Kirk To Debate Independence

The Church of Scotland's annual gathering opens today, with a debate on Scottish independence being held during the week-long event.

Around 800 commissioners are expected to attend the General Assembly in Edinburgh to make decisions on matters of the Kirk's policy and governance.

The opening follows the traditional ceremony which marks the handing over of the keys of Holyrood Palace from the city of Edinburgh to the Lord High Commissioner, a role being filled this year by the Earl of Wessex.

Edward and his wife the Countess of Wessex will take part in a ceremonial procession on the morning of the first day of the assembly.

The Church of Scotland said it is committed to a position of neutrality on September's referendum.

Those attending this week's gathering from across Scotland will have the chance to contribute their views on independence during a debate on Tuesday.

Church officials have said it will be a "respectful dialogue'', hearing from key speakers for and against independence before contributions are taken from the floor.

Author and lecturer Rev Dr Doug Gay, of Glasgow University, will speak for the Yes campaign with MP Douglas Alexander offering his views on the Better Together campaign.

Former moderator of the General Assembly Alison Elliot will pose some of the questions facing undecided voters, and John Sturrock QC will sum up the debate.

The General Assembly meets for a week every year in May. It has the authority to make laws determining how the Church operates and can also act as the Kirk's highest court.

This year's Assembly, at the Mound in Edinburgh, opens today and closes on May 23.