Scottish Referendum Day

Today we are praying for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the Scottish independence referendum, and for only the second time in this blog’s history I am turning comments off. An earlier post provoked some astonishing responses, so it seems fairer to say no one can comment than to have to try to sift out the mad, bad and dangerous and end up annoying everyone!

Of course the Referendum stirs up strong feelings, both north and south of the border — and across the Atlantic, where our American friends sometimes read events in the light of their own history rather than of the contemporary situation. But feelings are not always the best way of assessing pros and cons. When I remarked to someone that Scottish independence would surely mean the end of Britain’s seat on the U.N. Security Council, he said, reasonably enough, that it was long overdue. In terms of numbers, nations like Brazil and India certainly have a better claim, but I wonder whether British moderation, respect for women and children and her sense of fair play, which still, I think, endure are qualities needed as much as ever on the world stage. I use that as an illustration of a more general point. Scottish independence/the break-up of the Union is not something that will affect Scots only, nor even the English, Irish and Welsh. It will affect Europe, and the rest of the world. That is why we are praying for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and why Quietnun (who is a Scot), is praying with especial fervour and has been for some time.

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Voices of the Referendum

Recently I have spent time listening to the radio while unable to read or work as usual. The Scottish referendum has been a particular interest, and I have been fascinated by the voices. First, there has been the challenge of placing the different accents. It’s not difficult to spot a Highlander or a Glaswegian, even for an Englishwoman, but it becomes increasingly difficult as one moves over to the East side and up and down the country. Then there have been the tones of voice: happy, optimistic, angry, resentful, fearful. The politicians, by and large, have said predictable things in predictable ways, but the ‘ordinary’ people, the ones who will decide Scotland’s fate and the fate of the Union, have been more interesting. I have  applauded some of the optimism expressed by the young, worried a little over the misunderstandings about economics expressed by others and quietly resented one or two ill-bred comments about the English (we are not your enemies, people of Scotland). It has been, above all, an exercise in listening and trying to suspend one’s own views in order to understand what another truly means.

There is a problem, however. The secession of Scotland from the Union, if voted for, isn’t something that affects Scotland only. The English, the Irish and the Welsh all have a legitimate right to be concerned and, by and large, it seems to me, the focus has been so much on Scotland (understandably enough: it is, after all, a referendum about Scottish independence) that those other voices have not yet been heard. Living close to the Welsh border as we do here, I wonder how our Welsh friends feel about the promise of increased devolution if Scotland votes ‘no’. I wonder how the English and the Irish feel about having Scottish MPs voting on matters that concern our two countries. I wonder, too, how an independent Scotland will affect daily life — border controls, for example, especially if Scotland is not made a member of the E.U. any time soon.

One thing is sure. The voices we have heard so far are not the only ones we shall be hearing after the referendum on Thursday. Whichever way it goes, the consequences will be considerable and affect everyone in these islands. To those who don’t believe, my urging prayer to the Holy Spirit for wisdom and generosity will strike a discordant note; but to those who do believe, seeing the religious dimension of the referendum and the duty of voting in accordance with what will promote the common good is something only the Holy Spirit can handle. I wish Scotland well — just as I wish England, Ireland and Wales well.

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Grudges, Grouches and Grumbles

The three ‘g’s — grudges, grouches and grumbles — are best avoided if we want a long and happy life. Constantly harping on old hurts or finding the proverbial fly in the ointment is a sure way of distancing other people and making oneself miserable at the same time. St Benedict’s frequent exhortation to avoid grumbling was not a matter of quietistic ‘put up and shut up’ (which could lead to the perpetration of the most hideous wrongs) but recognition of a psychological and spiritual truth. Memory and will are closely linked. A sense of grievance often has the unhappy effect of binding us in the past, in a situation we cannot change (because it is past) but which determines our present and future. It is a kind of moral blight, stunting growth.

Yesterday many people in Britain remembered the events of World War I in moving ceremonies redolent of Holy Week Tenebrae services. There was regret, penitence even; gratitude and pride; predominantly, perhaps, a poignant sense of waste — so many lives lost, and ultimately, for what? I very much doubt whether anyone used the language I occasionally heard from the lips of my grandparents’ generation about ‘the filthy Bosch’ or ‘the Hun’. Yesterday’s insults, like yesterday’s enmities, lay silent in death.

This morning, however, we must face the reality of today’s hatreds and fears. What will become of the Christians forced to flee from the Middle East, most recently from Mosul? Will the ceasefire between Hamas and Israel lead to anything like peace? Nearer home, how will the preparations for the Scottish referendum proceed? It is easy to say, let go of your grudges, forget the ancestral myths, don’t be chained by your history, real or imagined. Easy to say, but not easy to do. I take heart, however, from this fact: we may not forget the past, but we can allow it to be redeemed. What works at the individual level can work — if we are willing — at the level of peoples and nation states. If yesterday’s commemorations taught us anything, they taught us the price to be paid for human folly and malice. A grudge may seem a very little thing, but it can set the whole world on fire.

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