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Hardeep Singh Kohli on the indyref: celebrities, immigration and a party looming

Hardeep Singh Kohli is hoping to help people see the lighter side of the indyref debate when he hosted a Yes comedy and ceilidh night in Edinburgh next month.

The event will take place in Edinburgh's Stockbridge House on Saturday, April 5 and includes performances from Sheena Wellington and the Plough Ceilidh Band.

We speak to Hardeep ahead of the event and set him over famous Tartan Test.

Why so keen to take leading role in Yes campaign?

I didn't set out to be a leading person, I'm a citizen who believes in freedom for Scotland, the country of my upbringing. You do what you can I think to secure the best you can for your country and your children. However, because I'm seen to have a platform and willing to speak for my country I'm seen to be taking a leading role.

You can't come from Glasgow and not be political. You can't cross the river Clyde every day to go to school and not have some sense of our socialism and our history. I'm engaged in this as a citizen, perhaps a citizen that a woman at the bus stop might recognise, but I would counsel anyone to look at the facts. Vote with your head but vote with your heart as well.

There have been people who have spoken out in the debate on both sides and have come under fire for it, do you feel people are afraid to speak out and give their opinion?

I know a few people who have public profiles who are wary of coming out and getting involved in the debate because it does seem in certain quarters to have diminished a little of what the Scots are famous for which is intellectual, rigorous but friendly debate. But I think that in a sense, and I'm bound to say this, the tone set from Westminster hasn't been helpful. I think that the too wee, too stupid narrative that Westminster is rolling out diminishes all debate actually.

What do you think about celebrities being involved in the indyref debate?

There was only a limited amount of debate I could do while I lived in London, as much as I have family in Scotland. Clearly I'm from Glasgow, it's not a surprise to anyone as I bang on about Glasgow all the time as it's an amazing city, but for me I felt either come home to continue the debate or stay in London and shut up. I predominantly came home to be part of the debate.

I am touched by David Bowie I mean that genuinely, I know people lap this up and it's a shame not to have known this before but he does spend a lot of time in Scotland. Alvin Stardust's comments about the single currency were interesting and Engelbert Humperdinck's talking about Scotland within the EU was something I'd like to have heard.

I'm a big fan of Eddie Izzard but one can't help but be a little bit cynical about his involvement particularly since he's running for Mayor of London. Where were these people during the Poll Tax march and riots? Where were they when we were marching against the war in Iraq? I don't remember David Bowie and Eddie Izzard having anything to say about that.

I think that people in the industry put on gigs and say don't go and think that's going to make a difference. That'll make as much difference as people like me. If you're stupid enough to listen to a comedian or a broadcaster when it comes to the future of your nation then you've got bigger problems in your life. I speak as a citizen, I speak as somebody that cares passionately about my country, the people in my country and the future of my country. My words carry no more or no less sway than a person in the street.

The best the No campaign have got is John Barrowman. If you'd given his video to me and my brother Sanjeev and asked us to write a parody to get more people to vote Yes I don't think we could have come up with anything as successful as that. For a man whose accent slips in and out of Canadian and into Glaswegian, it's fascinating.

It's a tricky one because I felt compelled to come home and I'm home and I'm staying home. I'll continue to work in London because the reality is that the BBC raises 10% from the licence fee in Scotland but spends less than 5% in Scotland so I've got no choice, I'm an economic refugee, which is ironic because my parents were economic refugees from half way around the world and I'm an economic refugee 435 miles away from home. For me, the issue is to try and find work in Scotland, we don't have as much going on as we should because everything's so centralised.

Have you been concerned about the level of debate so far on both sides?

For English people the terms British and English are synonymous, one means the same as the other, whereas in Scotland they don't. What's very interesting in terms of language, it seems that certain terms like Cybernat are being used to refer to people who are for independence. It's such a broad kirk the Yes campaign but we seem to all be nationalists or SNP card carrying members. That's not the truth, there's a massive Labour for Independence, Liberal Democrats for independence and even a Tory or two if you can find a Tory or two in Scotland.

To me the single most interesting phenomenon has been people like me, the children of immigrants and it does perplex me a little bit that those who have a shorter history in Scotland generally speaking are so much more optimistic about our country than those who can trace their ancestry back to the Clearances and beyond. You would have thought it might not be that way but children of immigrants share the optimism that a potential independent Scotland could have.

The SNP are saying that the country will be more inclusive and more open to immigration and increased foreign aid, do you think that's something Scots will be happy to hear?

I think effectively Scotland has been governed by a right wing Westminster Government for years. What's really interesting is that there's a consensuality growing within the Yes campaign which is that we're defined by the changes brought rather than the status quo. I think if you look at Holyrood it's not perfect by any means but there's a disparity in London in our representation. We're a different country with different people and a different population, we're geographically different but whether there is a Yes vote or not, those things need to be addressed.

I am very optimistic of an independent Scotland coming about. For everything I hear, everyone I speak to, the polls (I think we can disregard the polls as much as regard them. I'm sure you could point out a poll that would disagree with a poll I show you) anecdotally it feels like all the cab drivers, bus drivers, shop owners are there to be won. But I do worry that we may do lasting damage to the civic culture of Scotland if we don't elevate this debate to a better place. It's nonsense to suggest those that don't want independence are anti-Scottish and have no greater claim to our history, there's no monopoly on Scottish history and Scottishness. I'm more concerned about, and my primary impulse in this entire agenda, is to let the voice of the Scottish people be heard and whatever that outcome we respect.

What do you think about the currency and EU claims being made by BT?

There's a whole realpolitik thing that's going to be going on after the Yes vote that obviously Westminster isn't informing us of. Are you seriously telling me that if there's a Yes vote, Scotland wouldn't have sterling? Everyone knows Scotland will have sterling, they will work out the deal because George Osborne isn't going to want English businesses lumbered with hundreds of millions of transfer tax. Are you telling me the EU won't accept Scotland, a country that's been involved in the EU's inception and it's going to be turned away? I don't think so. Equally no-one's talking about the fact that a recent poll two and a half weeks ago showed that Lib Dems were at 8% , UKIP's at 12%, Tories at 32% and Labour at 35%. Now the one deal screaming out there, because the Lib Dems are never getting back in Government, is UKIP and the Tories do a straight deal. Do you really think Scotland's going to deal with being governed by a Tory UKIP coalition? Talk about no mandate.

What can we expect from Yes comedy night? Who involved?

It's a fun night, nice folk, some good food, a wee bit of a party, a bit of kiltage and lassies in big dresses, what more could you want?

The Tartan Test: 20 Choices that define your relationship with Scotland

Edinburgh or Glasgow? Glasgow. I love Edinburgh but Glasgow's Glasgow isn't it.

Highlands or Lowlands? I've got a lot of time for the Lowlands. You know I'm not going to get a drink in Tobermory now. Barred from every bar between Tobermory and Inverness.

Trainspotting or Whisky Galore? That's tricky. Trainspotting.

Rugby or football? Probably football

Golf or Curling? Curling. It's great to watch.

Kilt: traditional Scotsman or underwear? Traditional. You cannae wear a kilt the other way.

Sir Walter Scott or Ian Rankin? Ian's a pal so I'd have to say Ian.

Robert the Bruce or William Wallace? It would have been Robert the Bruce but about six years ago I moved to Barkenwell in London which is about 100 yards from the market where William Wallace was hung, drawn and quartered so I'd have to say William Wallace.

Robert Burns or Liz Lochhead? Robert Burns

Billy Connolly or Kevin Bridges? I think Kevin would say the same thing and go for Billy Connolly.

Sean Connery or Ewan McGregor? The big man, it's Sean every day.

Paolo Nutini or Calvin Harris? Paolo Nutini. His new album is amazing. He's got a voice and I always felt it was a bit like the wrong voice for the wrong party but he's found his groove, it's incredible. I used to walk on to Paolo for years. It was funny when it came on my iPod on shuffle on the bus I'd get up to try and walk on stage.

David Moyes or Sir Alex Ferguson? You're talking to an Arsenal season ticket holder. I've just written a big thing about Jimmy Reid so Alex Ferguson. He's a very decent man, he's not a middle class boy from Bearsden like Moyesie.

Irn Bru or whisky? Are you joking? Either.

Haggis: vegetarian or meat? Meat.

Salt and vinegar or salt and sauce? Salt and vinegar.

Tablet or shortbread? Shortbread.

Bread: plain or pan? Plain. My mum used to go down to visit my brother in London and would take a copy of the Evening Times, potato scones and plain bread and we're talking five years ago, not the 1980s.

Fried Mars Bars or marmalade? I do love a fried Mars Bar. They're very surprising, they're incredibly rich, you can't have too much.

The Yes comedy and ceilidh night will take place at Stockbridge House in Edinburgh on Saturday, April 5. For more information visit the Yes Edinburgh Facebook page.

Hardeep Singh Kohli is currently touring the UK with his new stand-up show. For more details visit his website.

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