About 8 or 9 years ago I was challenged by a friend to draft a new National Covenant for Scotland. He thought that as minister of the Kirk where the first covenant of 1638 was signed, I ought to have some idea about what sort of society we should be trying to build today.
I was reminded of this little project recently when I was asked to take part in a process at George Heriots School. They had applied to become a “Rights Respecting School”. In order to achieve this accreditation they had to be interviewed by representatives from the United Nations, as the UN had produced a Charter on the Rights of the Child. To become a Rights Respecting School, members of the whole school community had to demonstrate a knowledge of the nature of the charter and have implemented policies and practices that embrace the main thrust of it.
I realised that our Covenant of 1638 started a bit of a trend, though the National Covenant wasn’t the first document of this kind. Later, however, there were several Presbyterian ministers from Scotland who signed the Declaration of Independence in the United States, and over the years statements have been produced that describe the sort of society we want.
Whatever your view about the forthcoming referendum, it is a time to reflect on the society we want to build and I wonder what you think of my little stab at describing the sort of community we should be aiming at. I have reproduced it below just as I wrote it about 8 or 9 years ago. Please feel free to send in your comments suggested amendments and questions.
A New National Covenant for Scotland?
We and every one of us underwritten are resolved and believe in our hearts that the times in which we live demand of us that we affirm together our aspiration for the land we love and its people and our common humanity within the family of nations.
We covenant together to work for the good of all people in Scotland. We welcome particularly the homeless, the asylum seeker, refugees and all who feel they do not belong, for we believe that open-handed hospitality to outsiders is a noble and blessed tradition. In a world where divisions run deep we affirm our intent to build a fairer society in which those who are disadvantaged are lifted up and not swept aside. We call upon those in power to heed our nation’s story in its struggles for freedom and humanity, liberty and democracy and pledge our support to all who labour for a renewed, spirited and passionate energy in our life together.
We covenant together to work for reconciliation the world over. We are chiefly beneficiaries of globalisation but we know that its relentless march can hurt the most vulnerable. So we will seek to be sensitive to all who struggle for a better life whilst cherishing their own culture and we commit ourselves to the cause of fair trading, debt relief for the poorest and respect for International Law. We affirm our right to legitimate self defence but reject the use of military might as a tool of foreign policy. In an unequal world we affirm that the people of our land are prepared to make sacrifices that others might simply live.
We covenant together to work for the good of the land of Scotland and all the earth. We have squandered our riches and used the earth harshly at times but we commit ourselves to sustaining what is left of our wild places, to supporting local agriculture and to genuine land reform that will revitalise rural communities. We are committed to conserving energy, developing renewable energy resources and to working towards touching the earth more lightly. We acknowledge that those who shape our laws must be supported in working for long term good not short-term gain.
We covenant together, with the guiding light that we follow, to respect the faith traditions that are represented in Scotland. We affirm that whether people choose to live by faith or another path, all expressions of belief that bring people more fully to life, affirm tolerance and mutual respect for persons and respect for the earth contribute to the rich diversity we cherish. We remember that the wounds of our history run deep whilst the pace of change is fast and so we affirm our respect for the past and our commitment to nurture wholesome cultural identity. We deplore the culture of hedonism and selfishness that threatens to steal away the essential dignity of every individual and affirm that there is fulfilment to be found in rediscovering simple pleasures.