This week I am in Aberdeen on business. It's a fascinating place: the adverts at the airport (for pipeline inspection equipment and offshore safety training, rather than shampoo and jewelry) leave you in no doubt that this is Oil City. There is money here: plenty of new cars on the clean streets, attractive shopping malls (which reminded me of malls in Dubai, Malaysia and London) and granite bridges between granite buildings. When you see bridges from one building to another, that's a sure sign of money.
My hotel overlooks the docks. Numerous buildings are marked with the logo of the Shore Porters Society - the world's oldest transport company - advertising its presence here since 1498. The ferry to Orkney and Shetland with its Viking logo is just over the water, and there is a truck on the docks lining up cattle wagons ready to be loaded on board. Elsewhere , the supply vessels from the offshore platforms are here to load up - giant sea trucks that carry everything except people out to the rigs in the North Sea. A constantly changing steel landscape, chugging with diesel engines night and day, bright colours clashing with the grey of the Granite City. Thank Ibis for double glazing.
This is an interesting week to be in Scotland. In a few days' time, the nation will vote about separating from the Union of the United Kingdom. Anyone who is resident in Scotland can vote. 12% of the population of Scotland are not Scottish, which means half a million people from around the world can vote on the future of a country they know little about, yet 750,000 Scots living in England have no say, and nor do soldiers on tour of duty, nor millions of others worldwide with Scottish blood. I'm not allowed to vote. But my brother, who is of English descent (and was born in Switzerland), can vote because he lives in Edinburgh. I don't understand how that's appropriate for independence.
I also don't understand why so many people are pro-independence . I understand the laudable ideal of independence, but it must be tempered with practicality. Nobody knows what currency will be used, what language they will use ("English" being taught in Scottish schools?), whether Scotland will be permitted entry into the EU (and how long it will take), whether the border with England will be open or policed. That uncertainty is making the international finance markets uneasy - already, billions of pounds sterling has been moved out of Scotland, and the London stock market has slumped because of the uncertainty. Even six months ago, the papers were talking about the financial prospects of independence.
I guess it's easy for me - I'm not Scottish, so I don't understand what Scots feel about being part of the Union. Catalonia, the Flemish, Orcadians, and other people-groups around the world probably have a much better idea of what independence means. They must be watching Scotland like hawks for a precedent that will allow them to pursue their own independence. If they do, then the break-up of the EU may well follow - ironic really, because the Independence campaign seems to rely on Scotland rapidly being integrated into the EU to survive. I can't help thinking that the Scottish First Minister has shot himself, and the country he loves, in the foot.