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21 June 2017

Building hope in a divided Scotland

Building hope in a divided Scotland

Once again our map has been redrawn. After the tsunami of the 2015 general election when the SNP took almost every Scottish seat, this month’s election has seen a partial turning of the tide. Losing 21 SNP MPs was not on anyone’s radar. In truth, it could have been even more with another four seats being held by a combined 158 votes. As with Labour and the Liberal Democrats after 2015, and the Conservatives many times before that, so it’s the turn of the SNP to ask what went wrong. 

In an election campaign dominated by a possible second independence referendum it was enough at the very least to give our largest party cause to pause and reflect. Perhaps to pause and reflect is also a helpful posture for us in the church as well in this moment. What are we to take from this latest electoral surprise? 

A divided nation 

The first thing that is abundantly clear is that we are a divided nation. We saw that across the UK but in Scotland our debate was dominated by discussion of a second independence referendum. It’s clear that there are those on both sides for whom this is the crucial issue and if 2015 was a kick to the pro-UK side then 2017 was a - more limited - kick back. But it was only one of the evident divides of generation, Brexit and socio-economic class that were on display. We are deeply divided and have a lot of unifying to do. 

An uncertain nation 

Secondly we are a deeply uncertain and fluid nation. We don’t know what we want. And we will vote differently in each election accordingly. Who would have ever thought that the increased number of Scottish Conservatives would help keep Theresa May in Downing Street? In the space of a few weeks Corbyn went from no-hoper to credible, May from strong and stable to weak and wobbly and Sturgeon from unbeatable to beatable.

 A nation in need of hope 

Finally we are a nation desperately, desperately in need of hope. One of the completely unforeseen factors in the Scotland was the re-emergence of Labour as a credible force, winning seven seats and coming close in many others. Like him or loathe him Jeremy Corbyn inspired a movement with a message of hope, and many, including hitherto non-voting young people, were stirred by this message. 

It is into this context that the Church now has an opportunity to speak. As the people of God we can provide the unity, certainty and voice of true hope for the nation. As we saw in London with the local EDEN team providing the prayer wall and meeting practical needs at Grenfell Tower, so we see day in day out that in our communities local churches are bringing practical and spiritual hope. But it is also a challenge. If we cannot provide this example of unity, certainty and solid hope in our communities it begs the question of what we are doing. 

There is an opportunity for us as the Church in this moment: to look beyond the latest church statistics and be the people of hope. As Scotland moves forward from this latest electoral shake-up it’s time for us to step up in public leadership both at a local and a national level.