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British TV presenter Dan Snow presents a letter to Scottish voters from the Let's Stay Together campaign, asking them to vote against independence in the Scottish independence referendum, in London, Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014. The campaign is supported by celebrities from rock star Mick Jagger to actress Judi Dench, and will tour Britain asking people to add their names to the list of pro-union voices.Matthew Knight/AP

British TV presenter Dan Snow presents a letter to Scottish voters from the Let’s Stay Together campaign, asking them to vote against independence in the Scottish independence referendum.
Matthew Knight/AP


Uh-oh. Support for sovereignty is pushing 40 per cent again, families are bitterly divided and there’s talk of a massive exodus if the YES side wins.

Fortunately it’s all happening in Scotland — not here in Quebec — so I’m very calm.

In 5 weeks, Scots will hold their copycat version of our Quebec referendum — the McReferendum. Scotland’s NO side has a hefty 60-40 lead, but that was similar in Quebec in 1995 until Lucien Bouchard took over the YES side 3 weeks from voting day — and ignited nationalist passion and federalist trauma.

Reading about the Scottish referendum it’s hard not to experience a wave of unsettling nostalgia — like taking a walk down nightmare lane. The McReferendum’s first debate 10 days ago was eerily familiar, largely focused on questions like:

Can an independent Scotland keep the British pound, as nationalist leaders claim — or will it have to adopt the old Scottish groat, the euro — or a new currency called the “kilt”?

Can an independent Scotland retain the British Queen, British pensions and British health care system, while rejecting British debt, rain and fog?

Can an independent Scotland remain a member of NATO, the European Union and the International Scrabble Association Olympics?

Scotland’s independence leaders plan to scotch the BBC if they win, but they’ve pledged Scots will still be able to watch beloved BBC soap operas like “East Enders” and the popular “Strictly Come Dancing” celebrity contest (true).

However the shows will only be available to confirmed YES voters.

There are other similarities that seem to come with independence referendums. Like Quebec, Scottish nationalists never use the dastardly negative word “separation” — only “independence.”

As in Quebec, the YES side promises their new country would come financially scot-free, while the NO side insists an independent Scotland would take a financial pounding.

Whatever the truth, in recent weeks the McReferendum is taking a heavy emotional toll on all.

Half of Scottish families are bitterly divided over the issue just as Quebec francophones were. In one moving column in the Guardian, a Scot journalist described a recent dinner where his daughter announced she would leave Scotland forever — if it votes no to independence.

But earlier that day his oldest son told him he would move to England if Scotland voted yes — and his other children are also divided. Typical dinnertime conversation in Scotland now sounds like this:

“Och, Jock! — pass the haggis burgers, ya vile nationalist pig!”

“Nae bloo-ody way, Dad. Just choke on your British tea!”

Movie stars and other celebrities have made passionate appeals on both sides. The most famous YES supporter is James Bond — though Harry Potter, Hagrid and Dumbledore support Britain, along with author J.K. Rowling.

There’s been no comment from the Loch Ness monster.

Just like Quebec, The YES side’s major support comes from male voters, who want a Braveheart new country. The NO side is heavily favoured by women, nervous about the economy and the future — as Quebec women were.

One new Scottish wrinkle: 16 and 17 year-olds can legally vote, too — though surprisingly most say they’ll vote NO.

On the upside, Scotland is on the far end of Britain so separating wouldn’t leave a 1400-kilometre gap in the middle of the country. On the downside, departing Scots would take a third of Great Britain’s land mass with them and its best golf courses — leaving behind a “not-so-great” Britain.

The biggest difference with Quebec’s referendum is that Scots have a far clearer question than our 41-word lengthy last one — which was more like a riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a question mark.

There was much debate about Scotland’s question, too. Many NO voters preferred something sterner like: “Should Scotland separate from the U.K. and lose fish and chips, bangers and mash and roast beef with Yorkshire pudding?”

Scottish nationalists preferred a more romantic question like: “Should the bonnie land of Scotland at last be free of the perfidious British, for in Robbie Burns words: ‘A man’s a man for that?’ Aye or nae?”

In the end, the Scots agreed to a straightforward: “Should Scotland become an independent country?” — so Britain agreed that a straightforward 50 per cent plus one majority wins.

What happens if the “Aye” side triumphs and the U.K. becomes the Disunited Kingdom? Who gets to keep scotch eggs, scotch tape, hopscotch and biscotti? Who gets stuck with the bagpipes?

Whatever happens, the genie is out of the bottle and it won’t vanish easily. If it’s a close NO vote there’ll be anger and likely demands for another referendum and another … as we well know.

It took Quebecers 35 years to become so sick of the debate we don’t even want to hear the dreaded R- word.

So bonne chance, Scotland — you’ll need it for your neverendum McReferendum.


Republished with the permission of Josh Freed from the Montreal Gazette.