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Faith Comment published in the Petersfield Post

24 September 2014: Michael Blakstad, St Laurence's Catholic Church

My country, right or wrong

I am writing this before the vote on Scottish Independence has been cast, whereas you are reading it knowing the result. Either way, there will have been a movement towards 'nationalism'. The accepted wisdom is that nationalism is a bad thing. Is it?

In 1973, at the height of the Troubles, I made a documentary about the effect on the children in Northern Ireland of the violence around them. The games they played, the songs they sang, were nationalistic; the Catholics in favour of Irish Independence, the Protestants supporting 'the Union' with the UK. On the last Sunday of the Scottish campaign, the Orange Order marched in Edinburgh, arousing the anger of Celtic-supporters and nationalists.

In the Middle East, the so-called Islamic State again mixes its twisted version of religion with naked ambition to form a Caliphate, or nation. Sunni and Shia oppose each other as bitterly as Catholics and Protestants did in Ulster. Is religion inevitably inter-twined with nationalism?

Whichever way the Scottish vote fell, recriminations and score-settling may be taking place in Scotland today; it will perhaps be evident how much the Scottish voters were driven by their emotions rather than reason. If that is what is meant by 'nationalism', then perhaps we should consider it a vice.

When my documentary went out, clergymen on both sides of the religious divide spoke from their pulpits decrying the conditions in which it showed the youngsters of Northern Ireland growing up. As a result, both IRA and UDA turned on the film and vented their anger on the BBC. It took almost thirty years before peace and reconciliation were finally achieved in Ireland, and the late Ian Paisley formed an unlikely friendship with Martin McGuinness.

Scottish clergymen have pleaded for calmness and compassion following the result. Let us pray that no 'nationalistic' backlash occurs in Scotland, and that Christian compassion can prevail.

This article was submitted for publication in the Petersfield Post on 24 September; it may be published later.

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