In 1692, some members of a Scots clan called the Campbells, led by Sir Robert Campbell, stayed in Glencoe, a bleak part of West Scotland, with the Macdonalds, who were part of a different clan. They stayed with the generous MacDonalds for nearly two weeks, drinking, eating, playing traditional music, dancing and storytelling.

One morning at five o’clock, without any warning, the Campbells attacked, slaughtering as many of the unarmed MacDonalds as they could. Around forty members of the small clan were killed in cold blood, including two children and two women.

By this time, the English king had extended his sovereignty over the United Kingdom, yet Scottish folklore – both then and now – ascribes this dastardly act to the English king. The bloody event took place 15 years before the Scottish and English parliaments were united in 1707, so it must still have been playing on the minds of both Scots and Englishmen when the Union took place.

Even today, as Scotland considers whether to break that Union with the rest of Britain, in a September referendum, the memories of that morning and similar injustices remain.

Oh cruel is the snow that sweeps Glencoe, and covers the graves o' Donald,
Oh cruel was the foe that raped Glencoe, and murdered the house of MacDonald.

The Campbells had orders, King William had signed;
Put all to the sword, these words underlined,
Leave no one alive called MacDonald.

Like murdering foxes, among helpless sheep
They slaughtered the house of MacDonald.

Some died in their beds, at the hands of the foe,
Some fled in the night, and were lost in the snow.

More than 300 years later, this folk song is still sung in Scotland. The wounds have still not healed among some Scots. They still talk of the treachery of English foes and sing this and other songs of Scottish grievance.

Many of Scotland’s folk musicians have spent their lives singing these songs, even conditioning themselves to believe all of this is relevant today. But a consistent majority has put the past behind them, recognising they have the best of both worlds: living in a nation called Scotland (with its own Parliament), and in a state called the United Kingdom.

A recent opinion poll showed that 70 percent of the people living nearest to the English, the so-called Borders people, are for the continuance of the Union. And they are the ones who best know the English.

Across the World

Among those engaged in this debate are people from nations across the world who have come to live in Scotland. Many of these are South Asians, still with strong links to their heritage in Kathmandu or Kerala, Punjab or Pune. These communities often hold strong views, on both sides of the debate. Indeed, the Scottish Labour Party, the long-dominant force in Scottish politics, currently has a Scottish-Pakistani deputy leader of the Party arguing the Union cause.

At this stage, the most likely outcome is a ‘No’ vote; Scotland has addressed this issue for 80 years and the percentage in favour of complete Independence has always been a minority. It is likely to stay that way, unless something unforeseen takes place.

What if the Scots decide to go it alone? In recent weeks President Obama, Premier Li Keqiang and Pope Francis have all been asked their views. The Pope indicated Scots should think very carefully before taking this step, with a hint in the direction of ‘No’. Obama and Li were more forthcoming with their advice, both saying ‘No’.

India’s prime minister has not taken a position, for fairly obvious reasons. But that leaders across the world are examining the implications indicates that the decision we make in Scotland will affect others around the world. The upshot of their advice is that it would be deleterious to alter a long-lasting collaboration. Play your part in the world as part of a larger more powerful union.

How will this affect you?

Not very much, to be honest. It might affect global power politics to a certain extent, but the world has ways of negotiating muddy waters. It’s hard to say what the impact will be on an average Indian citizen wanting to visit the UK. Currently, there is a common travel area of Britain and Ireland, and that should be sustained, provided a newly-independent Scotland does not open its doors to mass immigration (this is not likely to happen). Entering with the United Kingdom visa is likely to be acceptable, with no separate Scottish visa needed, and vice versa.

One could need two currencies, though. If Scotland is accepted as a member of the European Union it may well have to accept the Euro as its currency. If that is not the case, then indications are that the Scots will have to leave the current sterling currency zone with the UK – it may still have the pound, but potentially at a different value.

Really, there are only minor inconveniences and perhaps minor new opportunities that might appear for most Indians. The Indian businessman’s focus will most likely remain on the United Kingdom. Also, as much of Scotch whiskey is now English-owned, India will be able to import and consume as much as it ever has.


Is there anything else for the Indian to consider? Consider the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, decided by politicians, not a question opened to the public. Or consider any of the areas where self-determination disputes are under way.

Scotland is making a mistake by putting this vote to the people. It is needlessly polarising. In 300 years there may be folk singers singing:

Oh cruel was the blow that swept Glencoe, and covered the rest of Scotland
Oh cruel was the vote; division did sow, and left at the mercies of England.

Given the progress in replacement surgery, some of the same folk singers might still be singing then. Certainly their views would be unlikely to change, even if their hips and hair will.

But I’m not arguing that the Scottish people should not get a vote in their own political fate; Scotland is getting a vote, which should be construed as a step in the right direction. But it would be better if it had looked to the examples of Ireland and South Africa, each of which have held successful votes for political solutions, votes that commanded wide popular consent.

But this requires taking a measured approach. Essentially, you would like to get a sense beforehand of what a significant and clear majority of people can agree upon as a settlement. You need to understand what it is that unites, and put aside that which divides. Once you have this, you can put a proposal to the people.

Such a solution was available in Scotland, and the government should have entered into a public consultation, before putting the best outcomes of that to a vote. Such a route would have prevented the kind of divisive rhetoric and ill-feeling we are seeing now.

It was the best chance for a groundbreaking popular agreement – much like the Constitutional Convention that led to the Scottish Parliament being re-established in 1998.