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Reconciliation Service After Independence Vote Urges Efforts For a “Better Scotland”

Emblems of Scotland and England

Lawrence OP

Greg Daly - published on 09/22/14

Political Leaders Light Unity Candle, but Salmond Conspicuously Absent

A thousand Scots attended a “Service of National Reconciliation” yesterday at Edinburgh’s St. Giles Cathedral, following Thursday’s referendum in which 55 percent of Scottish voters opted to remain part of the United Kingdom.

The service at the "High Kirk," as the mother church of Scottish Presbyterianism is better known (it was a cathedral in the strict sense for only brief periods in its long history) was led by the Rt. Reverend John Chalmers, moderator of the Church of Scotland, who reminded the congregation that they were defined not by how they voted but by their willingness to work together for a better Scotland.

The Labour Party’s Douglas Alexander, shadow foreign secretary of the UK, and the SNP’s John Swinney, finance secretary of Scotland’s Holyrood parliament, took turns to read from scripture, and politicians from all parties lit a single candle to symbolise their commitment to work for a “common purpose.”

Whether there is any hope of such commitment being realized, however, remains to be seen. While Swinney was present, both First Minister Alex Salmond and his heir apparent Nicola Sturgeon were conspicuous by their absence. The leaders of the Scottish Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties were at the service, along with the Scottish secretary, Alistair Carmichael, and UK’s former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alastair Darling, leader of the No campaign group Better Together.

Across Scotland’s Central Belt in Glasgow, meanwhile, Archbishop Philip Tartaglia expressed concerns in his homily about how a “clear majority” of Glaswegian voters, 53 percent of whom had voted for independence, were out of step with their fellow Scots.

“Sadly,” he said, “too many of our fellow citizens of this great city of Glasgow appear to feel disenfranchised by the political process, and feel threatened and disheartened by poor life chances and by indecent levels of poverty and deprivation. I think that was what the referendum voting figures for Glasgow may have been pointing to.”

As president of Scotland’s bishops’ conference, Archbishop Tartaglia has written to Alex Salmond, who on Friday announced his imminent resignation, praising his “long and outstanding career in politics,” and his “distinguished service as First Minister of Scotland.”  The Archbishop thanked the outgoing First Minister for his assistance in planning the first day of Pope Benedict XVI’s 2010 visit to Britain, when the Pope landed at Edinburgh and celebrated Mass in Glasgow, as well as for his “recognition of the important place of religion and faith in Scotland,” and his “sensitivity to the issues around religious freedom which are emerging in our country as they are elsewhere.”

The First Minister may have announced that he will be stepping down in November as First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party, but it is clear that he has no intention of leaving quietly. Interviews since his announcement have seen him hinting at the possibility of Scotland’s parliament gradually accumulating sufficient powers for Scotland to become “independent in all but name,” and then declaring independence.

He also pointed to how recent polling by the Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft suggests that fully a quarter of Scotland’s 2,001,926 No voters voted to remain in the UK because they had been swayed by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s assurance that a No vote would mean “home rule within the United Kingdom.” Brown’s assurance has been confirmed by the three Westminster leaders, who in a vow published in Scotland’s Daily Record promised to keep to the agreed timetable of a white paper detailing the final plans by St. Andrews Day on November 30, with a draft law to follow by Burns Night in late January.

Prime Minister David Cameron has caused consternation among Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs by seeking to link the agreed promises with a fresh constitutional settlement for the UK as a whole, but while Salmond has been quick to cast London’s disarray as a betrayal of angry No voters, his deputy and heir apparent Nicola Sturgeon looks set to take a more pragmatic approach. Senior SNP figures believe that far from dismissing London’s proposals as bribes, as Salmond had done, Sturgeon is set on responding by detailing the powers she wants for Holyrood.         

With the SNP’s 25,500-strong membership having surged by 18,000 since the referendum, and with Lord Ashcroft’s poll suggesting that roughly half of Scots think that the referendum has settled things for at most ten years, Sturgeon should have no trouble in holding “Westminster’s feet to the fire,” as Salmond put it in his speech accepting the referendum result.

Tough tactics may not be needed. Better Together leader and former UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Alastair Darling, has described this agreement as non-negotiable. “It was promised, it’s got to be delivered, and anyone who welshes on that will pay a very heavy price for years to come,” he said.

“Of course,” he added, “there is a separate issue of what further constitutional change comes to the UK, but just be very clear about this: You cannot hold up or delay in any way at all what was promised. The three leaders gave an absolute commitment and I’m confident they will deliver on it." 

Greg Daly covers the U.K. and Ireland for Aleteia.

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