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Wha's like us? Damn few, because we're all different

WHAT are you doing this weekend?

Forgive the meddling. It is not as if I'm styling your hair, taking a blood sample, or we share the office printer, circumstances which tend to give rise to such questions. Those, and referendums, of course.

One option might be to stay at home pondering the now official, Scottish Government-sanctioned, question: "Should Scotland be an independent country? Yes or no." Or, alternatively, to compose a query for David Cameron's EU referendum in 2017, something along the lines of: "Should Albion leave the perfidious EU to it?" Four years from now, assuming the vote goes ahead, that may yet be too mild for some in the Prime Minister's party.

One referendum at a time, though, and it is the 2014 one that has first call on our attention. Being a conscientious sort of nation, taking pride in our history and having a reverence for education, a dutiful type might hit the books or search deep in their soul for answers on what it means to be Scottish, and what we would like it to mean for the generations that come after us.

Alternatively, you could join more than a few of your fellow Scots in heading to Twickenham for the Calcutta Cup, sinking a few designer beers, enjoying an Asian fusion meal and rounding off the weekend by catching the San Francisco 49ers take on the Baltimore Ravens in the Super Bowl at home.

One can tell a lot about a country and how it sees itself by studying it at play. Take that pilgrimage to a London suburb to watch Scotland take on England at rugby tomorrow. The hardy Scots traveller will have spent the equivalent cost of a European mini-break to get there by plane, train or automobile. While doing so, they might ponder why a journey between major UK cities should be so long, expensive, and punctured by delays. Anyone would think no-one in London, or Edinburgh, gave two bolts whether or not we had a joined-up transport system.

Consider, too, the make-up of the crowds heading to Twickenham. How different they are to the football fans once sent as sporting emissaries. The Wembley-bound were on the whole working-class, prone to questionable behaviour, including using goalposts as climbing frames, and likely to be stupendously drunk. Our new ambassadors, in contrast, have the money to travel and make a weekend of it, or they already live and work in London. They are educated, prosperous, and have choices. They, too, might become sozzled, but it is amazing the way a waxed jacket and the right accent can distract a police officer. Once in the stadium, our envoys will be able to sing along as Jai McDowall, a talent contest winner, belts out Flower of Scotland, the national dirge. How they will feel a slight stirring in the breast when it comes to the part about being a nation again. The heart says yes for a minute or two, but the hand with the calculator in it remains unmoved. For many, being an 80-minute patriot is all they need. Defeat to be swallowed or victory celebrated, it's off to a nice restaurant in Putney or Richmond.

Those who stay in Scotland to watch the rugby might do so in the company of a few libations from BrewDog. The beer company that began six years ago with two men, one dog and a van presents yet another face of modern Scotland. As The Herald reported this week, James Watt and Martin Dickie, founders of the company, plan to add to their UK operation (a new £7.8 million brewery in Aberdeenshire, 11 bars, and an online shop) with new outlets in Sweden, Brazil, Brussels and Tokyo. Young, go-ahead, ambitious, and socially conscious (okay, they punt booze but they are in favour of minimum pricing), Watt and Dickie are part of a generation that sees Caledonia as a cool brand. To this age group, being Scottish is a passport to other things, not an end in itself. The only cringe they know is an ironic one. Does this generation believe Scotland should be an independent country? Will they even be in the country when the vote takes place?

This same constituency will likely be among those staying up to watch the Super Bowl on Sunday. While American football remains about as much a minority interest here as "soccer" is over there, the audience is significant, growing, and has a bob or two. Sport, like popular culture, business, and pollution, is international. If the world can come to you via a satellite dish or an internet connection, what does it mean to be Scottish, British, Irish, French any more?

Yet another question to add to the list. Any more and we will start to feel like applicants for UK citizenship. The Home Office this week published a new study guide for its Life in the UK test, which anyone applying to become a British citizen, or settle here permanently, must pass. Questions range over such diverse topics as pet ownership, history, cuisine, Torvill and Dean, and Santa Claus.

What a bizarre picture of the UK the guidebook presents. In place of Orwell's vision of old maids bicycling to holy communion through the morning mist, this new Britain is a country filled with people stuffing themselves, and their pets, with Yorkshire puddings while watching re-runs of Monty Python. While accurate in some cases, it is hardly a forensic analysis of what it means to feel part of the UK.

How could it be? As the Olympics showed, nationalism is the ultimate a la carte menu. We pick what appeals to our tastes, and those tastes change over time and according to circumstance. How exasperating this must be to those who would have us make up our minds already, who know, with the certainty of dawn's arrival, what they believe.

Not to be outdone by the Home Office, a spoof Scottish citizenship test is doing the internet rounds. Among its questions: how many sausages are in a "jumbo sausage supper"; when did the first Edinburgh tram enter service (yes, a trick question that); and which country does Andy Murray represent at Wimbledon? Among the choices for the latter is "Britain, until he loses".

If only it was that simple to define what it is to be a modern Scot. BrewDogs and the rugby, or home and pondering. Still, we'll always have the Stade de France in Paris, scene of Scotland versus France on March 16. Another weekend to reflect. There will be many more.

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