The fight for freedom

Remember the film Braveheart with Mel Gibson as the fearsome Scottish warrior, William Wallace?  His face painted with a blue and white saltire, the cross of St Andrews, taking battle to the brutal, heartless English?

OK, so his Scottish accent was little better than Dick Van Dyck's cockney in Mary Poppins, but his cunning, courage and bravery seven hundred years ago prevails, and in the movie proclaims:   'Go back to England and tell them there that Scotland's daughters and her sons are yours no more. Tell them Scotland is free.'   

Now I'm not sure how a Hollywood director would cast the current battle for Scottish independence, or whether the studios would even make the movie. Because though passions are running high, it is bogged down in constitutional knotweed. Let me explain.  

First, a bit of recent history. Nearly 15 years ago, there was a key debate here, over whether setting up a separate Scottish Parliament with minor tax varying powers would be the slippery slope to independence and the break up of Britain, or whether these concessions would satisfy the Scots and actually bolster the ties between Scotland and England.

Well today, Scotland as a separate nation represented in the United Nations is beginning to look a distinct possibility.   The pro independence Scottish National Party has a clear majority in the Edinburgh parliament.  But because the polls suggest that a referendum on full Scottish independence would be rejected, it's decided to play the long game.  No vote until 2014.  

And so, this week, the British Prime Minister and staunch defender of the union, David Cameron, has taken the battle to the Scots, telling them to hold the referendum sooner rather than later. And here it gets caught in the constitutional knotweed  - whose prerogative is it to call a referendum? London or Edinburgh?  

Who phrases the question on the ballot paper? Who dictates the timing? What is the legality? But soon the really important debate must commence: is Scotland a viable nation by itself, could it have its own army, its own currency, its own foreign policy?  

For the moment, all we have is politicians putting on their face paints. We're still waiting for the substance.