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Raw emotions may cast pall over post-referendum service

PLANS for Scotland's party leaders to shake hands at a post-referendum "service of reconciliation" could founder because emotions will be too "raw" just three days after the historic vote.

The Church of Scotland has organised a special service at Edinburgh's St Giles' Cathedral on September 21 designed to heal divisions and cement commitments to work together once the country's future is decided.

As part of the proceedings, party leaders were to make a public display of unity by coming together to shake hands and light "candles of reconciliation". But so far only Alex Salmond has confirmed he intends to attend.

Labour, the Conservatives and LibDems are all in two minds about the service and may send senior politicians to represent their leaders. A Labour source said: "It's going to be pretty raw the Sunday after the vote and there is also going be a lot of important activity in the immediate aftermath." A LibDem source said no decision had been taken on whether Scots party leader Willie Rennie would attend.

The source said: "We haven't discussed this, we are focused on the campaign and will think about it nearer the time."

Labour's former First Minister Jack McConnell, the LibDem former deputy first minister Jim Wallace and Annabel Goldie, the previous Scottish Conservative leader, have been spoken of as possible representatives. Whatever the result on September 18, the parties are unlikely to find themselves in immediate agreement.

Independence negotiations would begin immediately following a Yes vote, while disagreements over further powers for Holyrood are likely to break out quickly if Scots choose to remain in the UK. The service also coincides with the start of the UK Labour conference in Manchester.

Two days later Alex Salmond is scheduled to make a statement on the outcome of the referendum at Holyrood. This will be followed by two days of debate.

When the Kirk announced its plans in May they were broadly welcomed by leading figures in the No campaign, who believe the referendum has proved divisive.

By contrast, the service was greeted with scepticism by some on the Yes side, who questioned the need for it. The Rt Rev John Chalmers, the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, insisted the service would play an important part in the healing process in the days immediately after the vote.

He said: "It will be important for each side of this campaign to be magnanimous whatever the outcome and the Church of Scotland is well placed to bring people back together in a spirit of reconciliation. Politicians represent the people, and it is my hope that by joining together in worship after the referendum they will send the clearest possible message that everyone has a role to play in building Scotland's future."

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