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Hot destinations for news junkie holidays: Kosovo, North Korea ... and Scotland

A TRAVEL firm which organises holidays to troubled destinations such as North Korea and Kosovo is reporting strong interest in its latest package holiday … to Scotland.

Georgia: Troops watch Russian tanks pull out
Georgia: Troops watch Russian tanks pull out

Political Tours, a company designed to cater for news and current affairs junkies, offers guided tours which examine the recent history of destinations such as the Balkan states and Georgia. It is now promoting eight-day holidays in Scotland, tracing the independence debate from its historical origins to the 2014 referendum.

Beginning in Glasgow, tourists will be taken to Stirling, Bannockburn, Aberdeen and Edinburgh in what is intended to be a real-life news documentary on the journey to the September vote.

Topics to be examined include sectarianism, devolution, Anglo-Scots relations, the SNP's electoral breakthroughs of the 1970s and the Labour Party's decline in its traditional heartlands.

After the success of a similar tour last year, members of American clan associations have booked up to travel to Scotland in July. The expedition is to be repeated over the eight days to September 14, when the debate will be at fever pitch in the run-up to the September 18 vote.

Guests pay £2600 each for the package, not including their travel to Scotland. Trips for smaller groups are being organised throughout the summer.

The venture follows Spanish firm Partizan Travel offering independence-themed holidays to Scotland aimed at Catalans and Basques who would like to see their regions break away from Spain. However, Nicholas Wood, a former journalist who set up Political Tours in 2009, said most of the interest in his Scottish trips had come from the descendants of Scots expatriates.

"We've had a lot of interest from people with Scottish heritage in places like Australia, New Zealand and the States who want to know what's going on," he said. "Many of them are patriotic, proud of their Scottish roots and see taking this step as a good thing.

"We'll look at social change, democratic change, the economy and the politics of devolution. We take different people's lives and see how they fit in with the debate. We spend time in Glasgow with people who were Labour supporters but are now SNP, as well as speaking to expert commentators."

WOOD, who is a former Balkans correspondent for the New York Times, said his firm had been set up to cater for holidaymakers who "don't want to sit on a beach in the sun with a pina colada".

After working for the BBC, The Guardian, The Observer and the Washington Post, Wood covered the 1999 refugee crisis in Kosovo, the fall of Slobodan Milosevic from power in Serbia, the 2001 inter-ethnic conflict in Macedonia, the 2004 Kosovo riots and the build-up to Kosovo's independence.

Other package holiday destinations offered by the company include Greece, to examine the Eurozone crisis; a Russian trip that looks at the appeal of Putin; Libya, following the Arab Spring; the road to peace in Northern Ireland; and the emergence of China as a modern superpower.

Guests are given expert analysis of the political situation in each country, provided in Scotland by the commentator, columnist for The Herald and Alex Salmond biographer David Torrance, while an emphasis is also placed on meeting members of the community.

"Some people want to experience reality and not something out of a glossy magazine," Wood said. "We want to be a bridge to understanding news and current affairs everywhere, but also look at things in our own backyard. What's happening in Scotland is probably a seminal moment in British history. We want people to understand how it's come about and the views of Scottish people."

Wood returned only last week from Ukraine and the firm's trips to North Korea are among their most popular. Under supervision by the state, visits are organised to farms, factories, schools and the country's largely unseen north-east, as well as Pyongyang. Customers are given a three-day briefing in Beijing to prepare them for entering the totalitarian state.

"You are closely controlled and you can't wander off, but we can go to more remote areas so we get a more realistic view of life," Wood added. "The control becomes so evident that it tells you something about the society in itself."

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