Reformation (450th Anniversary)

Decision Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:01 pm on 15th April 2010.

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Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party 5:01 pm, 15th April 2010

The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S3M-5759, in the name of Nigel Don, on the 450th anniversary of the reformation. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the World Reformed Fellowship conference in Edinburgh; notes that 2010 marks the 450th anniversary of the reformation in Scotland; considers that the reformers' passion for opening up the scriptures to all Scots led to a drive towards improved literacy and that within one hundred years schools were established in parishes across Scotland; further considers that the reformers' emphasis on free thinking and an individual's relationship with God arguably helped pave the way for the enquiry, investigation and freedom of conscience associated with the Scottish enlightenment, and therefore pays tribute to the men and women of the reformation for their contribution in laying the foundations of modern Scottish society.

Photo of Nigel Don Nigel Don Scottish National Party 5:09 pm, 15th April 2010

The third general assembly of the World Reformed Fellowship is taking place this week at the University of Edinburgh. This year's meeting in Scotland is of particular significance as it marks not only the 450th anniversary of the reformation in Scotland but the 100th anniversary of the world missionary conference, which was held here in 1910. Both those events will have been reflected on by some of the 200 or so delegates from across the world who have been attending to discuss the theme of this year's meeting—continuing the reformation: a missional theology for the 21st century global church. I see that some delegates are here this evening and I welcome them to the gallery—I trust that they have had a successful conference.

I imagine that others will recount the events of the reformation crisis in Scotland of 1559-60. I have no doubt that there will be a discussion of the consequences of those reforms. I would like to address the issues that preceded those days. My theme will be the availability of the Bible in accessible translations.

By way of general introduction, I note that the process of the reformation must have involved two distinct steps: first, the questioning of papal authority to interpret the Bible and, secondly, the rediscovery of the significance of personal faith within it.

The books of the Bible were written in many hands over a significant period, but it is clear that almost all the New Testament must have been written in the first century. It appears that St Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria, listed the now accepted 27 books of the New Testament in 367. Not long after, in the early fifth century, Jerome produced the Vulgate Bible in Latin, which was to be the standard edition for a millennium. During that period of the dark ages, the faithful were dependent for teaching on their priests, who might or might not understand Latin. It will come as little surprise to any student of human nature that the church of that period, often uncorrected by reference to scripture, increasingly resembled a monopolistic corporation well interested in storing up treasure on earth.

We can perhaps chart the decline in papal authority from 1305, when a French pope decided to base himself away from Rome, in Avignon. His successors stayed in France for the next 70 years or so, with the result that, by 1378, there were three rival popes—and it took a while to pension them off and restore some order.

Political machination was endemic. In 1492, Rodrigo Borgia quite simply bought himself the papacy, no doubt accompanied by the occasional threat. Never inclined to forgive or forget, his family seem to have preferred to poison their enemies, and quite possibly, themselves. He was followed by Pope Julius II, who seems to have modelled himself on his namesake, Caesar, waging war on anyone who opposed his ambitions for an Italian empire. His successor Leo X had 76 relatively peaceful years in which to rebuild the church's balance sheet and St Peter's through the sale of indulgences. Whatever one's background, it was not difficult at the time to see that there was scope for reform of one sort or another.

One other significant event must be noted. Around 1450, Johannes Gutenberg developed the printing press. His most famous production was of course the Gutenberg Bible—as it turns out, one of the Paris versions of the Vulgate.

Against that backdrop, I will briefly call the roll of those who spread the biblical text across Europe to such great effect. By 1384, John Wyclif had translated the Vulgate Bible into English, not only preparing these isles for things to come but influencing, in particular, eastern Europe, where the cause of questioning papal authority was taken up by Jan Hus at Prague university. I note in passing that Hus's martyrdom in 1415 sparked one of many episodes of serious bloodshed, as the questioning of papal authority over biblical interpretation stood opposed to established political power.

In 1440, one Lorenzo Valla, generally recognised as a very fine scholar but a pretty disagreeable kind of man, demonstrated that the donation of Constantine, under which the Roman church claimed much political power, was an eighth-century forgery, rather than a fourth-century original. If that could not be trusted, what else might be false? His greater contribution, however, was his work on annotating the New Testament, which exposed many errors in the Vulgate and was to be crucial when, in 1516, Erasmus produced corrected Greek and Latin translations. Matthew, chapter 4, verse 17 no longer read "Do penance" and instead read "Be penitent"—the more modern New International Version now reads simply "Repent".

In 1526, William Tyndale completed a fine English New Testament translation from the Greek. By 1534, Martin Luther—of whom I have no doubt we will hear much in the next few minutes—had translated both the Old Testament and the New Testament into vernacular German. His legacy also includes comprehensive reformed liturgy and hymns that reinforce the biblical truth.

To that list of translators we must surely add Jean Cauvin—or John Calvin, as we would prefer to have him in the English-speaking world. His great literary achievement was not a translation but the "Institutes of the Christian Religion", which was first produced in Latin in 1536 and in French in 1541, with final versions—appropriately—in 1559 and 1560. It was translated into English the following year, by which time—as I am sure we will hear—Scotland had entered a new era.

Photo of Michael McMahon Michael McMahon Labour 5:16 pm, 15th April 2010

I congratulate Nigel Don on bringing to the chamber a debate on the 450th anniversary of the reformation, and ask to be excused if I appear to be more of a poison in the punch bowl than a concelebrant of what some observers have described as a visionary—indeed, utopian—blueprint for what religion in Scotland should be.

Although it is difficult to argue that the motivation behind what John Knox and his colleagues drew up in 1560 was the establishment of a better society, I have to say that any judgment on that outcome is a very subjective matter. Everyone has a different perspective on the impact of the reformation; I am told that my great-great-great-grandfather died at the battle of the Boyne—an event that is one of the more contentious aspects of the history and development of Protestantism in the British isles. Apparently, my ancestor died because he was camping in the field next door and was killed when he went over to ask them to keep the noise down.

I often make light of such things as the battle of the Boyne and its on-going celebrations, because it is often the best way to address the consequences that often accompany the divisions that persist in the wake of the reformation and its birth pangs.

I would like the anniversary of the reformation to be recognised because it provides us all with an opportunity to look anew at what it delivered, where it has taken us and what type of Scotland it has shaped, especially for those of us like me whose history and background is not within the Protestant faith but is clearly affected by it.

I believe that it is vital that the Catholic church in Scotland should officially take part in celebrations to mark the 450th anniversary of the reformation. Its involvement would help to address any concerns that may exist—rightly or wrongly—that celebrating the reformation would result in Protestant triumphalism.

Whatever view one takes of faith, it is incontrovertible that the reformation is one of the most singularly important events in the history of Scotland. It undoubtedly altered the nation's Christian heritage, and created the structures that shaped our schools, universities, democratic institutions and laws. Catholic countries have all those institutions too, and they are also shaped by the predominant church in those countries.

However, I often sense that the Church of Scotland is almost apologetic about the impact that it has had, while the church of Rome glorifies in its impact. That should not be the case, but one wonders why the Scottish Government has not done more to promote the positive side of the recognition of Scotland's Christian traditions. Perhaps it is in thrall to the secularist tradition that now permeates society.

All Christians, and all Scotland, should recognise the reformation in order to appreciate Scotland's Christian heritage. I would welcome the minister telling us tonight that the Scottish Government will throw off its self-imposed shackles and take forward a much more positive agenda to help the Church of Scotland to celebrate its birthday.

Photo of Dave Thompson Dave Thompson Scottish National Party 5:19 pm, 15th April 2010

I congratulate Nigel Don on securing the debate, on a subject of great importance to Scotland. It is particularly important for the Church of Scotland. I suppose that, before I go any further, I must declare an interest as a member of that church.

It is indeed 450 years since the reformation, an exciting, dangerous and transforming experience, which shaped the history and future of Scotland. The Church of Scotland will celebrate the anniversary and the life of our church today at this year's general assembly. I look forward to its also being commemorated in the Parliament.

The Roman Catholic Church, which is perhaps most entitled to take offence at any reformation commemoration or celebration, as it marked the end of its complete, total influence over Scotland, has already indicated, I believe, that it welcomes such events—and Michael McMahon's remarks are also to be welcomed.

In a recent article in the West Highland Free Press, Professor Donald MacLeod summed up the reformation well, I thought. He said that its emphasis on the Bible and on the congregational singing of psalms gave a new impulse to literacy, which pointed us towards a national system of education that brought basic schooling to the most remote parts of the Highlands. He also said that it sowed the seeds of democracy in Scotland. Professor MacLeod went on to say:

"But what matters most is that for 400 years the Reformation gave Scotland its soul; and even if that soul had its own neuroses it was, nevertheless, what we were, and it's made us what we are. It gave us our view of the world, our moral code and our work ethic. It canonised frugality, industry, honesty and liberality and it gave us a nation of engineers, shipbuilders, doctors, nurses and missionaries who adorned Scottishness all over the world."

Being a member of the Church of Scotland is of course a great privilege, but it is even more important for me that I have a direct and personal relationship with God. It is also important for me that I can embrace all fellow Christians, irrespective of denomination, as brothers in Christ.

I have respect for all religions and beliefs, and I firmly believe in the right to freedom of religious worship, which is a fundamental building block of our modern Scottish democracy. All people are entitled to their beliefs, and they should be free to believe in God or not believe in God. None of us should ever try to stifle the views of others just because we do not agree with their viewpoint or with what they believe. None of us should ever try to force our religious views on others.

In Scotland in the past, there has been an intolerance between religions, whereas there now appears to be a growing intolerance in our society of religion as a whole. It is concerning that Christians and other people of faith are facing increasingly hostile attacks on their right to express their faith, and I worry about where we are going with that.

Tolerance must always be the watchword of a civilised society, but I fear that the intolerant are gaining ground, and that we are heading down a slippery slope. People already face the wrath of the law for displaying their faith and for innocently offering to pray for others. I hope that sense will prevail, and that we do not face a future where people of faith will be restrained from expressing their views. Time will tell.

I am sure, however, that my concerns are misplaced and that, on the 450th anniversary of the reformation, we can all learn lessons and not repeat the mistakes of the past.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative 5:23 pm, 15th April 2010

I commend Nigel Don for his well-worded motion, and I congratulate him on securing the debate. Over the past year, I have expressed my regret that the Scottish Government was not intending to mark this important anniversary in a suitable fashion. Like my separated brother, Michael McMahon, I hope that the minister will give us some good news in that regard in his winding-up speech.

Presiding Officer, if you look down at the cobbles under the bell tower of the chapel of St Salvator at the University of St Andrews, you will see that they spell the initials P H. In 1528, Patrick Hamilton, a student at St Andrews, became Scotland's first Protestant martyr, and those stones mark the spot where Hamilton was burned at the stake after having confessed to charges of heresy. With a Bible in his hand he went to the pyre but, due to the dampness of the wood, it took him an horrific six hours to die.

The example of Hamilton, a good young man whose only fault was to put forward ideas contrary to those of the clergy, was acknowledged by the people in the crowd. One observer famously commented:

"the reek of Maister Patrik Hammyltoun has infected as many as it blew upon."

Nevertheless, it would be 30 more years before the reformation, one of the most significant events in Scottish history, the 450th anniversary of which we celebrate this evening.

Although the ideas of Luther and Calvin had been present throughout Europe and in Scotland for some years, it was not until John Knox's return to Scotland in 1559 that widespread opposition to the Roman Catholic Church began. In May 1559, Knox travelled to Perth, where in the parish church of St John's, which is still standing, he gave his first of many inflammatory speeches against idolatry and roused what he called the "rascal multitude" to riot. They destroyed the charter house and two of the town's friaries in two days. The sole remnant of Catholicism that remained was the banner of St Bartholomew, which happened to be at the mender's.

At the beginning of the 16th century, Scotland was a Catholic nation, but by the end of the century, we would be a Presbyterian country.

When the reformation Parliament met in August 1560, it abolished the authority of the Pope and forbade the practice of mass. By the end of 1561, of the thousand or so parishes in Scotland, a quarter had either a Protestant minister or a reader. By 1574, almost all the parishes had a Protestant ministry and, in 1592, the golden act would establish the Presbyterian kirk with its three-tier court system of kirk session, presbyteries and general assembly, which is still in place today.

The reformation changed more than just the nature of religion—it was a social and political revolution, too. The reformation was the beginning of a new era in education, highlighting the need for a school in every parish. Before the reformation, there were approximately 100 parish schools in Scotland. Between 1560 and 1633, almost 800 schools were established, with almost half of them being in or nearby a parish. What had been outlined in Knox's books of discipline continued to be used even in the 19th century as a point of reference for Government and the church when developing their respective education policies.

It was not solely the education of children that was the imperative, but the continued education of the literate commonality. The ideas of Luther—that every individual's conscience was capable of determining God's will—inspired the reformation movement, which demanded that scriptures should be available to the commonality in their language, so that people might read and debate the nature of their religion, rather than have it dictated to them from the pulpit. Although progress was slow, by the 1630s, the Bible was widely available at a reasonable price and in a language that the commonality could understand.

The reformation radically changed the nation's religious practices. It signalled a change in the way in which children were educated and the poor were provided for and it was the beginning of a new era in foreign relationships. However, the reformation was also a revolution of thought. The ideas of the reformation—of freedom of thought and of one's relationship with God and one's monarch—would be felt long after 1560, through to the covenanters and to the philosophers, scientists and writers of the enlightenment and beyond. Ultimately, the reformation would shape the Scottish national identity and encourage the Scots to become a people of which Patrick Hamilton would have been proud.

Photo of Alasdair Allan Alasdair Allan Scottish National Party 5:28 pm, 15th April 2010

I congratulate Nigel Don on securing what is an important debate. Perhaps the best place to start is by saying what, in my view, the debate is not about. I need to do that because Scots have traditionally learned abnormally little about their history at school. A friend of mine recently questioned with me the wisdom of the Parliament marking something as bloody and divisive as the Scottish reformation. It became clear that he was thinking not of the Scottish reformation, but of the English one and of events in Ireland some 100 years later. It would be utterly wrong of us to overlook the fact that, as has been mentioned, people lost their lives in the Scottish reformation, too, and there were martyrs on both sides. However, that does not make it wrong for us to remember or to consider the motivations for the reform at the time.

I am sure that other members will talk about the profound effect of the reformation on Scotland's spiritual life, its democratic instincts and its extraordinary literacy rate—which, as others have mentioned, was at 75 per cent by 1750—and the impact that all that had on a generation of thinkers from Robert Burns to David Hume. However, it is worth saying how completely different the reformation was in Scotland from the story in Ireland or England. In Scotland, one religious group was not planted in the midst of another by Government policy and nor did the monarch take over the church. In Scotland, arguably, the church was taken over by the laity and then the church took over the state, for good or ill.

We should certainly not mark all that in the bombastic way that I suspect we did on the 350th or 300th anniversaries, but we should pause and think. If we do not mark the reformation for what it was, others will mark it for what they would like it to have been. If I may, let me reassure Mr McMahon, who made a very considered speech, that as far as I am concerned marking the reformation is certainly not the same as celebrating the battle of the Boyne.

In few parts of Scotland do people hold such profound yet varied Christian beliefs as in the Western Isles, which I represent. In Barra, Vatersay, Eriskay and South Uist, it would be fair to say that, compared with in the rest of Scotland, the reformation hardly happened at all. Benbecula is mixed in religious tradition, whereas North Uist, Harris and Lewis underwent not one but, arguably, several reformations.

Recently, I visited a constituent in Benbecula whom I know to be a devout Catholic, as evinced by a portrait of the Pope on his kitchen wall. On the same wall, there is also a Rangers calendar. That may surprise colleagues from some other parts of Scotland, but happy religious co-existence of that kind is not, or should not be, such a big deal—and not just in the Western Isles. I come originally from the Borders. It never even crossed my mind that there was anything unusual about my grandfather being both a kirk elder and a lifelong Celtic fan. In fact, such things—or their equivalents—can, and regularly do, happen across Europe.

I mention all that because it is only possible to explain to an outsider why people from different religious traditions on the whole get along very well in the Western Isles if they are first led through 450 years of religious history. It will probably be possible to sort out situations in Scotland in which people do not get on only if we likewise untangle misconceptions on both sides about the past 450 years.

With that in mind, it is right that the Parliament marks this important anniversary. In conclusion, in the words of Edwin Morgan, we should

"Deplore what is to be deplored,

and then find out the rest", because the rest, it should be said, is worth finding out about.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat 5:32 pm, 15th April 2010

I congratulate Nigel Don on lodging the excellent motion before us today. The debate is in the best traditions of the Scottish Parliament.

Murdo Fraser talked about Patrick Hamilton's death in 1528. I have stood and looked at those cobbles, which it is taboo for undergraduates—and, indeed, anyone in St Andrews—to stand on. In addition to what Murdo Fraser told us about Patrick Hamilton's slow and terrible death, which lasted more than six hours from noon till 6 o'clock at night, legend has it that the face of an angel appeared in the stonework above the initials P H. If one looks up, there is what looks very like an angel's face—of course, it is erosion due to the wind and rain. His last words were:

"Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."

That remains for me a haunting image. He was the first martyr of the reformation.

The stories and history that accompany the reformation are what I find absolutely fascinating. Alasdair Allan has touched on the fact that some parts of his constituency went unreformed. Probably, that was because the reformers did not reach South Uist, Eriskay and so on. It is also true to say that, historically, the reason why the Catholic church is as strong as it is in Beauly and Kiltarlity in Inverness-shire is because the Fraser family—the Lords Lovat—were, if not Roman Catholic, at least given to dalliances with Rome. They protected their tenants, and that is why the faith is still there.

Similarly, one Charles Peter Kennedy—a former leader of my party—is a Roman Catholic, whose family have been Roman Catholics for a very long time. A group of Catholic families were untouched by the reformation because the Camerons of Locheil, who were and remain today of high Anglican persuasion, tended to protect them. I guess that, if Locheil had to raise his sword in another 1745-type rebellion, Charles Kennedy would probably be under some obligation to follow him out with his own sword.

Going further back, I know that the patron saint of my home town of Tain is St Duthus, or St Duthac, who lived from 1000 to 1065. His relics and his memory led to Tain becoming an incredibly important place of pilgrimage, particularly during the reign of James IV, who came to the town for almost 20 years in succession to pay homage at the shrine of St Duthac. The royal accounts, which record what was spent on a piper, on wine and on all the rest of it, are quite fascinating.

St Duthac's relics mysteriously disappeared in about 1560, at the time of the reformation. It is thought that the Earls of Ross took them into protection at Balnagown castle, but they have never been seen again. Mohamed Al Fayed—who lives there now—might have them secreted somewhere; if he does, we should know. However, the relics were not very effective. James IV wore Duthac's shirt at the battle of Flodden, but it did not save him. The shirt was recovered from his corpse.

It is interesting to note the difference between the English and Scottish reformations. It is said that Henry VIII was born and died a Catholic. The reformation that he instigated in England concerned his argument with the papacy about his marriages and was about the dissolution of monasteries and about their money being taken to him and to noble families. He clung fiercely to the main tenets of the Catholic faith as it then was throughout his life. We can compare that and the more evolutionary process that took place in England with the dramatic events in Scotland, which culminated in 1560, as the motion notes.

Alasdair Allan asked why the reformation is not taught more, as it should be. The history is fascinating and is crucial to why Scotland is what it is today. Why did Jenny Geddes throw her stool? Why did Archbishop Laud try to reimpose on Scotland episcopacy, prayer rails and all that? The history is genuinely interesting and I am at a complete loss to know why our children are not taught more of it. They get the clearances, the industrial revolution, the 1715 and 1745 rebellions and much else besides—T C Smout teaches much in his books—but there is a curious silence about the reformation. That fascinating history should be taught—it made us what we are today.

Photo of Christopher Harvie Christopher Harvie Scottish National Party 5:36 pm, 15th April 2010

I, too, thank Nigel Don for lodging this timely motion. The 450th anniversary of the reformation falls this summer. It was a great religious change from Catholicism to Calvinism and a diplomatic change away from the auld alliance with France and towards an entente with England that broke down only in the wars of the three kingdoms between 1639 and 1653.

The anniversary is one of three events that we should celebrate—the others are Catholic emancipation, which took place just over 180 years ago in 1829, and the tercentenary in 2011 of the birth of David Hume, who is the greatest philosopher to write in English. He was not exactly an ornament to the kirk, but he did not take faith lightly.

Today, only a tenth of Scots are active churchgoers, which is probably average for western Europe and is nearly double the rate in England, yet dogmatism is increasing in our materialistic world. There are even dogmatic atheists and celebrity atheists these days. Church establishments of all sorts are plagued with behavioural and doctrinal conflicts and by revelations of bullying, crime or closeness to terrorism.

However, a kirk that is rooted in consent, which one celebrates in our reformation—which was carried out in the Scots Parliament and not by the fiat of a ruler—can greet the visit of Pope Benedict XVI between 16 and 19 September with dignity and friendship. The commemoration initiative must not pass to sectarians or the profound theologians of the terraces. We could use the occasion to assess the relationship between faith, ideas and government and the ways in which the diplomacy of a semi-independent nation might advance that.

Scotland's reformation—of which see my friend Harry Reid's excellent account—was bloodless in comparison with that in England and most of Europe. It placed self-government and theology, rather than greed or political power, at the centre of the church. That was the aim of the earlier conciliar movement in Rome. It emphasised covenants—federal Calvinism—and co-existence by agreement. As Nigel Don said, it started the move to create an authorised version of the Bible in English. In 1601, the authorised version was settled on in my constituency, in Burntisland, and its influence affected all religious traditions.

The reformation had an enriching if ironic European input. For two centuries, my Scottish university—Edinburgh—in the Calvinist tradition has exchanged students with the evangelical Lutheran Stift in Tübingen. After the reformation, colleges of Scots Catholics were established in Douai, Salamanca, Regensburg and Rome.

Scotland's Episcopalian tradition, which is separate from Anglicanism and has a democratic culture that is derived in part from the Calvinists' supervisors—their name for bishops—was crucial in creating the American Episcopal Church in 1786, as the Anglican clergy were not allowed to lay hands, in the theological sense, on their American brethren.

We should also think of what Scots Calvinists have done for other world religions. The first great translation of the Chinese classics, including the teachings of Confucius, was produced by a Huntly man, James Legge, in the late 19th century. Another north-eastern clergyman, Robertson Smith, wrote the classic "Lectures on the Religion of the Semites", on Mohammedanism.

Our commemoration ought to be not just a religious commemoration but a commemoration of what religion has done for reason in Scotland and of its power to bind people together. I would like to think that some time in late June we could have a session, under the patronage of the Presiding Officer, at which MSPs could be joined by religious and civic leaders and for which a programme, narrative and declaratory, could be devised. Interestingly, when I mentioned the idea to Cardinal O'Brien, I received an enthusiastic letter in support of it. With that sort of open agenda, we could do something to enhance the value of the intellectual nature of theological argument. I remember hearing from a man in telecoms that the industry needed not more engineers to tell it how great systems work but people such as theologians, because they provide an amalgam of logical strength and awareness of the role of the human animal in such systems.

As we approach the 450th anniversary of the reformation and a papal visit, let us think again of the values that underlay federal Calvinism: the values of respect, concord and covenant.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party 5:41 pm, 15th April 2010

I thank Nigel Don for proposing this interesting debate, which has allowed us to reflect on the impact that the Scottish reformation has had, at home and abroad, from the perspective of its 450th anniversary. I welcome to the chamber the moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Right Rev Bill Hewitt; the moderator designate, the Rev John Christie; and the principal clerk to the general assembly, the Very Rev Dr Finlay Macdonald, who is standing down this year after 14 years of dedicated service. We are grateful that they have come to witness this evening's debate.

The debate has been extremely interesting, with diverse contributions—intellectual, learned, informative, diverting, colourful and sometimes, to me at least, unexpected, not to say far from predictable. It has illustrated the benefits that some members have touched upon and which we celebrate perhaps as a result of the reformation 450 years ago. As Dave Thompson argued, there is no doubt that the reformation has helped to shape the character of Scotland and its people to this day. It is not overstating the case to say that the roots of educational change came from an appreciation of democracy and literacy that developed from the Scottish reformation—a theme on which both Dr Alasdair Allan and Murdo Fraser touched.

Education is at the heart of so much that we all wish to achieve as a Parliament and as a nation. Through education, we develop our understanding of the world and our understanding of and passion for culture and the arts, are inspired to undertake scientific research and engineering, and are enabled to imbue our young people with the social responsibility that prepares them for life. Most important—and at its most fundamental—education teaches our young people how to read. Reading opens the mind to new ideas, philosophies and beliefs, and allows us to broaden our minds, to understand the minds of others and to see ourselves as others see us. In that way, we develop our appreciation of difference and individuality, and learn better to value the world that we share. At our core as humans, we are, or should be, thinking beings, and those who led the Scottish reformation seemed to understand that implicitly.

Nigel Don chose to focus his remarks on a colourful history of the Bible. The reformers wanted everyone to be able to read so that they could read the Bible, and they recognised that basic education was required to allow people to do that, which was why they set themselves the goal of establishing a school in every parish in the land. A century and a half after the reformation, most parishes, particularly in lowland Scotland, had a school, and the establishment of parish schools led to general respect for learning in Scottish society and an appreciation of the value of learning that, although obvious now, would not have been obvious then.

Although, in the beginning, attending school was neither compulsory nor free of charge, that basic education system eventually led to Scottish society being more comfortable with matters of the mind. Although the kirk initially desired that everyone should have an education so that they could read the Bible, once someone could read they could read anything. It is worth noting that, from the early 1700s, Scotland had the highest levels of literacy in the world.

However, I argue that the reformation's biggest impact on Scottish society was in laying the foundation stones on which the enlightenment was built almost a century later. Through that, Scotland made a huge contribution to developing the ideas that formed the modern world. Christopher Harvie referred to next year's celebration of the tercentenary of David Hume.

With the passing of the Education Act 1696 by the old Scots Parliament—1696 is a busy year for legal scholars, because a huge variety of bills was passed then—Scotland became the first nation on earth to provide universal public education. While Scots invented things as varied and valuable as penicillin, the fax machine and even the bicycle, universal education is the greatest of them all.

We in modern Scotland can truly be said to be children of the enlightenment. We welcome all cultures and faiths, and celebrate the contribution that all faiths and philosophical beliefs make to our society. Scotland is indeed a diverse and inclusive society that is built on equality and justice. We aspire to those values. I welcome Michael McMahon's remarks about the willing participation of the Catholic church in this year's events to mark the reformation.

I would like to relieve members of their suspense on the issue that Michael McMahon and Murdo Fraser—Scotland's answer to the Chuckle brothers in this debate—invited me to talk about, which is the Scottish Government's position on marking the reformation. We are pleased to be able to do so by working with the kirk to hold an event to mark and celebrate the reformation and to remember, as Alasdair Allan mentioned, the benefits that it brought. We are proud and pleased to do so, and details will be announced in due course. I am pleased to say that other Christian denominations will be involved, and, we hope, other faiths, which will reflect the diverse and inclusive Scotland to which we all aspire.

I conclude by taking this opportunity to wish the kirk well as it looks forward to its 450th meeting this year. I am looking forward to attending this year's general assembly. I am aware that throughout the year the Church of Scotland will hold some impressive events to mark the anniversary of the reformation. For example, there will be a special commemorative session of the general assembly, which will make good use of the reformation psalms and include readings from the records of the Parliament of Scotland of August 1560 and the records of the first general assembly, which was held in 1560. That event will allow an opportunity to debate the influence of the reformation on Scottish life and culture. There will also be lectures by Dr Douglas Galbraith on the reformation and worship and by Professor Ian Hazlett on the Scots confession. Both those events will provide opportunities to consider the lasting impact of the Scottish reformation.

I pass on my best wishes to all the other churches and denominations—whether in the Western Isles or elsewhere in Scotland—that look to the 1560 reformation as their origin and will, no doubt, hold their own events to commemorate this important anniversary.

If anyone is in any doubt about the impact that the reformation and enlightenment have had on the world, we need look no further for external corroboration than the words of Sir Winston Churchill, who said:

"Of all the small nations of this earth, perhaps only the ancient Greeks surpass the Scots in their contribution to mankind."

Meeting closed at 17:51.