In the past months, foreign visits have taken up a lot of my spare time. A couple of weeks ago, my old friend Kakha from Tbilisi (the capital of Georgia) visited us for a few days, and now my mother has arrived from Denmark. Both have been political activists in the past, so it’s always refreshing to hear their views on the independence debate.
Georgia declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and the following year its autonomous region Abkhazia declared independence from Georgia. Later South Ossetia decided to do the same, which led to the Russo-Georgian war in 2008. In other words, Georgia has both positive and negative experiences with independence movements.
It was therefore necessary for me to persuade Kakha that Scotland is similar to Georgia, not to Abkhazia or South Ossetia. However, both Scotland and Georgia experienced many centuries as independent countries before they became part of a political union with a big neighbour, they maintained a distinct identity within that union, and their right to self-determination was never seriously in doubt, so it wasn’t hard to convince him.
Once that had been settled, Kakha spent the remainder of his visit asking how anybody in their right mind could vote No to independence. He simply couldn’t understand how people who consider themselves Scottish could even contemplate voting against independence. I tried to explain the Scottish cringe and all that, but he didn’t get it. The only explanation that he could see any merit in was when I suggested that some people overestimate Scotland’s influence within the UK. Most other potential reasons were dismissed with words too strong for this blog, especially when I dared to quote the “we’re too poor” line. “But you’ve got whisky and oil!!!” cried Kakha.
My mum is less agitated about the independence issue than Kakha, but she keeps repeating that she doesn’t get why people don’t understand that Westminster wouldn’t be bullying and scaremongering if they didn’t have a lot to lose from Scottish independence, and that Scottish independence must consequently be a good idea.
In their own ways, Kakha and my mum both demonstrate that The Herald’s foreign editor was spot-on when he summarised typical foreign views of the independence referendum:
[E]ven in countries all too familiar with the risks and costs that political separation brings, the anecdotal evidence suggests people still think it a cause we Scots should embrace. Viewed through the prism of such people and their experiences, the ludicrous scaremongering that has been a hallmark of the debate within the UK can be seen for the nonsense that it is. If such people are not afraid, why should we Scots be?