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Take a pew after the result of the big vote

Canny voters are already planning what to do on September 19 if the referendum doesn't go their way.

When I asked an ardent member of the Yes camp how he intended to spend that Friday if the Nos have it, he looked perplexed. It's not that he is confident his side will win - indeed he thinks they won't - but the thought simply had not crossed his mind. The more melancholy among us, however, are apprehensive, and are preparing an emotional bunker to cope with the fall-out and help cushion our broken dreams.

Imagine, if you will, the desolation the Yes camp will feel if nothing changes. Then picture the trepidation the Nos will nurse if the country decides to go solo. One does not need to be a fortune teller to predict that as the result sinks in, disappointment could easily turn into resentment and recrimination. It's a scenario that evidently concerns the Rev John Chalmers, incoming Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Though parachuted into this role at the last minute, to replace an ailing colleague, Mr Chalmers has taken a stance that makes one unusually hopeful for his tenure of this most fleeting and often unmemorable position.

He has achieved this rare feat by announcing he will hold a service of reconciliation in St Giles' Cathedral on Sunday, September 21, three days after the vote, an occasion which he hopes the leaders of both sides of the campaign will attend. Urging activists and ordinary voters alike not to become vituperative about those who hold a different position, he has said: "There is a danger the referendum will set people against each other, in their own community, their own street, even their own family. It will be important for each side of this campaign to be magnanimous whatever the outcome and the Church of Scotland, as a national church, is well placed to bring people back together in a spirit of reconciliation."

I expect most reading this page will by now have quietly - or bluntly - canvassed the views of their relatives, or those they sit next to at work, or on the bus. Family gatherings until the big day certainly promise to be lively, the Sunday roast replacing the rostrum, and the hottest potato being the question of what's best for the country. Arguments are guaranteed, as are thumped fists and slammed doors. But will they continue long after the vote?

That is the problem. Nobody can be sure whether the friction that political dissent always brings will this time be more toxic or bitter, if ideological disagreements on such a big issue will fester and eventually corrode or even destroy relationships. Will those too young to vote feel let down in years to come if their elders have taken the country in a direction they did not choose, since it will fall to them to make the ongoing union or independent country work? Will people desperate to be unshackled from Westminster no longer trust those who have kept them thirled to the south? And will those too apathetic or unsure to vote find themselves the butt of disdain or fury, or later live to regret their inertia?

There is no way of knowing how any of us will feel. All that is certain is that we are living in emotional times. Since there are no assurances when voting for the future, it is the heart that will decide our choice as much as the head. As a consequence, few dates in the modern Scottish calendar will be more fraught, and fragile, than those that immediately follow the verdict.

In planning a church service to bring reconciliation and healing, Mr Chalmers is using language more appropriate to the aftermath of serious conflict than the decision of a ballot. Yet those still smarting from cruel personal attacks will not consider it an overstatement, and the principle behind the idea is wise. Despite the Kirk's severely waning influence, such a public gesture, with the campaign leaders in the front pews, would be helpful, and even inspirational.

Those of us nursing grief or grievances that weekend might well need to be reminded that winners and losers must live harmoniously together if the country is to prosper. If it were the Kirk that helped foster such open-mindedness, perhaps its future in the new Scotland is brighter than any would have anticipated.

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