Aren’t We Glad to Have Subdued the South So the U.S. Can Avoid This?

Crawford Gribben, who does a pretty good impersonation of a political commentator even though he knows far more about Puritanism than most Protestant academics, explains the dilemmas that union — both British and European — pose to European English speakers:

So, while no one knows what will happen next, here is one possible scenario. The High Court decision will be upheld, and Parliament will have the final say on Brexit. But this reversion to representative democracy will make no real difference to the process: Labour MPs, recognizing that seven in ten of their constituencies voted in support of the government’s action, will be unable to mount any effective resistance. The British government will then invoke Article 50 and begin the process of exiting the European Union before the Scottish government can table a second independence referendum or make sufficient advances in negotiations with EU member states and institutions to have them recognize its legal capacity to “inherit” UK membership. Against the wishes of its devolved government, Scotland is pulled out of the European Union along with the rest of the UK. Its independence referendum comes as too little, too late. . . .

The federal solution could prove successful. Towards the end of her second government, and with a constitutional dexterity that has not been characteristic of many 20th-century Westminster governments, Theresa May could propose a federal relationship between England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, facilitate the return of the Scots, who would retain a nominal independence, and cement a special relationship with the Republic. With the Irish and Scottish land borders becoming effectively meaningless, there could re-emerge a polity that embraces the geography of the old United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland without its problematic centralization. Or, in a more likely scenario, economic realities will prevail. English elections continue to signal a rightward drift, and the economy continues its gradual improvement. Welsh voters don’t like it, but combine their sentimental nationalism with a hard-headed recognition of the uncertain prospects of small nations in a sometimes unfriendly European Union, and prefer the devil they know. The pragmatism is familiar: After all, the Brexit results in both countries cut across party political lines. In Northern Ireland, an ambiguous settlement continues to link the province to England and Wales for as long as Stormont politicians can turn crises into dividends, even as north-south economic and cultural connections make the border increasingly irrelevant.

If only the United States were so constitutionally dexterous. But thanks to two world wars fighting on the United Kingdom’s side (not to mention a certain imbroglio with a Republican as commander-in chief), Americans remain stuck perpetually seeking a more perfect union.


How Scotland May Feel the South's Pain (or not)

Turns out that getting out of a united and centralized nation may have been easier if you fought your way out (or, count the ways I was wrong):

The SNP has no idea what it is doing, or the risks it is running. Worse, nor does it seem to care.

During a debate in the referendum campaign last fall, then-SNP leader Alex Salmond was asked simply what currency an independent Scotland would have. That would be no problem, he said. We would carry on using the pound, together with the rest of the United Kingdom, and we would share control of a central bank. Absolutely not, said his unionist opponent. Every British political party has made it starkly clear that they would never accept such an outcome. By the way, that was last year, when the rest of Britain was feeling much less aggrieved than it is now by the SNP’s general demagoguery and hate campaigns.

So, given that the shared pound is not a starter, asked his critics, what was Salmond’s Plan B? Repeated questioning failed to shift Salmond at this point, demonstrating to all but his most unyielding supporters that there was no Plan B, and that the SNP had never even thought through the currency issue. That might have been the single moment at which the referendum campaign was lost. Salmond resigned as SNP leader after that debacle, but he has been very visible in recent days, repeating the familiar claims and boasts.

Fortunately, Scotland never had to confront the consequences of this insanity, but let us assume that, after the recent elections, they do become independent. What about the currency?

In the referendum debates, Salmond’s next option was a threat, something at which the SNP is expert. If the United Kingdom refused to share the pound, he said, then the new Scotland would refuse to pay its share of the national debt. The problem there is that an independent Scotland would begin its career as a nation in default, unable to raise credit even for its existing commitments, never mind covering the expense of the ever-expanding welfare state promised by Salmond’s party. The likely consequence would be social collapse and mass unemployment. Presumably English and European aid would prevent actual food riots.

Meanwhile, the moderator of the Free Church of Scotland still wants to turn the world upside down:

The Marxist historian, Christopher Hill, wrote a magnificent book about the 17th Century English Civil War, which he entitled The World Turned Upside Down. In it he examined the radical ideas of the English revolutionaries. Those who are familiar with the King James English version of the Bible will know that he lifted the phrase from Acts 17:6. I liked the idea so much that when I first became a theological student and had to travel the country preaching, one of the verses I often preached on was that one. And then I discovered the more modern NIV translation “These men who have caused trouble all over the world, have now come here”. Did I want to be known as a troublemaker? Do we? It seems to me that in modern Scotland those of us who want to hold to the biblical position are in danger of being regarded as, if not enemies of the State, at least troublesome undesirables from a past era. Is it not the default position of much of modern European Christianity, that though we talk about being radical, we prefer comfortable conservatism, the kind that never changes anything?

Except, that is, in the presence of royalty (or its aura):

then came the evening ‘Lord High Commissioners’ reception at Holyrood Palace. From the beginning it was just such a different world. The palace itself is beautiful, the ceremonies quaint and the people ‘different class’….mostly aristocracy and high clergy. There was so much that fascinated and amused me. Walking into one room and seeing the portrait of Charles the First (perhaps I shouldn’t have commented ‘off with his head!”); thinking that black tie meant a black tie – not realising that it meant black dickie bow, tails and more formal dress….so there was I standing in my brown suit (and black funeral tie) whilst the other ‘high heid un’ clerlgy were in dog collars, purple robes and the various regalia. Still at least it made people ask ‘what do you do?”.

Sitting at the massive table in the dining room – with 80 others – was also an experience. The Lady beside me asked ‘what do you think of gay marriage’ as her opening gambit. Then I spoke to the Lady on my right – who was a judge and indeed had judged the FCC v’s Free Church case. She was absolutely wonderful. She is an intelligent, thoughtful and open minded atheist/agnostic. She is my new ‘bestie’! Suffice it to say I had the most stimulating two hour conversation (Annabel was sitting further down the table) on the law, the bible and the gospel. I feel that I now have a calling to ministry amongst the aristocracy!

Although I am a bit of a pleb. I was horrified when we were asked to raise a glass to the Queen, as I had already drunk my wine. And I was even more horrified to discover that my part of the beautiful white linen cloth was the only one stained by gravy. I wasn’t the only pleb there though! Annabel was talking to a woman who said that she helped with the Queens flowers. To which Annabel replied ‘Are you a florist?”! Not sure that Lady X was all that enamoured.

Postscript: if you want to know the biggest difference between Old and New World Presbyterianism, it is this. In Ireland and Scotland moderators of assemblies still report to and hob nob with the monarchy and its minions. In the United States (can’t speak for Canada), you are lucky if the White House chief of staff knows the URL for your communion.

The Costs and Benefits of Union

The No’s have it 55% to 45% and the United Kingdom remains intact for now. That rush you hear is the collective sigh of relief from Northern Ireland.

David Robertson proved prophetic but he also comes from one of the few places that voted Yes. It raises the question of whether Pastor Robertson persuaded lots of Dundee’s residents to vote Yes or whether he was a Free Church version of a deeper Dundee sentiment. W-wers will always tell us that religion trumps region. I think only our hairdressers know for sure.

And David from Scotland, this one by the name of Murray who teaches in the Dutch New Jerusalem, predicted the outcome but worried about the health of the churches in his native land:

I keep coming back to the spiritual implications and asking, “What would be best for the Kingdom of God?”

I agree with the Christians who argue that the evidence from the devolved Scottish parliament since its inception in 1999 is that Scottish politicians have tried to outdo and outpace their London counterparts in stripping Scotland of its Christian heritage and replacing it with a rabidly secular agenda. Yes, I’m ashamed to say, Scotland has led the way in the UK in legislating for gay rights, gay adoption, gay marriage, etc. Having said that, London has only been a step or two behind. So, whether Scotland stays in the union or votes for independence, I don’t see either arrangement making that much difference to Christians or the Church of Christ.

Presbyterians in North American can say that the United Kingdom has been good by a variety of measures for Presbyterian churches over here. Without a United Kingdom, the Scots would not have been part of the British empire which in turn extended both Presbyterianism and Anglicanism around the world. True, North America had a Reformed church — the Dutch one — before the English achieved hegemony on the Eastern Seaboard. But could the Dutch have withstood the French (whom the British defeated in the 1763 after dispatching the Dutch nine decades earlier)? The Dutch could not withstand Napoleon. The effect of the French Revolution on a Francophone North America is anyone’s guess. But even if it wasn’t as bad for the Reformed churches in Geneva or Amsterdam as some have argued, it wasn’t entirely positive. In contrast, the British dominance of North America gave Scottish and Irish Presbyterians a foothold which after American independence became a significant presence in U.S. and Canadian religious life. On this side of the United Kingdom, we can say it was a positive development in several respects.

One thought that occurred to me last night while listening to an NPR show about the vote was the shared cultural memory that the Scots and English have thanks to two world wars. One of the most moving parts of visiting Scotland last summer was to see the lists of Scottish soldiers who died in the wars. They seemed to be everywhere — in the old buildings at the University of Edinburgh, at St. Giles’ Cathedral, and at St. Mary’s Cathedral. Would independence have required wiping out that memory of collective effort? The question is all the more poignant when you consider that independence from a United Kingdom allowed Ireland to remain neutral in World War II. That position did not prevent Irish from the Republic from serving in the war — as many as 100,000 fought with the British (over 3,500 died). But figuring out how to remember their deaths becomes a whole lot more complicated when the point of your republic is autonomy from London.

I wonder how much the memory of Scottish casualties in the United Kingdom’s wars made Yes impossible.

But Will I Still Be Able to Listen to Rob da Bank?

Our guide to all things British (and dispensational), Crawford Gribben, has addressed the question of Scottish independence in ways that should console American conservatives. It will mean smaller government and a setback for liberalism. (What really matters to me, though, is whether the BBC will continue to produce the kind of television, movies, and radio that — all about me — I have come to enjoy).

In this sense, the campaigns for and against Scottish independence have become political theatres of the absurd. English Conservatives campaign against a constitutional realignment that would give them a generational advantage over Labour, while the Scottish National Party’s campaign for independence would satisfy their raison d’être but raise profound questions as to what other policies might hold them together as a viable political force. Independence would, in a sense, separate the national conjoined twins, allowing each of them to go in the opposing directions signaled in the last general election: a strong swing to the right in England, counterbalanced by a solid return of Labour MPs from Scotland. There is no reason of substance for English Conservatives to campaign against Scottish independence. Their arguments that Scotland is the “poor man” of the union and a net gainer from the UK Treasury could, for example, be turned into an argument that independence would lead to greater English wealth. There would certainly be a substantial jobs boost if the naval shipyards were to move south. Much of the “No” campaign is driven by exactly the kind of banal nationalism it finds so disagreeable among Scots: supporting the 1707 union simply because it is there.

But nostalgia is a poor—and unpopular—political philosophy. Despite the recent petitions presented by celebrities in favor of the union, opinion polls have at times pointed to the enthusiasm of English voters for Scottish independence. In fact, some polls taken earlier in the campaign indicated that English voters were more in favor of Scottish independence than were the majority of Scots, while the most recent polls indicate that English voters are swinging to support the Union even as Scots are increasingly aligning themselves against it. Nevertheless, if English Conservatives could find a way to ignore the advice of pop stars and the Pope, they would have no reason to argue on behalf of a political union that no longer works to their strategic advantage. Scottish independence could mark the end of the British left as a viable political force.

The polls are close, but the money is on “no.”

Scottish Nation? Yes. Scottish State? No.

Have the pollsters or pastors understood the difference? Jonathan Chaplin explains it:

. . . it is obviously true that the demand for Scottish independence is substantially animated by a widespread popular identification with and affection for the ‘nation’ of Scotland. That may be the fuel in the tank, but it is not the question on the ballot paper. Voters are not being asked to express a view on the significance or esteem or destiny of ‘the Scottish nation’. Nations are elusive cultural phenomena with blurry edges: they cannot be voted for or against. States are determinate political and legal institutions that you can either bring into existence or not.

Nations are notoriously difficult to define. While they are often marked by a dominant ethnic heritage, many are increasingly multi-ethnic, multi-racial and multi-religious. Nations are thickly-textured, evolving, porous, morally ambiguous societal amalgams. While one nation may be more or less recognisable when set against another, nations lack the crucial features of centred identity and independent agency.

Strictly, then, a nation in this sense cannot possess ‘rights’ or ‘duties’ or make ‘claims’. Thus, for example, the 1842 Scottish ‘Claim of Right’ was lodged against Westminster by the Kirk not by some amorphous body called ‘the nation’. Nations do not act themselves but function as micro-climates which condition and facilitate the acting of independent agents (persons, associations, institutions, etc.). Thus, you can, consistently, maintain a high view of the integrity and importance of ‘the Scottish nation’ yet place yourself firmly in the ‘No’ camp. Equally, you can, consistently, hold a meagre view of what ‘the Scottish nation’ amounts to, but be an enthusiastic ‘Yes’ supporter. How so? The key lies in what states are for.

In opting for a new Scottish state to come into existence, ‘Yes’ supporters will be voting for a new, independent centre of political agency which is not identical to the Scottish nation.

Show Me the Currency!

Why the Scots should listen to economists more than pastors when it comes to temporal affairs:

One of the strongest practical arguments against Scottish independence, made by Paul Krugman this weekend, is that an independent Scotland would actually wind up with less control over its economy than it does now – because it would have no more say in British monetary policy, but, so long as it kept the pound, would be as affected by that policy as it is now. And the “yes” advocates have been very clear that they intend to keep the pound.

I think he’s right. I’ve argued for some time that if anyone is interested in saving “Europe,” then “Europe” needs some kind of fiscal union – not by any means a powerful centralized state like France, but some kind of confederal or federal arrangement, with limited but real powers and direct accountability to voters. If Europe’s states don’t want to cede national sovereignty in that way, then they really do need to rethink the whole currency union thing – or just settle in to a quasi-colonial relationship with Germany and be done with it.

But if all of the foregoing is true, then why would Scotland seek an independent government but remain tied to a foreign currency? Why would “ditch Westminster, keep the pound” be a reassuring platform, rather than an ominous one?

The answer doesn’t just relate to what constitutes an optimal currency area or how integrated Scotland is with England, economically. It relates to transition costs. And it relates to what degree of confidence Scotland’s electorate has in their own, new political culture. Keeping the pound, at least initially, is much cheaper than ditching it. And the prospect of ditching it in the future would mean higher borrowing costs today. Why, after all, would you want to ditch a solid, respectable currency unless you planned to devalue? And if you wanted to tie the hands of a new government that might otherwise open the spigot a bit too wide, what better way than to force them to borrow in a foreign currency?

Precious few seceding states in recent years have adopted a truly independent monetary policy. Many have ditched their own newly-minted currencies entirely. Slovakia adopted the Euro before the Czech Republic has. Montenegro and Kosovo adopted it unilaterally. The Baltic states have rushed to adopt it as swiftly as possible. Croatia is hammering at the door to get in, notwithstanding all the nastiness of the past five years. Countries also continue to adopt the dollar as either their official currency (e.g. Ecuador, El Salvador) or as legal tender alongside a pegged local currency.

Indeed, not that many years ago, the question was whether Britain would ultimately join the Euro, not whether the Euro would ultimately collapse. If it had, then what I am calling one of the strongest practical arguments against Scottish independence would be entirely nugatory. If the UK had adopted the Euro, then leaving the UK would have exactly zero implications for Scotland’s control over its monetary policy. Even as, on one level, monetary union has made deeper European political integration more necessary, it has also made political separatism, from Catalonia to Flanders to Lombardy, vastly more plausible. But these ever-smaller political entities will perforce have even less control over the forces that largely determine their destiny than they once did as part of a national community with direct accountability to voters.

But such a calculation winds up making Scotland just as money-grubbing as London, no?

I Had No Idea that Edinburgh Was the Colorado Springs of the UK

David Robertson continues to argue for Scottish independence. What is curious about his reasoning is how little he relies in the Bible or theology. He might have appealed to the Tower of Babel, for instance. But he doesn’t:

1) Britain is past its sell by date – The United Kingdom was formed on the basis of the Empire, Protestantism and capitalism. Capitalism has triumphed but the other two reasons have gone. I am particularly concerned that the Christian foundation of Britain has been removed and we will not long have the fruits once the roots have gone.

2) We should govern ourselves – There is a basic principle of self-determination. Scotland should be governed from Scotland.

3) Scotland is a wealthy nation –A great deal of the argument is about oil but there are many other factors involved as well. Scotland is a small country with just over 5 million people. We have substantial resources in agriculture, industry, education, whisky, fishing, renewable energy, commerce and the arts. We are an inventive and creative people.

4) Social, economic and political justice – I believe that in a smaller nation with a strong democratic tradition, and less dependence on the City of London and Big Business, there is a greater prospect of a more just and equal society.

5) The Church will have more influence in an independent Scotland –Isn’t the Scottish parliament an institution that wants to distance itself from Scotland’s Christian past? It’s a moot point whether the UK or Scotland is going downhill quicker, but the fact is that they both are. Indeed they have descended at such a speed that I think we have to say that Christendom has gone. I am very concerned at some of the statements and actions coming from the Scottish Parliament in general and Alex Salmond in particular. But then I am equally concerned at what comes out of Westminster and David Cameron. Besides which voting for independence is not voting for a particular political party or leader.

I believe it will be easier for the Church and Christians to have a say in a society which is not centred on the worship of Mammon (the City of London), and which is a lot smaller. I certainly feel far more connected to Holyrood than Westminster. An independent Scotland will mean a new beginning. And the Church should be in there from the beginning seeking to be salt and light.

I detect a bit of resentment directed at London, but I didn’t necessarily see a lot of Christian presence in Edinburgh (though I did see a lot of souvenir shops and pubs which was a lot like any other city in the West). In another post Robertson again expresses distrust of London:

I still believe that we could have a more socially just system if we were independent of London control, and it doesn’t really bother me too much if we use the pound, the euro or the new Scottish groat! I will be glad to be rid of Trident, the dependency culture and being involved in ill thought out and meaningless wars.

At the same time, Robertson takes the temperature of his feet (which seem to be increasingly cool):

What kind of Scotland will an independent Scotland be? What will be its foundation? Will it be a series of populist measures, based upon an untried, fanciful secular humanist system that totally ignores Scotland’s Christian foundation? Or will you forget all the gesture politics, meaningless language and instead give us some social justice, education, health care, housing, etc? Are you seeking to remove Christianity from the public square? Can you tell me how you hope to have the fruits of Christianity without the roots?

Over 50 per cent of people in Scotland profess to be Christian. So why do you appear to be keen to throw out our Scottish Christian heritage? I will probably still vote for independence because I am not sure that ‘Christian Britain’ exists any more. But many others who share my faith in Jesus will be very reluctant to cast away what remains of Christian Britain to enter the surreal world of secular Scotland. Can you reassure us that there is a place for Christianity (other than in the museum) in the new Scotland? I look forward to hearing your answer.

Fifty percent? Heck, America has upwards of 75 percent of its people professing to be Christian and I doubt pastor Robertson would look at the U.S. as a model for Christian society. That’s not an argument for or against Scottish independence. It does raise questions about the way Christians analyze and discuss temporal matters.

How Deep Down Does Religion Go?

Word has it that the polls on Scottish independence are narrowing, with the yes vote gaining momentum. Sorting out all the angles of relations among the Brits and Irish can get really complicated, especially if we remember what Fintan O’Toole reminded us a few decades ago:

In ethnic terms, Ireland is far less complex than many European societies, and infinitely less so than the United States. The biggest inward migration in the last five hundred years came from Scotland in the eighteenth century, and its descendants still form the largest single minority group. But Scotland itself had been settled by the Irish many centuries before. The very name Scotland means “land of the Irish,” “Scotus” being the Latin for an Irishman. The west of Scotland even today is called Argyll, from Ar-Gael, the eastern Irish. In the long view, the Scottish influx in the seventeenth century to the northern Irish province of Ulster is part of a pattern of back-and-forth migration between two places that are, after all, separated at their nearest point by less than forty miles of water.

O’Toole used that feature of Irish and Scottish history to make a two-kingdom point about “the troubles,” namely, that they had far less to do with Protestant-Roman Catholic conflicts than meets the eye:

Only a fool would deny that the Troubles in Northern Ireland or the sporadic episodes of rebellion and repression in the previous five centuries can be understood without taking account of the division between Catholics and Protestants. What can be denied, I think, is that religion itself has ever been the primary source of those conflicts. In Tanner’s eyes, religion is the wound that has caused Irish people to bleed over the centuries. It makes more sense, however, to think of religion as the weapon that has been used to cause the wound. Religion, like its secular counterpart history, has been wielded at different times and in different ways in the pursuit of economic and political advantage.; “Take away the religious factor and you still have enough economic, political, and national divisions to fuel a great deal of nastiness and a few wars.”

The broad shape of modern Irish history certainly forces the issue of religion to the forefront. From the sixteenth century to the early twentieth century, the Irish ruling class was Protestant and imperial, deriving its power from its origins in the slow conquest of the island by England. Those over whom it ruled were for the most part Catholics. Indeed, Ireland stands out as one of the few European countries in which the religion of the masses was not simply determined by the choice of their masters. The Catholic population stubbornly resisted the Protestant Reformation. The state church, the Episcopalian Church of Ireland, treated the Gaelic-speaking masses as a subject people rather than a flock to be protected and served. As a consequence, Catholicism became by and large the faith of those whose politics could, after the French Revolution, be called nationalist; and Protestantism was the religion of those who were loyal to Britain.

This is what happened; and give or take some important nuances, it is not in dispute. Still, an interesting set of questions can be promoted by a little counterfactual speculation. What if Henry VIII had remained happy with Catherine of Aragon and true to his papal title of Defender of the Faith? What if the English Reformation had failed, or had been reversed by the Stuart dynasty? With England and Ireland still loyal to the pope, would there have been no oppression and resistance, no haughty land-owning aristocracy and resentful dirt-poor peasantry, no eventual nationalist revolution? The answer to those questions, surely, is no. Take away the religious factor and you still have enough economic, political, and national divisions to fuel a great deal of nastiness and a few wars.

O’Toole could well have used the factual of England’s relationship to Scotland in the seventeenth century to make his point. Even though both kingdoms were Protestant, that “common” faith hardly provided a smooth ride to the Union of 1707. Charles I’s head is proof.

Whose Calvinism, Which Presbyterianism

I continue to be fascinated by the idea of Scottish independence. In Prospect Magazine this morning I read this account of Scottish Calvinism in David Marquand’s case for a federalist solution to the United Kingdom’s discomfort:

. . . the Scottish government is — implicitly at least — social-democratic. It seeks independence to protect Scottish social democracy against the market fundamentalism of the London government, both within the UK and in its dealings with the EU. The roots of Scottish social democracy go deep. The political cultures of all the non-English nations of Great Britain are very different from their English counterparts. As a civil servant in the Welsh education department put it in my hearing not long ago, the overarching theme of UK governance can be summed up as “choice, competition, customer.” The Welsh equivalent is: “voice, cooperation, citizen.” . . . But ever since Mrs Thatcher crossed the threshold of No 10 all UK governments, irrespective of party, have been in thrall to the imperatives of what Philip Bobbitt, the legal historian and philosopher, has called the “market state.” These imperatives have not only violated the underlying assumptions of Scotland’s political culture; they have also trampled on the religious traditions with which that culture is intertwined. Scotland’s religious traditions are Roman Catholic and Calvinist. Both reject the Hayekian market individualism of Thatcher and the watered down version of it that prevailed under Blair and Brow. Two particularly egregious Thatcherisms stank in Scottish nostrils: her dictum that no one would remember the Good Samaritan if he hadn’t had the money to give effect to his good intentions; and her notorious “sermon on the mound,” in which she insisted that since Christ chose to lay down his life, freedom of choice was the essence of Christianity.

I have no quarrel with Scottish social democrats, nor with the parish ideals that inspired the Free Church of Scotland in the days of Thomas Chalmers. Let Scottish Presbyterians be Scottish Presbyterians. But why Calvinism is responsible for this social outlook when we on the other side of the Atlantic regularly hear about Calvinism’s market friendly and individualistic ways, I don’t understand. Could it be that Calvinism is just as plastic as evangelicalism? The seer sees what she wants to see.