Reflections on the Referendum
More than a month has passed since an unprecedented national referendum in Scotland which saw a majority vote against independence and thus in favour of remaining in the United Kingdom. There has been plenty of comment on the outcome from various political angles but it is worth reflecting on the matter from a Christian point of view. To do that we must take the Bible as our vantage point.
The referendum certainly had some remarkable features. The campaigning went on for the best part of two years and saw politicians and parties normally at odds with each other working on the same side, or at least to the same end. For the first time sixteen and seventeen-year-olds were able to vote and a massive 85% of the electorate took part. The high turnout should not really surprise us. Unlike elections where various shades of grey are on offer in the referendum people were faced with a black and white choice and one with implications for generations to come: they no doubt felt that on this occasion their vote really counted.
In the end the result was clear enough. Despite a narrowing of the opinion polls during the last few weeks and with a few suggesting a lead for the independence campaign on the day itself 45% voted ‘Yes’ to independence and 55% voted ‘No’ – a margin of 10%. The question for us is, What, if anything, does the result mean for the cause of Christ?
We believe that the Lord has delivered us – for the time being at least – from a major threat to Scotland’s identity as a Protestant nation. The Scottish Government had the Act of Settlement of 1701 in their sights, as the following section from their blueprint for independence makes plain: “Earlier this year the rules on succession to the Crown were amended (for Scotland and elsewhere) to remove outdated gender discrimination. An independent Scottish Government will promote, and support amongst the Commonwealth States with the Queen as Head of State, a similar measure to remove religious discrimination from the succession rules.”
If such a measure was ever enacted we presume the throne would then be open to the professors of any religion (and none) yet we should remember that there is a specific agenda here. As our Church’s Public Questions, Religion & Morals Committee noted in their examination of the government’s proposals in 2006 the leader of the Scottish National Party Alex Salmond agreed a pact with the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Scotland to campaign together against the Act. No-one should imagine that Rome’s intentions in so-doing were spiritual and benign: she is after all “that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth” (Rev. 17:18).
Currently the monarch must promise to “maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law,” as our present Queen did at her coronation. A Roman Catholic could hardly do that! The coronation oath would need to be changed and Prince Charles might have his wish granted, namely that the monarch becomes Defender of Faith, not of the Faith. Our politicians may complain of ‘discrimination’ but biblical truth is involved: rulers are bound to ‘kiss’ the Son of God (Psa. 2:12) and not the man of sin (2 Thess. 2:3). If a Romanist should ever hold the highest civil office in our land then the consequences could be dire indeed.
We must not forget our national history. The Reformation was a great victory for the gospel of grace but Rome did not quit the field of battle. Our forefathers saw the need to embed the Reformed Faith in the law of Scotland and when the Union of 1707 occurred a Protestant monarchy was enshrined in the United Kingdom and a Presbyterian church establishment in Scotland. These two wise provisions have, through divine blessing, contributed to Scotland’s stability and success over the last three hundred years. It would be foolish to overturn them or undermine them for, as the saying has it, those who cannot (or will not) remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
There is no doubt that the referendum has left a division in Scottish society which will not be easy to repair. People have been pulling in opposite directions and a reunion will only happen when there is a general recognition that the first priority for earthly kingdoms must be the kingdom of Christ. Its values are unchanging, being designed to meet man’s greatest needs and fulfil his deepest desires, and its reign knows no end (2 Pet. 1:11).
It is notable that for all the words spoken and written during the referendum campaign there was very little consideration given to the place of the Christian religion in our nation. Our nation’s problems are ultimately spiritual and only a spiritual solution will do. We have disobeyed and dishonoured the Lord and we need to heed His call in Scripture: “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and heal their land.” (2 Chron. 7:14) We should pray earnestly for national repentance.
In the Bible we are told that “God is the judge” and that He “putteth down one, and setteth up another” (Psa. 75:7). In the referendum campaign much was made of “the sovereignty of the people” but the fact that God is sovereign was lost sight of. Since the Referendum we have seen the First Minister step down and the leader of another party announce her departure. The Bible shows us how the Lord works out His gracious purpose through such events. May we be encouraged as we remember that He, and not man, is on the throne!