That Scotland was once identifiable as a Christian nation cannot be in dispute. Christianity was present in Scotland from the 4th century and was influential in bringing 9th century Picts and Gaels together giving cohesion to the new kingdom of Alba. In the 10th century hitherto independent Celtic Christianity became conformed to Roman Catholicism. William Wallace and Robert Bruce were nominal Catholic Christians. The 1320 Declaration of Arbroath stated "As long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours, that we are fighting, but for freedom - for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself".
The 16th century Protestant Reformation revolutionised Scotland’s Christianity, rejecting Roman Catholicism and adopting the more egalitarian Presbyterianism. The 1603 Union of the Crowns under James VI and I was an overtly Christian enterprise. In Scotland The National Covenant of 1638 and The Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 reaffirmed Protestant Presbyterian identity as did the Presbyterian Settlement of 1690. The battle against absolute Stewart monarchy and attempted imposition of episcopacy had not been easily won. It is estimated that during the ‘The Killing Time’ (1680 – 1688) 18,000 Covenanters lost their lives for their Protestant Presbyterian Christian Faith. The 1689 Claim of Right stated ‘That for redress of all grievances and for the amending strengthening and preserving of the lawes Parliaments ought to be frequently called and allowed to sit and the freedom of speech and debate secured to the members.’ The effect of the Claim of Right was to bolster the position of parliament within the Scottish constitution at the expense of the royal prerogative. It was affirmed by an Act of the Scottish Parliament of 1703 and retained by the Parliament of the United Kingdom after the Acts of Union 1707.
Another Claim of Right, 300 years later in 1989, was crafted by the Scottish Constitutional Convention of the time and signed by most serving elected Scottish politicians and civic bodies. It acknowledged the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of government best suited to their needs. It led to the reforming of the Scottish Parliament in 1999. This was a purely political enterprise. It was secular Scotland in action. There was no expression of overt Christian Faith or purpose. A kind of embarrassed acknowledgement of a Christian past hung in the air during the opening ceremony but it is remembered for the singing of Robert Burns’ paean to humanity, ‘A man’s a man for a’ that’. Such a song would be politically and socially unacceptable today.
Neither had there been much Christian identity and purpose during the political union of 1707 when the Scottish Parliament and the English Parliament united to form the Parliament of Great Britain. It was more about economic exigency caused by near national bankruptcy due to the failed Darien colonisation experiment of 1695 - 1698. Scottish Christianity survived as a distinct entity and Scots were disproportionately influential in spreading Christianity alongside the expanding British Empire in the 18th and 19th centuries. Scots Protestant Christians were highly regarded for their earnestness, education and competence in government offices as well as in missionary outreach.
Towards the end of the 19th century Christianity itself was suffering. Enlightenment scepticism had taken a hold in universities. Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution was thought in academic circles and in the high echelons of the national churches to cast doubt upon the validity of the Genesis account of Creation and consequentially on the Bible as the authority for Christian Faith. The new science of geology also questioned the timeline of the Bible. Academic ‘higher criticism’ of the texts of Scripture further undermined confidence in its veracity. In Scotland immigration of large numbers of Irish Catholics since the mid 19th century had dramatically undermined Protestant homogeneity.
The 1872 (Scotland) Education Act saw the handing over of Church of Scotland schools to the State with the provision that the ‘teaching of religious instruction in Scottish schools was secured.’ Local pastoral Christian oversight of schools continued. The 1918 Education (Scotland) Act established in law the principle of state funding for Catholic schools in Scotland. The Roman Catholic hierarchy still has direct management responsibility for Catholic schools in Scotland today. Catholic teaching, ethics and values identify them. Church of Scotland schools which were handed over did not fare so well. They became secularised due in some measure to the policies of the Educational Institute of Scotland, the teachers’ unreconstructed socialist union. But the Church of Scotland acquiesced in this process. It even refused the offer of Michael Forsyth, Secretary of State for Scotland from 1995 – 1997 to strengthen the Christian identity of state schools on the grounds that he was a Tory. Since then Christianity has been eviscerated from state schools in Scotland. They have not remained value free however. Into the vacuum stepped Stonewall and other pressure groups. 2SLGBTQQIA+ ideology now provides the default ethos of many Scottish schools. The de-Christianising of Scotland continues apace.
The 20th century had brought about cataclysmic upheavals throughout the world. The 1914 – 1918 First World War, the 1917 communist revolution in Russia, the British General Strike of 1926 and the 1929 – 1939 Great Depression shredded Victorian age optimism. Perhaps the last vestiges of commonplace Christian faith were sacrificed during the Second World War. Again young men went innocently to fight convinced of the nobility of their service. The political freedom that was won was followed by a generational revolution in the 1960’s. The apotheosis of the Church of Scotland was reached around in the late 1950’s. It has been in steady and now precipitous decline ever since. 1967 was a significant year in the de-Christianisation of Britain with the legalisation of homosexual acts (1980 in Scotland) and the legalisation of abortion. The Civil Partnerships Act of 2004 and the 2013 Same Sex Marriage Act of 2013 confirmed the national departure from Judaeo-Christian precedence. Christian Scotland is no more.
The rise of the Scottish National Party brought about a single seat majority in the Scottish Parliament in 2007. This led to the Independence Referendum of 2014. First Minister Alex Salmond had said that God’s provision of North Sea oil would guarantee Scotland’s independent future. But this was an aside and not central to his philosophical appeal. There was no Christian element to the referendum campaign. There was no appeal to Scotland’s Christian past. There was no recognition of the possibility of a Christian future. The referendum was lost.
Nicola Sturgeon became First Minister. She has been a divisive figure and has not united Scotland in the cause of independence. She appears hostile to Christianity. She never voluntarily attends any Christian worship. She does visit mosques however when a photo opportunity arises. She presents herself as carnaptious, hateful of ‘Toaries’, politically untruthful, overtly misandrist and sexually liberal to the extent of promoting non-physically based gender identity. She does nothing to elevate Scotland above the political fray and appeal to an umbrella philosophy of national coherence and identity. Unlike democratic intellect George Davie (1912 - 2007) there is no ‘metaphysical Scotland’ for Nicola Sturgeon. Neither is there any stated Christian purpose to SNP independence.
Nicola Sturgeon is campaigning for a second referendum in 2023. Her administration is characterised by serious ongoing managerial incompetence. Her capacity for self-promotion and her political instinct for opportunism have not impressed the majority of Scots and are not enough to prevent the failure of her political career. The Scottish Churches are weak and declining. The Church of Scotland as the National Church offers no Christian perspective on independence.
Christianity was central to the formation of Scotland as a nation and it was central to the maintenance of identity and purpose thereafter. Not so now. Christianity’s redeeming power is not called upon. It is not wanted. ‘Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labour in vain.’ (Psalm 127: 1)