LONDON (Reuters) - The Queen sent a message to the Church of Scotland on Saturday, recognising the role it can play in helping to heal divisions opened up by the increasingly bitter debate over Scottish independence.
Elizabeth, 88, who celebrated 60 years on the throne in 2012, has not publicly entered the political debate on whether Scotland should end its 307-year-old union with England and leave the United Kingdom.
However, if a majority of Scots vote in favour of independence in September, Scottish leader Alex Salmond has said he wants to keep the Queen as head of state.
Polling shows most voters are still against independence but the gap between the two camps is gradually shrinking and the temperature of debate rising.
With both sides of the political divide voicing concern about online abuse and threats, the Church of Scotland has said a healing process needs to start now to stop the divisions damaging Scottish society after the referendum.
The Church said the Queen had sent a message to the new moderator (chairman) of its General Assembly, the Right Reverend John Chalmers, which was read out at his installation in Edinburgh on Saturday.
It read: "In this important year of referendum, we pray that whatever the outcome, people of faith and people of good will, will work together for the social good of Scotland.
"We recognise too the important role the Church can play in holding the people of Scotland together, in healing division and safeguarding the interests of the most vulnerable."
Although Elizabeth is supreme governor of the Church of England, she does not have that role in Scotland. She has the right to attend its governing General Assembly but not to take part in its deliberations.
"The Queen maintains warm relations with the Church of Scotland, where she worships when in Scotland, and from which the chaplains of the Royal Household in Scotland are appointed," the Church says on its website.
(Reporting by Stephen Addison; Editing by Sophie Hares)