Archbishop tells EN: ‘no real case for Scottish independence’

The Archbishop of Canterbury  arrives at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland

The Archbishop of Canterbury arrives at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland

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ARCHBISHOP of Canterbury Rowan Williams has backed the idea of increased devolution, but says he has yet to be convinced about independence for Scotland.

Dr Williams, visiting Edinburgh for the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly, said as a schoolboy growing up in Swansea he had been enthusiastic about Welsh independence and even attended Plaid Cymru weekend schools, though he was never a party member.

But he said he was now not sure that the constituent nations of the UK would be better off as separate states. In an interview with the News, he said he was “more interested” in devo max – the idea of more powers, short of independence.

He said: “I have a lot of instinctive sympathy for small nations. The problem is that small nations in a small island have got to live together in a sustainable way and that’s why independence in itself is not a magic bullet.

“You’ve got to find ways of working economically together, even if there is a higher degree of operational political independence. There’s got to be a way of pooling resources. It’s too small an island to put up with rivalries. As it is, there is an increasing amount of devolved power in both Scotland and Wales, which I think has been broadly a healthy development. Whether it would help us to be separate states I really don’t know. I’ve still to be persuaded about that.”

But Dr Williams indicated support for more tax powers. He said: “If you want devolved parliaments to have some effective control over let’s say educational and health policy I think you’re bound to have some higher level of fiscal independence built into that – how you raise money and how you spend it. There is a case for that.”

Dr Williams, who steps down as Archbishop of Canterbury at the end of the year, also repeated his opposition to assisted suicide. Independent Lothians MSP Margo MacDonald is set to introduce a bill on the subject at the Scottish Parliament for a second time.

Dr Williams said: “Like anybody in the Church I’ve got every sympathy with people who are facing the slow death of somebody they love.

“At present in the UK we have the highest standards of palliative care in Europe, possibly the world.

“One thing I’m afraid of is that if there is a sort of short cut, those standards of palliative care could begin to slip.

“And at the end of the day, my opposition is based on religious conviction that I don’t have the right to decide when my life ends.”