For two years Scotland had talked about its future - not in terms of yes or no but in terms of the kind of society it wanted to become. My conversations were with people of faith so there was a sense of common purpose in hoping for a society which was hospitable, welcoming to the stranger, committed to equality, caring for its poorest and most vulnerable, at peace with its neighbours, taking its rightful and responsible place on the world stage, refusing to house nuclear weapons, being proud of its unique character. It was a wonderful opportunity to talk about our society but what happens now to all those hopes and dreams? Immediately party politics have come into play.
One of the concerns throughout the referendum was that Scottish society would be a divided one with the need for reconciliation. No-one seemed more intent on this than the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland who called politicians from different sides to a service in St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh. Of course religions are for reconciliation but there seemed to be something strange about staging this just two days after a referendum which had emotionally engaged so many people.
For one thing this was the established church encouraging people to be reconciled. It was an establishment activity which did not endear itself to those who had seen the establishment as closing ranks against any independence. It was a moment lost for ecumenical and interfaith relations as it could have been arranged in partnership with other Christian denominations and people of all faiths. This might have saved it from being seen as 'establishment'.
But it didn't seem too wise to me. People were still reeling from the result of the referendum. Being asked to put the past two years behind us and start from fresh was just too much too soon. Reconciliation is important but it doesn’t come easily. It's a process which requires dialogue, understanding, forgiveness, maybe even a certain compromise on both sides. This could have been an opportunity for religious leaders to encourage a sharing of vision, a sharing of fears and concerns and an exploration of how to work together for the future of Scotland. Some kind of dialogue, done outside of adversarial politics, might just get different parties working together, seeking a common vision. Then a reconciliation service would be symbolic of a process that's already underway. Much as it's good to encourage people to move on, It's typical of religious systems to tell people how to act, what to do without taking human processes into consideration and to question it is to sound as though you're against reconciliation.
A famous case of reconciliation is that of Iain Paisley and Matt McGuinness in Northern Ireland. Iain Paisley, who died recently, was vitriolic in his hatred of Catholics, despised the Pope as the anti-Christ, whipped up fear and hatred, all of which no doubt contributed to the Troubles of Northern Ireland. And Martin McGuinness will have hated Iain Paisley and all he stood for, seeing the only way to a united Ireland as violence.
But somehow things changed – either through a change of heart or pragmatism the two agreed to share power and work together through the political process. The world saw two people, universally recognised as enemies, sitting together, working together for the good of their country. And wonder of wonders they actually seemed to like one another! They shared a sense of humour to the extent they were nick-named the Chuckle Brothers.
Iain Paisley and Matt McGuinness are a sign of what reconciliation can do and that it can happen in situations that seem intractable. But it does not come easily or quickly. I'm not sure the Moderator achieved much on Sunday.