This week sees the start of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Whatever your faith or religious beliefs, this is a laudable ambition, for disunity and disharmony stalks Christianity with many damaging real world consequences. 

The atomisation of Christian understanding and teaching does much to undermine the message of forgiveness and love that sits at the heart of the faith. The stubbornness and self-regard that underpins this splintering is the antithesis of the fundamental teaching of the Gospels and praying for unity is the very least Christians can do this week.

Division of course is not the sole preserve of Christianity. We see it all around us – in our communities, fractured families, the distribution of financial reward, between nations, trading and political blocs, and cultures. Division here at home in the politics of England, Scotland and Wales pulling at the unity of the country itself. Economically, the division we have established between ourselves and our nearest and largest trading partners on the continent is still playing itself out

In our politics, the division caused by the EU referendum still remains an open sore. Disagreement on the big issues of the day and a healthy debate is a good thing for a strong democracy such as the one we enjoy in Britain but the polarising and destructive politics of the United States, the world’s most powerful democracy, stands as a warning to us all about how a noble ambition can turn rotten. Democracy needs nurturing and tending. To thrive, it needs some unity about agreed fundamentals and limits.

Since 1997 we have seen a determined drive by successive governments to devolve political power and responsibility. First to the four constituent nations of the United Kingdom, and more recently across England with the introduction of elected Police and Crime Commissioners and Mayors. We have seen a proliferation in the number of politicians, with no reform, rationalisation or reduction in existing elected officials and tiers of local government. With all this extra cost and competition for election, is it possible for us to detect improvements in the provision of our local services, or are we just asked to choose people to serve an ever increasing number of taxpayer funded jobs? Sometimes it is difficult to tell.

In his book, Behind The Oval Office, Bill Clinton’s pollster and election strategist, Dick Morris, explains how he pioneered the method of triangulation with great success. That is picking the point between opposing sides and claiming the political ground in between. It was not a principled approach to politics but for Clinton and his political disciple, Tony Blair, it was very effective at winning elections. More recently we have seen the rise of “wedge politics”. This is the practice of maximising your own vote by dividing groups and communities. It is a technique to drive people apart. It is a deliberate strategy.

All countries and their institutions are complex coalitions of aligned interests and hopes. Without an obvious and immediate external danger, it is always more difficult for a politician to draw people together to support them than it is to divide people by inventing or exaggerating some threat. We have serious challenges with the economy, our public services, and the ongoing war in Ukraine to contend with. There is no doubt about it. 

The biggest political threat we face, however, does not come from without but from within – the growing political separation of Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom. The relative political weakness of Westminster’s two big political parties stems in large part from their continued failure to win Westminster parliamentary seats in Scotland. This failure has had a profoundly unbalancing effect on the nature of our national politics. It is not currently the topic of fashionable Westminster debate – which remains resolutely parochial and England-focussed – but the political reuniting of the United Kingdom ought to be a priority for both Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer alike. In the meantime we can only pray for such unity.

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