Scottish Episcopal Institute Journal.

I have a dog in the political fight over Scottish independence. Proud to have been born in Kirkcudbrightshire, the son of a Scottish father and an English mother, educated on both sides of the border, and now living in England, I would not describe myself as either ‘Scottish’ or ‘English’. I describe myself as ‘British’ because I identify myself with a certain idea of Britain — just as Scottish separatists identify themselves with a certain idea of Scotland. Consequently, in the runup to the referendum on Scottish independence in September 2014, I lost several nights’ sleep worrying about the possibility of the disintegration of Britain. Thus I certainly cannot claim to be emotionally or intellectually impartial. Nevertheless, as a Christian, I acknowledge that I have a duty to submit my visceral convictions to testing by the moral requirements of my faith.

The first thing I must admit, therefore, is that no nation is guaranteed eternal life. One of the features that distinguishes Christianity from its Jewish parent is its detachment of religious faith from blood and land. This was already evident in Jesus’ distancing of himself from militant Jewish nationalism and from the Temple cult in Jerusalem, and in his recognition of genuine faith on the part of the Samaritan woman at the well, and on the part of a Roman centurion. However, it found its mature expression in St Paul’s mission to the Gentiles, which involved statements such as the following famous one: ‘There is no longer Jew or Greek […] for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Gal. 3.28).

In Christian eyes, nation states come and go, and rise and fall. The UK did not exist before 1707. The USA could have ceased to exist in the early 1860s. Czechoslovakia did cease to exist in 1993. Equally, Scotland as a formally independent state ceased to exist in 1707, and whether or not it comes back into existence is written neither in the stars nor in natural law. No nation has a ‘destiny’ to become a fully independent state. Therefore Christian patriots should recognise that their own people and the political institutions in which they find expression are artificial constructs. They are man-made. They are not divine and eternal. They are not God ….

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