Independence & Nationalism

I’ve been quiet over the last couple of weeks because I’ve been thinking. Struggling to think might be a better way of putting it. There have been a lot of statements in recent days from both Scottish and Westminster politicians about the legality of the Scottish Parliament holding a referendum on independence. At the heart of this debate is the desire either to separate Scotland from the rest of the UK or to keep it part of the UK. Am I in favour or against independence?

This is where the struggle comes in. I don’t think that independence would be better for Scotland than remaining part of the UK, but over the last week I’ve come to realise that it’s not independence that’s the real problem for me but Nationalism. I think we need to separate the two ideas, because although they are closely connected, they are not one and the same. One does not have to be a Natonalist to believe that Scotland would be better off independent (although it may help), but I guess it would be difficult to be a Nationalist and not believe in independence.

Independence is a practical way of structuring politics and running the country. It is easy to see why some might think that a demerger might be thought to be of benefit for all concerned. The same principle can be seen at work in business when a company splits its activities into several self-contained units. The creative forces that drive them when independent may be greater than the synergy when they are together. I don’t have any moral argument with that.

Nationalism is different. Depending on the strength and nature of the Nationalism concerned it can range from the National Socialism of Hitler’s Germany to the much more moderate version of the SNP. But the basis of Nationalism is either an ethnic or geographical preference – there are those who are in and those who are out and those who are in matter more to the group than those who are out. It is my belief that Nationalism of any sort is inimical to the Gospel. What is my evidence?

It is true that nationalism of a kind is a key part of the OT story – Israel is seen as the elect nation. But the point of that nationalism is to effect the reverse: the mission of national Israel is to draw others into its fold for them to become part of God’s people. The same is true of the mission of the Church, and by this stage we constantly have descriptions of God’s people that are multi-racial and global.

Not only do I think that nationalism is theologically unjustified, its history in ancient and recent times shows us that it has caused a huge amount of hatred, violence and loss of life. While the SNP would distance itself from that history, the quality of the rhetoric from its outstanding figures does not bode well for maintaining good relationships with near neighbours and appears to be designed to raise tensions.

So, I could cope with an independent Scotland, though I’d prefer it to remain in the UK. But I couldn’t cope with a Nationalist Scotland – as a Christian I would need to argue for a wider, global mindset. And I’ve realised that I need to argue this more fully in the UK context as well – it grates every time I hear David Cameron going to Europe ‘to defend British interests.’ It reminds me of the story of the 19th Century Foreign Secretary who is alleged to have said to a visiting head of state, ‘Britain does not have friends, she has interests.’ We live in a global village that requires interdependence not independence. That is true both theologically and pragmatically.

About Jared Hay

I'm minister of Priestfield Church in Edinburgh (Church of Scotland), husband of Jane, father of two adult children and am interested in sharing ideas and information through this blog.
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