National identity a familiar theme for Scottish Anglican bishop

David Chillingworth was in Armagh for 19 years. He knows all about divisions

Bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane David Chillingworth: ‘I meet people with house brochures for the northeast of England, preparing to leave.’

Bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane David Chillingworth: ‘I meet people with house brochures for the northeast of England, preparing to leave.’

 

Symbols matters for David Chillingworth, Bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane, of the Scottish Episcopal Church – the Anglican Church’s arm in Scotland.

For 19 years, the Dublin-born Chillingworth served in Portadown, Co Armagh, and was rector of Seagoe church during the Drumcree parades controversy.

“I react very badly to flags being used as electioneering symbols. I react very, very badly to that. I am quite distressed by it,” says the bishop, who is now based in Perth. His years in Portadown, which he loved and where he built strong relationships borne out of stressful times, have left him with “a very acute awareness of the danger of certain types of discourse”.

Complex debate

“I meet people with house brochures for the northeast of England, preparing to leave. I meet people with a deep personal antipathy for Alex Salmond.

“All of that has been disturbing and unsettling and will take time to settle,” he says, but with a smile. “But I don’t expect to see half my congregation at Edinburgh’s Waverley railway station.”

Chillingworth, who leads one of the Episcopal Church’s seven dioceses in Scotland, says he has yet to make up his own mind about how he will vote.

“But I have said that I am not a natural unionist. I’m an Irish passport holder, I regard my primary identity as Irish, or Irish-British; rather than as British-Irish.”

Divisions have manifested themselves only recently: “Up to then it had been a non-event. Some of the angst, the bitterness is because it is not quite clear what it is about.

“It isn’t about a single issue. You might expect it to be argued as a question of identity and self-determination, but it is not,” he continues. Scotland feels it is different. “In its heart it is much more communitarian. But then so is Liverpool, so is Hull, or the northeast. None of that clinches the argument.”

Simplistic approach

Identity is crucial. “I remember in Drumcree struggling with people after the Good Friday Agreement when the question was, “who has won here?” Back then, Harold Gracey – who became a known face as leader of the local Orange Lodge barred from marching down the Garvaghy Road – was one of his congregation.

“I remember trying to persuade my parishioners, without much conviction I have to say, that they had won. But the price for winning was that everything else must change.”

Ireland’s post-2008 history is known only in broad strokes in Scotland, he believes. “People still deride Alex Salmond’s remark about the arc of prosperity.”

But one of the extraordinary things about being in the British Isles is how little contact there is, how little awareness there is, between the Celtic nations. “We all relate to England – whatever England is: but we don’t relate to one another. I am constantly surprised by that, but I think there is some admiration for Ireland.”

British Empire

The aftermath of the referendum will pose challenges, whatever the result. “If it’s No, I would have some concerns that the situation would not settle.

“Those who have been made insecure would say that the other side will come back for another go in a few years, so there will be continuing destabilisation.”

If the result is Yes, people “will accept it and move on”, though he has concerns about the Scottish government’s hand during the 18 months of negotiations. “The vote cannot be changed. That seems to me to be a very weak position to begin negotiations. I don’t know how that was allowed to happen, but that does bother me greatly,” he said.

On arriving in Perth 10 years ago, Chillingworth began to understand the city’s centuries-old ties to the British military as it faced the abolition of some of Scotland’s oldest regiments. “All of that goes very deep,” he says. “I am not sure what they will feel after a Yes vote, if there is one. I would be concerned that people would feel marooned.”

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