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An Independent Secular Scotland


A Independent Secular Scotland – by Garry Otton

Did Scotland really bring the Scottish Enlightenment to the world; have five universities to England’s two and become the most literate citizens in Europe by the eighteenth century? If so, shouldn’t we be welcoming independence with a bit more gusto instead of letting ourselves be admonished like naughty children asking for something we don’t deserve? ‘Aggressive’ CyberNats sharing their opinions after one too many; shameless ‘opportunists’ trying to hoist our flag behind Andy Murray after his win at Wimbledon or ‘subsidy junkies’ and ‘squanderers’ lavishly doling out free prescriptions and care for the elderly. (“Whilst I’m expected to pay for it all”, a rather indignant English friend reminded me between mouthfuls of Premier cru on her clipped lawn bordered by red Geraniums, white Bleeding Hearts and blue Lobelia).

I’m tired of condescending men in suits who can’t find their own way round a nose-clipper telling me what’s best for Scotland. It’s time we saw some women nailing their names to the mast. Let’s have a Susan Boyle moment, when on Britain’s Got Talent she blew everyone away with a mezzo soprano voice leaving Simon Cowell’s fingers still hovering over the reject button.

In recent surveys on Facebook’s Secular Scotland up to 85 percent voted in support of independence. When the Scottish Secular Society (SSS) announced it was backing the majority of its members coming out in support of independence, the press ignored our Chair, Spencer Fildes to focus instead on what the churches thought about a secular Scotland! Since the Kirk hung a 20-year-old Edinburgh student for blasphemy in 1697, the Scottish media have always been in thrall to the crucifix and crozier, seeking out the advice of clerics on moral matters until only a few years ago, obediently adding quotes from Kirk and Catholic spokesmen under every story requiring a moral angle. Today, the Kirk musters just 900 people to attend their debates on independence before another press release goes out with several press stories in tow. When the Kirk Moderator squealed he had people urging the Kirk to say if they’re for or against independence: it makes headline news on Reporting Scotland! (Compare that to when the SSS celebrated 30,000 signatures demanding the release of Scotsman Mohammad Asghar from a Pakistan prison facing charges of blasphemy. No newspaper printed the story). What do the media think we are all downloading onto our iPod shuffles? Hymns? Do the Church really have more customers than Homebase? Had the SSS been asked, they would have said how delighted we were to be so tantalisingly close to walking away with the Holy Grail of secularism in September with just one tick of that ‘YES’ box shaking off 26 unelected clerics in the highest legislature of the land.

In voting for independence, Scotland will no longer be a semi-theocracy, but a democracy with a secular constitution guaranteeing freedom of religion and freedom from it.

As Scottish Secular Society constitutionalist and research director of the Constitutional Commission, Elliot Bulmer said: “The electoral system for the House of Commons is unrepresentative, the composition of the House of Lords is indefensible, the powers of the Crown are excessive, secretive and unaccountable, rights are fragile, and privileges rife.”

Dr Bulmer added: “There is a direct connection between allowing rulers to make up the rules as they go along and the failure of the UK state to serve the common good. The banking crisis, the expenses scandal, phone hacking, illegal surveillance, persistent unemployment and wage cuts, rising inequality, corporate lobbying, and the destruction of public infrastructure and services – all point to a state that has fallen into the hands of an unchecked oligarchy, bound by its own self-interest.”

In an independent Scotland, our State Broadcaster will no longer be able to throw a switch at Broadcasting House at half-six so we can ‘see what’s happening in your region’, as the UK split up like excited children so Jackie Bird can report with a rictus grin an egg-and-spoon race in Newton Mearns. We’ll go our own way while England, Wales and its mad religious aunt in the attic can make their own news. I hope that if we do still find our news interrupted by patronising ‘Thought for the Days’ in a modern Scotland, it is offered on the grounds of merit and not simply because you are religious.

And what of the head of the Church of England, Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas Queen, Defender of the Faith? She will go on showing off her colourful twin-sets and eye-catching millinery in a titular role just as she does throughout all of her commonwealth countries. Just not at our expense.

And one more thing: Saying YES to independence is not voting to put the SNP in power: It is empowering us to ensure we can vote for a party that will deliver secular fairness, freedom and equality.

I want to wake up one September morning to hear the beeping of car horns and see buntings hanging from lampposts. I want to welcome the dawn of a new Scottish Enlightenment that will inspire, not just us, but the whole world. This – not England – is my home now. We’re all Jock Tamsin’s bairns, so let’s all start talking proud!

Garry Otton is founder of the Scottish Secular Society and author of ‘Religious Fascism: The Repeal of Section 28’.