The Dabbler’s Guide to Scottish Independence

yes no

So, The Day of Reckoning has finally arrived. As Scots – or rather, current residents of Scotland – head to the polling booth with the fate of the Union on a knife-edge, our own Daniel Kalder explains, particularly for the benefit of non-Britons, what the hell is going on with the Scottish independence referendum…

As a Scot living abroad, I am often asked questions about my homeland and its relationship with England. Indeed, for the past couple of weeks I have been fielding questions from friends, neighbours and colleagues here in Texas, all of whom are completely baffled by reports of the possibly imminent dissolution of the United Kingdom. So for those perplexed by all this independence malarkey, I decided to answer all the most important questions on the topic in one E-Z cut out n’keep guide. Let’s go!

1) Is Scotland a country, or what?
I’ve been asked this many times in both Russia and the United States, even though both countries have a federal system and the idea of a large entity made up of smaller entities should be easy to grasp. Maybe that’s the problem: Scotland is not a state, or a province- it’s a country, only it’s a country that joined with three other countries to make a kind of mega-country with (until recently) one parliament. Kind of like The Beatles, where England is John, Scotland is Paul and… I’ll let the Welsh and Northern Irish decide who gets to be Ringo.

2) So why did Scotland unite with England?
When Queen Elizabeth I died, her nearest Protestant relative was King James VI of Scotland, so he was invited south to make sure Catholics didn’t take over. Scotland retained its own parliament until a century or so later when the country went bankrupt following a disastrous attempt to colonize a wet jungle full of mosquitoes. The English bailed us out and many Scots have never forgiven them.

3) So have the English really oppressed the Scots, then?
Actually they invited us to join them in subjugating other less technologically advanced peoples around the world. We Scots were over-represented in the colonies, as well as in the parliament in London. Glasgow was the empire’s second city. Since 1707 the UK has had eleven prime ministers who were either Scots-born or of Scottish extraction. And of course, much of the hierarchy of the last Labour government was Scottish.

4) Hm. So if the union worked out OK, why the demands for independence now?
There was much skullduggery involved in 1707 to make sure the Act of Union passed, and some folk are still annoyed about it. Indeed, working on the principle that two wrongs actually do make a right, the SNP has indulged in some skullduggery of its own by disenfranchising all Scots living outside the country, doubtless on the suspicion that those exiles might vote against their cause. On the other hand, the SNP has granted schoolchildren the right to vote, just this once, on the hope that they will vote in favour.

Many of the arguments for independence are rather abstract, and involve waffle about our “dignity” and “self-respect” or metaphors about not being a “surly lodger” anymore. Some individuals are inspired by romantic/nostalgic blather about Highlanders, William Wallace, hairy men painted blue etc. Some too may have been enticed by Nationalist leader Alex Salmond’s promise that after independence nobody in Scotland will ever die, and all shall have chocolate unicorns.

Then there is the economic “argument” that since what remains of the UK’s oil and gas is mostly in Scottish waters, we would end up being one of the richest countries in the world, like Saudi sheikhs, or Norwegians afloat on a sea of free stuff.

The reasons are numerous. My own suspicion however is that for hardcore Nats Freud’s “narcissism of small differences” is in play: “…the phenomenon that it is precisely communities with adjoining territories, and related to each other in other ways as well, who are engaged in constant feuds and ridiculing each other.”

The English and Scots are very alike, and nationalists can’t stand the fact.

5) What would change?
Many financial and governmental institutions have uttered apocalyptic prophecies about looming economic catastrophe. Some of these prophecies may even be true, but it’s hard to believe independence would be quite that awful. Slovakia still exists, after all. At the end of the day: nobody knows. We’d still live on a wet rock and chase after post-communist levels of male life expectancy. Lots of little things supposedly distinguishing us from the English would be exaggerated. There would be more bilingual signs in Gaelic and English, even though nearly all the Gaelic speakers live off the mainland and speak English anyway. Kids in school would be forced to read rubbish novels purely because their authors were Scottish, and some loons might try to force the Scots language on them as a subject.

6) What’s that then?
A synthetic fusion of regional dialects that was pioneered by the unreadable Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid. Nobody speaks this “Scots,” nobody ever has, but I once heard a major academic compare its “revival” to that of Hebrew, which was resurrected by the Jews arriving in Palestine in the 19th century and made the official language of Israel in 1948. But the Israelis had no common tongue, so that was necessary. In Scotland we speak the language everyone else in the world wants to speak. There is no comparison.

Meanwhile, if you want a bit of fun, click here and spend some time on the Scots version of Wikipedia.

7) Sounds like you’re not too impressed then?
Meh. Salmond wants an independence that is already heavily circumscribed: as soon as Scotland became completely autonomous he would seek to surrender our newly won sovereignty to the EU, where we would be about as influential as Slovenia. Even then, the EU has been quite clear that they’re not all that keen on this independence lark, and they would make Scotland jump through all kinds of hoops to rejoin. Alex Salmond has blown this off with his trademark insouciance and guaranteed (once again) chocolate unicorns and eternal life for everyone. Then there is all the malarkey about what currency we would use, etc.

But these issues are not the main thing. Everybody knows the campaigns have been pretty awful on both sides. The “Better Together” in particular failed completely to articulate a positive sense of Britishness, preferring instead to ramble on in Gradgrindian fashion about profit and loss. No, I put it like this: if the UK is the geopolitical equivalent of The Beatles, then who the **** thinks any of those guys’ solo careers were remotely comparable to what they did when they were together?

The English have been excellent neighbours and partners. We make a good team. Scottish philosophy and science flourished after the Union, as we produced the likes of Adam SmithDavid HumeJames Watt et al. I identify with that heritage. The Union has also supplies us with the pleasures of a dual identity. I think it’s marvellous that I can be Scottish and British at the same time, and access both my native and a wider culture from a position of belonging. Why would anybody seek to be deprived of such riches? Indeed, stuck out here in Texas, I am in the process of acquiring a third identity. It’s fun.

We’ve achieved great things together. I am both British and Scottish, and I will still think of myself that way even if the Union disappears – chocolate unicorns or no.

Daniel Kalder is an author and journalist. Visit him online at
Share This Post

About Author Profile: Daniel Kalder

Daniel Kalder is an author and journalist. Visit him online at

13 thoughts on “The Dabbler’s Guide to Scottish Independence

    September 18, 2014 at 09:13

    A momentous day.

    I believe, no longer very confidently, that the Union, having been strong enough to survive the countless horrors of the last few centuries, will also survive Alex Salmond.

    I base this on the hope that the remaining undecideds will vote on practicalities, because by definition they’re not wedded to the emotional argument for independence; and on the hope that there are substantial ‘Shy No’ numbers – in the same way that there are always ‘Shy Tories’ who don’t admit to opinion pollsters that they’re going to vote for the unfashionable option.

    My worry is what happens in the event of a close ‘No’ to all the righteous rage of the Yes men. In retrospect Cameron surely blundered by offering a straight yes-no vote. He should have made it a three-way ‘Yes-No-Devo Max’ vote. We’re going to end up with Devo Max anyway and the third option would have made the campaign far less divisive.

    In the Guardian this morning there’s a piece praising the fact that the referendum has ‘got everyone engaged in politics’. i.e. people are arguing with each other in public, families are divided etc. The author calls this a ‘festival of democracy’, which is one way of putting it. Another way would be ‘Civil War’.

      September 18, 2014 at 11:06

      The shy no is a key issue.

      A festival of bitterness has indeed been launched.

    September 18, 2014 at 10:06

    Nein Ja
    Ja Nein
    Nein Ja

    Scotland has the nine year itch, you can taste the bitterness, Enver Salmond has done a first class job, of indoctrination, ‘the bigger the lie….’ . Woke up this morning to find, in 30 foot letters, the word ‘yes’ on the Eildons in front of us, unfortunately, for the storm troopers who must have spent half of the night constructing it (4 hrs working out how to spell ‘yes’ and 2 hrs placing the letters,) just after first light the mist came down, it is now but a mist shrouded monument to these sad, sad days.

    Brit’s comment regarding the silent, sensible majority is surely correct.

    September 18, 2014 at 11:25

    I spent a while on Monday in a Scottish fishing village. A few jobs smoking and processing the fruits of the sea. A few shops though many empty or boarded-up. A pub offering deals on funerals “respectfully catered for”. Rough-faced old men chain-smoking away. A man in a baseball cap standing on a rain-swept beach staring out to sea. The pity of this affair is that whether the vote is yes or no, none of that will change. Petty nationalists will have had their day but that village will still be stuck at the far end of Europe and the lawerly elite which runs things simply won’t care. It makes no odds whether they’re based in London or in Edinburgh. Still, there could be worse things than being buried in a pub.

    September 18, 2014 at 11:28

    Well, I saw a couple of young persons standing outside the Greek embassy in Washington this year, protesting the disfranchisement of Greek citizens abroad. One of the signs suggested that the price of an airline ticket was equivalent to poll tax, an argument that might have more historical resonance here than there.

    I have seen an official website, probably the Scottish legislature’s, in Scots, which they helpfully provide along with many other languages. It does look to me like the language of nobody in particularl outside the novels of James Kelman. But when I sent the link to my folks, my stepmother’s Glasgow Irish cousin replied in a very fair facsimile–and with a marked lack of enthusiasm for the local legislature.

    September 18, 2014 at 11:46

    It’ll be the Cornish next

    September 18, 2014 at 15:04

    It is rumoured that Dave ‘give ’em the money Mabel’ Cameron has offered Salmond the following……….

    North Surrey

    The Bonnie Prince Charlie pub in Swarkstone

    Andrew Pardew

    His stash of Embassy coupons (for use as the new currency)

    Half of the next five years GDP

    Four hundred large vacuum cleaners

    A bag of shiny axes

    The head of Alfredo Garcia

    Two hundred virgins, boy, is Dave barking up the wrong tree on that one

    Free Buckfast for ever

    A chance to appear in the next series of Bake Off

    A permanently raised saltire on Dover Hill

    and of course, the keys to the cupboard

    September 18, 2014 at 15:53

    Comment of the Decade, Malty!

    September 18, 2014 at 18:00

    From the outside, the practical reasons to vote “no” so far outweigh the symbolic reasons to vote “yes,” that it’s a little hard to take seriously.

    This of course means that yes will win.

    And I have to admit that a small part of me (let’s call him Mel (“Tragedy is when I have a hang nail, comedy is when you fall through an open manhole cover and die”) Brooks wouldn’t mind a yes win. If nothing else, it would be a nice object lesson on unintended consequences as the reality of independence forced the Scots rightward as it is discovered that all the chocolate unicorns are made in England.

  9. Douglas
    September 18, 2014 at 18:43

    I have no dog in this fight (my family left The Wet Rock long ago) but it’s fun to watch, and it’s got some of my compatriots dreaming secessionist dreams of their own. An independent Florida, maybe? Washington State might like to join Canada. Of course, this is the kind of thing that results in Civil Wars over here. Why isn’t anyone threatening violent retribution in England?

    September 18, 2014 at 21:00

    The vote will be NO, the promised devomax reforms will never appear, and we will be back here in 10 years.

  11. Gaw
    September 18, 2014 at 21:34

    Agree entirely with the quote from the Freud dude. Surveys show that there’s no significant difference between Scots and English attitudes.

    The only thing I’m enjoying is the spectacle of utopian lefties aspiring to an independent Scottish state infused with the milk and honey of social justice whilst their small-state libertarian allies lick their lips at what independence is bound to do to the welfare budget. This revolution, should it happen, will also eat its children.

    Séamus Sweeney
    September 19, 2014 at 08:16

    The fringe groups who in 1916 staged a rebellion in Dublin and, thanks to their leaders’ executions, suddenly and unexpectedly became the standard bearers of a popular movement to independence (the Sinn Fein political party had precisely nothing to do with the 1916 Rising but was main political beneficiary) were big on “blood sacrifice” – as evinced by the poetry : and as was quite common in the wider world at the time (witness the enthusiasm for the outbreak of WW1)

    Later on, de Valera pursued an economic policy of antagonising our largest trading partner and neighbour: with predictable economic results. I’m sure if “Ireland, poor but proud” was ever really a slogan of Irish Nationalism/Republicanism, but it sure seemed to be general vibe until the 1960s.

    All of this sacrifice and hairshirtery and piety and (genuine) austerity is obviously not to our taste in the modern Irish Republic – but observing from across the Irish Sea the recent referendum, it is striking and rather off-putting how little any sense whatsoever of sacrifice of any kind entered into the Nats’ thinking. Its all immortality, chocolate unicorns, the pound, the EU, the NHS, CBeebies, Strictly Come Dancing, X Factor … perhaps actually successful nationalist movements (rather than ones that ultimately want to build massively expensive glass parliaments and secure as much grant aid as possible) made sacrifice a key part of their ideology and Salmond’s postulated Scotopia failed this test.

Comments are closed.