Christians cannot vote for an independent Scotland in good conscience because it would lead to a secular state, a former Free Church of Scotland Moderator has warned.
In a paper to the Free Church General Assembly about the forthcoming referendum, Rev John Ross said a successful ‘Yes’ vote would result in Christianity “being deprived of state recognition as Scotland’s national religion” for the first time since the Reformation.
Rev Ross said the Scottish Government’s White Paper on independence was “dishonest” in claiming that separation would result in no change to the legal status of any religion or of the country’s churches.
His intervention came as the Scottish Secular Society announced its support for separation, arguing that the British state gives unfair protection to “certain forms of Christianity”.
But other senior Free Church figures in the church have argued that the Nationalists’ reassurances should be taken at “face value” and voters face a choice between a secular Scotland and a secular Britain.
The church will not tell its ministers and members how to vote in September’s referendum but has commissioned a report for this month’s General Assembly in Edinburgh with two leading figures arguing for independence and two for the Union.
Dr Ross, minister for Glenurquhart and Fort Augustus in the Highlands, expressed concern at the impact of a ‘Yes’ vote on the future place of Christianity in Scotland, arguing that “change is inevitable”.
He said: “The Yes campaign is not just asking us to vote for an independent Scotland but for a secular Scotland. The aim of the SNP is a secular constitution rigorously pluralist that gives every religious tradition equal status.
“Despite the fact that a majority of Scottish people (54 per cent) consider themselves Christian, in an independent Scotland, as a matter of public policy, and for the first time since the Reformation, Christianity will be deprived of its status as the national religion.”
Professor Donald Macleod, former Principal of the Free Church College in Edinburgh, used his paper to argue that devolution had offered no defence against the erosion of Scotland’s Christian culture.
Among the examples he cited were legislation permitting Sunday trading, gay marriage and rules preventing hospital chaplains from praying with their patients.
Arguing for the retention of the Union, he said: “There are no grounds for hoping that a ‘Yes’ vote will do anything to reverse this trend.
“The devolved Scottish Government has already shown its predilection for secularising Scottish life, and this predilection covers the whole political spectrum.”
But, writing in favour of independence, Rev Gordon Matheson said he did not foresee any dramatic change to the current constitutional arrangements.
The Isle of Skye minister said: “Whilst it could be argued that a ‘yes’ vote would lead to a secular Scotland, similarly a ‘no’ vote will leave us with a secular Britain.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We propose no change to the legal status of any religion or of Scotland's churches.
“The interim constitution will ensure that full legal force continues to be given to the European Convention on Human Rights which guarantees freedom of conscience and religion.”
Source: The Telegraph