Scotland's independence referendum consultation

The official consultation on the Scottish independence referendum has now been launched and is already provoking a lively and important debate.

While Ekklesia has taken a clearly critical stance towards overweening nation state ideology and chauvinist-militarist types of nationalism, we have also backed genuine localism (as distinct from some manipulative versions promoted by centralist politicians) and have supported aspirations towards sustainable, smaller-scale economies and regions, as well as arguing for the goods enshrined in cultural exchange and learning - not least in Britain, where it is often forgotten that as part of a growing and positive modern multilingual mix there are four continuing older indigenous linguistic cultures (English, Welsh, Gaellic and Scots), not just one.

Ekklesia was among those putting arguments in favour of a 'yes' vote in the successful devolution powers referendum in Wales in 2011. Now the debate turns to Scotland, where the case for independence and aspirations for the country to be a 'beacon of progressivism' are being posited and discussed in the run-up to a poll in 2014.

As a whole, Ekklesia's outlook puts us in a natural position of sympathy towards the self-governance resonances in Scotland, framed in an outward-looking and social-justice oriented way. But whichever final position one takes (and there are bound to be variances among our associates and friends), it is going to be a lively, significant conversation.

Ekkesia intends to follow and comment on the issues carefully. We have one director (myself) and one core associate living in Scotland. My plan is to write about key referendum developments and issues, to engage Ekklesia with other civic bodies and thinktanks exploring independence and 'devo max' policy issues and belief/values paradigms, and to offer some theological reflections on what is at stake.

Meanwhile, the referendum consultation form, details, press conference and online discussion can be found here: http://www.scotreferendum.com/2012/01/25/launch-of-the-referendum-consul...

In announcing the referendum consultation, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond put the issues as follows:

The people who live in Scotland are the best people to make decisions about Scotland’s future. They gave the Scottish Government an overwhelming majority in May 2011 because of a record of good government, a clear vision of the future and the promise of a referendum on independence.

The referendum will be held in autumn 2014 in the same way as any Scottish election, to the same standards and with the same guarantee of fairness. We will decide our future in a vote which is beyond challenge or doubt.

This consultation paper seeks views on what the ballot paper should say, what spending limits should be set on campaign groups and how the referendum should be managed and regulated. It sets out the timetable for parliamentary and public debate which will ensure that the Scottish people are able to take an informed decision about their future.

Voting day will be just like any other election. The people will go to local polling stations, mark the ballot paper and later the result will be declared. If the people vote yes, the Scottish Government would negotiate with the UK and move to secure the transfer of sovereignty and powers to the people of Scotland.

Much of what Scotland will be like the day after independence will be similar to the day before: people will go to work, pensions and benefits will be collected, children will go out to play and life will be as normal. What independence will mean is that decisions about what happens in Scotland and for Scotland are taken by the people who care most about Scotland – that is the people living, working and bringing up their families in Scotland. The people of Scotland will be in charge. Our future, our resources, our opportunities will be in our hands.

Ours is a lucky nation, blessed with natural resources, bright people and a united society. We have an independent education system, legal system and NHS. They are respected worldwide. I believe that if we connect the wealth of our land to the well-being of our people, we can create a better country.

Scotland is not oppressed and we have no need to be liberated. Independence matters because we do not have the powers to reach our potential. We are limited in what we can do to create jobs, grow the economy and help the vulnerable. We shouldn’t have a constitution which constrains us, but one which frees us to build a better society. Our politics should be judged on the health of our people, the welfare of young and old and the strength of our economy.

Under independence Scotland would take its place as a responsible member of the international community while continuing as a friend and good neighbour to the other nations of these islands, continuing the strong social union which will always bind us together.

We take this journey at a time of great change in the world. Environmental, financial and geo-political factors are in flux. It is our duty to create a modern nation that is fit for these new times, flexible and dynamic. We must renew democracy and strike a new bond between government and the people based on trust and humility. That duty amounts to creating a stable society with dependable welfare structures which is open in outlook and responsible in conduct.

This is a peaceful and inclusive quest to find the system of government that best suits the needs of the people of Scotland and which will bring fairness and prosperity to us and our children. It is our future and our choice.

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© Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia. He lives in Edinburgh and as a theological and political commentator/researcher has a keen interest in the future of Scotland as a sustainable, socially and economically just, internationalist and nuclear weapons-free nation.

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