A LEADING Church of Scotland minister has come out in support of independence, saying the growing divide in attitudes to welfare, immigration and the EU, north and south of the Border, have spurred him into a fundamental rethink.
Writing for the Sunday Herald today, Reverend Professor Ken Ross, former general secretary of the church's Board of World Mission, says he has changed his mind after being previously unconvinced about the case for independence.
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Ross, who is chairman of the Scotland Malawi partnership, said Scottish values could be better expressed outwith the UK.
He said: "My confidence has crumbled. The gulf between Scotland's political direction and that being taken by the UK has grown too wide. I have found that it is time for a fundamental rethink.
"A major factor in this process has been the success of devolution, the evidence that the more Scotland has control over its own affairs the better the result.
"It has been inspiring to see positive Scottish values such as cherishing community and caring for the vulnerable finding expression in distinctive policies on health, education and social welfare."
Ross's change of heart was backed by other high-profile Scots in international development, including Colin Cameron, a Scot who was appointed Malawian Consul to Scotland and was a member of the first Malawian Cabinet after independence in the 1960s.
Cameron said that "Scotland's aim" of lifting people in Africa out of poverty was "to be commended and as in so many ways independence will be the way Scotland can have the biggest impact to help make this happen".
Robert Scott Anderson, chairman of the Scottish Malawi Foundation, said independence would "bring a fresh opportunity for Scotland to make a distinctive well-focused contribution to international development".
Humza Yousaf, the Scottish Government's Minister for External Affairs and International Development, said: "That three of the leading figures from Scotland's international development sector are backing a Yes vote is a great acknowledgement of my belief that an independent Scotland can be a world leader in tackling global poverty."
'IT IS TIME FOR A FUNDAMENTAL RETHINK'
BY REV KENNETH ROSS
For the first 50 years of my life I was unconvinced by the case for independence. I was comfortable in my Scottish identity but confident that it was entirely possible to be "Scottish and British" and proud of what Scotland has contributed to the wider UK. Over the last few years, however, my confidence has crumbled. The gulf between Scotland's political direction and that being taken by the UK has grown too wide. I have found that it is time for a fundamental rethink.
A major factor in this process has been the success of devolution, the evidence that the more Scotland has control over its own affairs the better the result. It has been inspiring to see positive Scottish values such as cherishing community and caring for the vulnerable finding expression in distinctive policies on health, education and social welfare. The more we secure our freedom to pursue these further, the more hopeful I will be about the future.
For me, however, as an internationalist, another major factor is the opportunity offered by independence for Scotland to exercise positive influence in the wider world. Given our history and global connectedness I expect that an independent Scotland will be very outward-looking.
For a start, I believe it is right for Scotland to be a member of the European Union, playing our full part in its affairs and benefitting from all the commercial opportunities which it offers. With the real risk that the UK will hold an in/out referendum on Europe in 2017, we face the possibility that Scotland could be removed from EU membership, either then or later. Despite all the nonsense about supposed problems of re-negotiating entry, in the long term independence is the best way to secure our EU membership.
Immigration policy is another area where there is clearly wide divergence between attitudes in Scotland and the political direction of the UK. Responsibly managed immigration can allow Scotland to play a positive role in the world as well as benefitting our own society. Again, independence looks like the best way to achieve this.
International development work enjoys particular support in Scotland. Though the devolution settlement did not require the Scottish Government to have its own international development programme, it was apparent after a few years that it was incomplete without it. The modest international development programme begun in 2005 has won wide support and its innovative qualities can be taken much further under independence.
So far as the wider question of international involvement is concerned, the Iraq War has been a defining moment. Was this disastrous blunder (estimated 700,000 deaths) an isolated misjudgement of the Government of the day? Or was it an episode which lifted the lid on the way the UK perceives itself and its role in the world? For me it has been a deeply disillusioning experience to realize that the latter is closer to the mark. The hubris and militarism of the British state are such that it is very unlikely to play an unambiguously constructive role in world affairs. I have no illusions that an independent Scotland will not also make mistakes but I believe the framework for international engagement set out in the White Paper will allow us to work for justice and peace abroad just as we do at home.
We have today a globalized economic system in which the domination of the few over the many is backed up by a massive military arsenal. What we lack is a globalized system of values to ensure that there is a measure of justice and fairness in the way the system works. No doubt Scotland is a small player in the world context. Yet why should we not play our part? The same values which make us determined to combat poverty, to sustain our health service or to keep tertiary education accessible are values that urgently need to be championed on the world stage.
Realistically, so long as Scotland is part of the UK, with its governing ideology of neoliberalism and militarism, we will have very little opportunity to champion such values. Yet they are needed more than ever on the world scene. For internationalist reasons we need Scotland to take its place among the nations of the earth. Scotland, for example, would be well placed to be a world leader in regard to climate justice, which may turn out to be the decisive issue for our common future.
It is often suggested that a good eventual outcome of the constitutional debate would be for Scotland to have greater powers over its internal affairs but to remain part of the UK for purposes such as defence and foreign policy. This is not a satisfactory proposal from my point of view since these are the very areas where I am most dissatisfied with the UK's policy direction and where I would love to see Scotland making a distinctive contribution. For one thing, a decision by an independent Scotland not to deploy nuclear weapons would be an immensely significant act of moral leadership.
Being a small player need not be a recipe for insignificance. Independence is an opportunity to "do less harm" in the wider world; and to play our distinctive part in the shared effort needed to meet the acute challenges we face at global level.
Kenneth Ross, who writes here in a personal capacity, is a Church of Scotland minister with extensive international experience.