FEBRUARY 15, 2015 by Stephen McLaren
Scotland's beliefs . .

Scotland is a small diverse country with many nationalities, cultures and beliefs. It is committed to social cohesion, justice and equality.  This is exemplified by the inscription on the Scottish Mace which sits in the Scottish Parliament, clearly declaring to the world that our society is underpinned by the values of wisdom, justice, integrity and compassion. Since the re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, there has been a renewed sense of Scottish identity with greater opportunities for civic engagement through increased levels of consultation and better access to decision makers. This level of involvement in the future of our country is one to be encouraged.  

Traditionally and historically, Scotland has been a predominantly Christian society and since the Reformation, predominantly Protestant.  However, historically, Scottish society has also been a diverse one with many minority  beliefs having a long history of activity and membership in Scotland.  Modern Scotland is a multi-belief and multi-cultural country with its citizens subscribing to a wide range of traditions and beliefs. Some of these beliefs will be of a religious nature while others will be more philosophical and expressed through inclusive life stances such as humanism or secularism. Within all these structures, there will be diversity of opinions about beliefs and practices.  There are also people whose beliefs have no organised affiliations. Nonetheless, the beliefs of those who are not affiliated to any formal organisation can often be considered spiritual, frequently drawing on a diversity of religious and philosophical beliefs, although not within any institutional or organised framework. 

All of the people of Scotland, regardless of their beliefs, have the right to respect and must be allowed the freedom to participate in society with integrity and honesty.  With rights, of course, come responsibilities and it is clearly unjust to expect respect for oneself and one’s own beliefs whilst denying this same respect to others. Within modern democracies, equality cannot be achieved if all are not given a voice. Everyone has the right to express themselves but in a secular society which is open to the views and beliefs of all, it is even more important for communities and groups to listen to one another. This is particularly so when beliefs and values which are good in themselves, clash or when there are moments of tension which threaten to disrupt stability and undermine community cohesion.

Such tensions can be the result of different opinions about life, public policy or the consequence of global conflicts. Scots have put down roots and been welcomed around the globe.  Many new Scots belong to minority faith communities that are closely tied to fellow adherents of their religions in other countries, so it is easy to see how international events, both positive and negative, can have a big impact on Scottish society.  Indeed, it is important to be aware that UK and European foreign policy and legislation can affect communities in Scotland. It is in such circumstances that dialogue, rooted in sincerity, honesty and openness becomes important.

It was to this end that the Scottish Government established a working group in February 2008. This independent working group of individuals with expertise in facilitating dialogue and good relations, was asked to look at how community cohesion could be supported through dialogue and positive action among different belief communities. We are grateful to them for their commitment and contributions to this task.

The working group, in consultation with a wide variety of groups and individuals, considered the barriers which inhibit constructive and positive dialogue. They agreed that the development of a Good Practice Guide would offer a tool to be used by different people in various contexts to help them create the safe spaces needed to allow that  to take place. The Guide does three things:

  • It acknowledges that we are all part of a multi-cultural society which incorporates a variety of  beliefs.
  • It recognises that we all share this society equally with equal rights and responsibilities.
  • It sets out ways to facilitate dialogue so that belief groups, whether religious or not, can work together constructively to make our society better for all of the people who live and work in 21st century Scotland.

The Good Practice Guide is intended for individuals, belief communities, inter faith groups, local authority equality officers as well as for all statutory and voluntary organisations.  It is intended for all those interested in bringing people of different beliefs together to engage in dialogue and common action. It recognises the good practice already established in the field of inter-religious dialogue and the importance of developing and deepening this activity. Moreover it also recognises the importance of extending dialogue to include people of non-religious beliefs as a foundation for good community relations and support in times of tension.  Its use is encouraged in a variety of ways and contexts to take good relations to a new level, among all people of diverse beliefs in Scotland.

The Vision

Scotland’s people need to recognise and appreciate our diverse multiple identities as well as some key things which bind us together as a society:

  • Our common humanity.
  • Our shared belonging as people living in Scotland.
  • Our unique contribution to the future of Scotland.
  • Our need to listen to one another and work together for the common good.

Ref link Belief in Dialogue

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