Church of (an independent) Scotland – Part 3

Logo of the Church of Scotland.

Logo of the Church of Scotland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First of all, sorry about the gap in posting.  I’m going to try and post a bit more often now.

In my absence, the Scottish and UK Governments have agreed the “Edinburgh Agreement” which will allow a referendum on independence to take place in 2014.  And while there has been recent controversy about the impact of independence on EU membership or the nuclear detergent currently located in Faslane, near Rhu; the major issue for this blog remains that of institutional religion.

Previous posts have tracked the lack of a reply to my very reasonable question to the Scottish Government – in the event of an independent Scotland, what (if any) will be the constitutional position of the Church of Scotland.  Previous readers will know that the Kirk has an interesting relationship with the state, guaranteeing some independences but still entailing some fairly close ties between Church and State.  They will also know my own personal preference for severing all ties.  I am (as I delight in typing) a disestablishmentarian!

It seems, however, that I was going about things all wrong.  What I ought to have done is make some big splashy headlines across BBC Alba about “provoking God”.  That is the approach taken (back in June) by Rev Allan MacColl of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland.  The Treaty of Union currently guarantees Protestant religion and Presbyterian church government in Scotland, and Rev. MacColl raised concerns that a new independent Scotland, involving – necessarily – a change in constitutional arrangements puts that position at risk.

Education Minister Dr. Allan, stated – with clarity that the government e-mail has not provided this website (!) – “the SNP has no plans to alter the present role of the established church upon independence, and is respectful of the role of religion in Scotland.”

This has passed without too much comment, but I wonder whether this is, in fact, compatible with the liberal, multicultural Scotland we might plan for ourselves. Being respectful of the role of religion in Scotland is one thing, but in drafting a new constitution for Scotland is the SNP really setting forth a proposal that the Church of Scotland be the established religion of that new state?  And, if that is what is being said, will the people of Scotland be in favour of it to the same extent?  And, does it really matter any more?  As Brian Taylor of the BBC observed: “Few, I suspect, will fret about the establishment or otherwise of the Kirk. Fewer still, I suspect, will alter their views on independence on the basis of advice from the Free Presbyterian Church.”

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8 Responses to Church of (an independent) Scotland – Part 3

  1. Scottish Republican Nationalist says:

    Forget the orange and the green. Disregard the pope and the queen.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Graham. But what have either the Pope or the Queen got to do with the Church of Scotland?

      • Eddie says:

        The pope and the Queen represent the opposing factions in the sectarian divide. I agree with ‘Scottish Republican Nationalist’. I would not care either way about the Church of Scotland being part of the State if it wasn’t for the significant minority (the sectarian bigots who don’t go to church but who hate people whose grandparents went to different churches than their grandparents) who would then view this as proof that ‘non-Church of Scotland protestants’ are not Scottish.

      • Eddie, thanks for your comment. I like your characterisation of the sectarian problem as “I hate people whose grandparents went to a different church from my grandparents!” For the record I am currently a member of a local Church of Scotland but was brought up in the Roman Catholic religion, so I have a pretty ecumenical outlook on life. It is the same Jesus that we worship (or don’t, to take your point)!

        The Church of Scotland is not – I would say – “part of the State”, but I had not formerly thought that having the formal links it does might be giving fuel to one side of the sectarian debate. If it is, then that’s another good reason to cut the ties altogether.


  2. The Dao says:

    A country that has an established religion is not democratic and therefore not a sovereign state. An independent Scotland should refuse to recognise the Vatican or Israel as being sovereign states. The establishment of the Church of Scotland is bigoted, racist and sectarian. Religions should be made to pay tax on their profits instead of being subsidised by the public.

    • By the same token, presumably your view is that an independent Scotland should also refuse to recognise Denmark, Norway and Iceland where the Lutheran Church is established; also Greece, where the Orthodox Church is established; England, of course; and for the Islamic countries, Scotland will be having nothing to do with Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Malaysia, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Tunisia, UAE, Iran, Kuwait etc. etc. etc.?

      Interestingly, Israel doesn’t have an established religion as such, although its constitution does specify it as a “Jewish state”, so its more or less the same thing, I guess.

      For the record, I agree that the Church of Scotland should sever its ties with the State – as for charitable status, I don’t know. Don’t all churches now have to pass the “public benefit” test to qualify anyway?

  3. Bob Emery says:

    I hope you won’t mind a late comment from an American who finds the whole idea of established churches rather odd, though I realize that in Scotland it has a long history. I understand that in the 1920s Parliament passed a statute recognizing the CofS as the “national church” of Scotland. This raises a broader question: in an independent Scotland what would be the status of previous UK statutes applicable to the country? Would they continue to apply insofar as compatible with independence (as I think was the case in Ireland), would they have to be reenacted, would they be ignored? Thanks for your attention’
    Bob Emery
    Albany, NY

    • Hi Bob,

      Interesting point. The Church of Scotland Act 1921 declared the independence of the Church and recognised its sole jurisdiction over worship, doctrine, discipline and government. The Court of Session has determined that this was not a grant of powers, but a recognition of a pre-existing spiritual jurisdiction. This would, at least in theory, survive the repeal of the 1921 Act.

      The answer to the broader question would be that the existing (UK) laws pertaining to Scotland would continue to apply until repealed or amended by the (newly independent) Scottish Parliament. Insofar as that has implications for the Church, one Scottish Minister (government minister, that is) has already said that the Church of Scotland’s position “would not change” under an independent Scotland and the First Minister’s preference for a written constitution would presumably imply that this position would be entrenched – very unwise in my view!

      Thanks for posting!

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