David Bowie’s political intervention in the Scottish independence debate at the Brit pop music awards – ‘Scotland stay with us’ – raises a very important question of national definition. What is the uniting ethos, the common political, moral and social outlook, which he believes ‘Scotland’ shares with ‘us’ in the other two nations and one province of the current United Kingdom?
In an era of political nonchalance amongst young people, exemplified by the attitude of the Arctic Monkeys’ lead singer, Alex Turner, who refused to comment on Mr Bowie’s statement when asked by a BBC journalist, the 67-year-old pop star’s conviction about the integrity of the UK was refreshingly counter-cultural. One might even dare to describe his intervention at the Brits as constructively rebellious, certainly more so than Mr Turner’s speech in praise of Rock n’ Roll.
But very arguably, having publicly urged those entitled to participate in September’s referendum to vote ‘no’ to Scottish independence, Mr Bowie has a moral duty to explain what he thinks is the ethos uniting Scotland to the the rest of the UK.
Had there been a referendum in Scotland just after the Act of Union in 1707 – say a year later in 1708 – it would not have been difficult to identify a coherent worldview that prominent opinion formers in both Scotland and England at that time wanted to see prevail.
It was the Protestant Christian faith as distinct from Roman Catholicism. Political, religious and cultural leaders in both nations wanted to create a robustly Protestant entity with a Church by law established in each headed by a shared Monarch. And they got their way without a referendum but with an astonishing level of consensus.
Christian ideas would have been at the forefront of the debate in 1708. The early 18th century equivalent of Mr Bowie would not have been quoting from Japanese mythology, as did his speech via the model Kate Moss accepting his Brit award for the best male solo artist, albeit referring to the jumpsuit she was wearing.
In explaining the philosophical rationale for the Act of Union, Mr Bowie would have been quoting from the Bible.
At the forefront of the referendum debate in 1708 would have been questions about the supreme authority of Holy scripture, the role of the Church in determining what a Christian person should believe and practise, and the saving nature of Jesus Christ’s death on the Cross as celebrated at the Lord’s Supper.
For Protestants at that time, the once-and-for-all character of Christ’s death was supremely important. They argued that Christ’s achievement on the Cross was unrepeatable. He made there a ‘full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world’, to quote from the Church of England’s evangelical 1662 Book of Common Prayer.
The almost complete absence of Christianity from the current debate would be mystifying to Mr Bowie’s equivalent in 1708. But its absence now is the reason why the spiritual, moral and cultural definition of his ‘us’ calls for urgent clarification.