Wednesday 18 January 2012

On elephants in the room and being really confused about Scottish Independence

                                               An elephant which is not in the room

When I started this bog back in October last year, I was prompted by a desire to be part of building up a specifically Catholic response to modernity and its ills in Scotland. At the time, the Scottish media were displaying its usual tendency to be both superficial and monotone in backing almost unanimously same sex 'marriage'. Whatever the SNP victory meant in the last Holyrood election, it was clear that Scotland was developing its own political and media institutions and culture and that, at the moment, Catholicism and, more generally, social conservatism had little voice in that development.

I had vaguely thought to handle the specific question of Scottish Independence by ignoring it. My general intention was to display a lofty indifference to the dirty, everyday questions of politics and instead to concentrate on some of the longer term issues of principle. On the particular question of Independence, I wanted to avoid tackling it directly, first, because it is an issue that I believe people of good will -and specifically Catholics- can disagree about and I have no wish to take sides in a debate that will, inevitably, split Catholics in Scotland; and, second, because it's an issue on which I, personally, just haven't made up my mind and, when I do, I will certainly do so without ' the curst conceit o' bein' richt'.

But that intention has begun to look silly. Probably the biggest constitutional issue in the UK since the Reform Bill and I'm going to preserve a lofty silence for the next two years...? Doesn't this suggest that 'Catholic wisdom' (which this blog is supposed to promote) has nothing to say on issues of major political importance? Moreover, the guns of the Scottish Catholic blogosphere have already started to rumble, with Seraphic making a unionist case and Teuchtar a Nationalist one. Given all this, I've changed my mind and I will start discussing the Independence referendum, but in the following context:

a) I will not advocate a particular position or conclusion.
b) This is an issue which requires the exercise of practical wisdom, the conclusion of which will be unclear and on which reasonable Catholics will differ.
c) I shall focus on the philosophical and theological issues involved rather than on the political campaign.

                                                    A gorilla which is in the room

Anyway, no rush to settle all this: we've almost two years to chew things over. But two thoughts to start off with:

1) Modernity is committed to the idea of the buffered individual, the autonomous individual who, neither is in fact, nor should be morally, open to outside influence. As such, any political campaign such as that on the referendum will tend to focus on addressing what people want, rather than critically engaging with them at a deep level to change what they want. As Catholics, we should be focused not just on facilitating the popular will, but making sure that popular will is informed by the virtue of prudentia -practical reason.

2) The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church is a good resource for any Catholic reflection in this area. Here's one relevant bit for starters:

Moreover, minorities have the right to maintain their culture, including their language... In the legitimate quest to have their rights respected, minorities may be driven to seek greater autonomy or even independence; in such delicate circumstances, dialogue and negotiation are the path for attaining peace (para. 387).

So certainly the possibility of separation, but a reminder that such a situation is delicate and requires the self discipline of dialogue and negotiation, we might add in the present case, both within Scotland itself, and between Scotland and the other parts of the UK.


  1. "I shall focus on the philosophical and theological issues involved rather than on the political campaign"

    Really? I look forward to reading the theological issues, if any.
    Best wishes.

  2. Thanks for the best wishes, Father! On the possible absence of theological issues, I confess I find it difficult to draw a clear line between philosophy and theology. I'd certainly find it hard to exclude in principle any consideration of God and moral theology from politics, particularly when we're dealing with 'deep' issues such as the relationship between culture, the state and human flourishing.

  3. I think myself and Seraphic probably both (at least certainly in my case) espoused long held and even dare I say cherished views and our posts were therefore suitably charged with raw emotion.

    Delighted to hear you will attempt bring a degree of "practical wisdom" to the Catholic blog debate on Scottish Independence and I look forward to it over period between now and the referendum.