Better Together: God and the Union

I am Scottish, and I’m British. Why would I want to have to choose?

I was born and brought up in Glasgow, and I live in East London. I proudly wore a kilt when I married my English wife. I’ll support anyone playing against the England rugby team, and I’ll happily cheer on the English cricket team in the Ashes. I’m inspired by the poetry of Robert Burns and the politics of Jimmy Reid, and also by George Lansbury and the Clapham Sect. Maybe I’m just a mongrel, an aberration, but I don’t feel any tension between these parts of my identity.

I spent a year in China before going to University, and in China ‘Yingguo’ means both England and the United Kingdom. At first I hated this, and made it very clear that I was in fact from Suguoland (Scotland). But as I got to know this remarkable country which is changing so fast and will surely shape the future of our globe, I came to realise the real respect which people in the middle of nowhere in Western China had for the UK and its institutions. My Chinese teacher self-taught himself English purely by listening to the BBC World Service, and the eyes of farmers' children’s would light up when I told them that when I left China I was going back to study at Oxford University. I slowly learned to be proud of being both from Yingguo and Suguoland.

When I did come back I studied history at University, and when I managed to pay attention I learned about the deeply intertwined stories of Scotland and the rest of the UK since the act of Union. I learned of Robertson and the Scottish intellectuals’ role in the Enlightenment, of Glasgow’s role as the second city of the empire, of Keir Hardie’s role in establishing the Labour Party. It’s a story with plenty to lament and plenty to celebrate, but it’s one story. The Scottish threads are too tightly woven into all the others, enriching the whole and being part of something bigger and better. Why would you want to have to pick them out?

Though I studied history at university my passion was always politics, first in my college and then in the Student Union and now in community organising with churches in East and South London. As a Christian I believe that politics is ultimately about how diverse and difficult humans find a way to live together which enables and encourages the flourishing of all. To that end it is ultimately a question of relationships, of how we live together.

Some see difference as an opportunity for division, for choice and separateness – a chance to fragment into smaller and smaller groups to try and maximise our happiness. But the Bible offers a different perspective. Ephesians 2:13-14 says “now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility”. As those who have gone from being foreigners and strangers to being brought into the family of God, we should seek as far as is practically possible to break down barriers and extend the boundaries of our communities. In this light we see difference not as a threat but as an opportunity for solidarity, for mutual enrichment and as a challenge and tension to be lived with as we try and solve our problems together.

I don’t think Scottish independence should be decided on who would keep the pound and who would keep the oil, where we’d put our nukes and where we’d base our banks. These are all the surface level out-workings of a much more fundamental process of decoupling our identities and our destinies.  And as a Christian whose identity is made up with elements from across the UK that feels like a mistake.

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