With over four months still to go to the referendum on Scottish independence, you might be forgiven for thinking that people have had enough of it. It’s true that since the SNP landslide in 2011 there has been a bit of a ‘neverendum’, with the question overhanging everything relating to public policy and public life.
But in the last few weeks something transformational is happening. People are beginning to engage. The debate is become lively. The polls are getting narrower. The issues are being clarified. It’s an exciting time to be living in Scotland!
Conversations are taking place in pubs and cafés, in church halls and round family dinner tables. And they are often both passionate and remarkably well-informed. It’s a level of political awareness and civic participation which is noteworthy for the fact it has bucked the long-term trend of falling interest in politics and decline in voter turnout. Perhaps it is because we are not choosing politicians (still widely, if unfairly, reviled) but rather making a major constitutional decision. The referendum has also triggered a wide range of civic institutions in Scottish life to do their own thinking and reflecting on Scotland’s future – from the Churches to Trades Unions, think tanks, academics and voluntary organisations. People in Scotland are beginning to engage in a widespread public debate about values, and vision for the future. Aspirations that, regardless of the outcome on 19 September, will hopefully stand us all in good stead in terms of engagement and debate for the future.
The Churches have chosen to remain impartial on the question. Christians will stand on both side of the debate, and there are many like me who are still undecided. This is enabling the Church to be seen as a safe space, with many local church groups arranging referendum discussion and debate events over the next few months. There is also a hugely important role for everyone with a stake in the well-being of society to help with reconciliation and commitment following a result which it is expected will be very close; whichever way it goes the one thing we do know is there will be a large minority who are disappointed. Hope and faith in the common desire to love our neighbours rather than asking what’s in it for ourselves is the one message I am taking to politicians and church members alike.
David Bradwell is the Scottish Churches Parliamentary Officer.