A YEAR or so before our big 2014 vote a distinguished scholar stood up at an international conference and explained why Scottish independence was not very scary.

Jaroslav Tir was not talking about any of the real issues which back then were making some Scots frightened of voting Yes, things like the currency, EU membership, or the future of state pensions.

No, the professor at the University of Colorado in the United States, was thinking about a threat even Unionism’s so-called Project Fear never countenanced: war.

Born and brought up in Croatia, Mr Tir is an expert in post-secession violence. For him this is not a theoretical area of study.

Scotland, he told the November 2013 conference, at Glasgow University, was unlikely to see blood spilt. Why? Well, essentially he gave three reasons. First, Scotland and the UK are established democracies. Second, we had an agreed democratic process for secession. And, third, there are no frontier disputes.

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Scotland, Mr Tir said, “has few borders and those it has are well-defined”.

We do not talk about this stuff in Scotland because we think we do not need to. It has been left to international experts – who make none of the assumptions we do – to thrash the issues out.

There are plenty of international actors who are hostile to Scottish independence, fewer perhaps now than back in 2013-14. But they are not nervous about borders.

That is because we have all pretty much agreed where Scotland is, where it begins and where it ends. This is really important, but relatively unusual. Most countries in Europe have seen their borders ebb and flow, many in the last century. Scotland has not.

Other stateless nations with independence movements, perhaps unfairly, have sparked concerns about potential frontier conflicts.

There are slices of France and Spain, for example, that some Basque or Catalan nationalists might see as part of their respective homelands, but which are not currently within the confines of the Spanish autonomous communities of Euskadi or Catalunya.

Scotland has not had this problem. At least until now.

In recent weeks and months a small group of British nationalist extremists have started talking up the prospect of partitioning Scotland after independence. This is alarmingly irresponsible.

Why? Because partition raises, ever so slightly, the chances of the kind of violence Mr Tir was discounting for Scotland. It sets a scene for irredentist or revanchist fighting. Bluntly, it’s a war risk.


Some readers will think that last paragraph sounds ridiculous and they – you – will most likely be right.

Here in Scotland we are convinced our pro-independence and pro-UK movements are peaceful. Because that is overwhelming what they are. We laugh off any prospect of military or paramilitary conflict. As we should: it’s absurd. Yet it’s not impossible, especially if we start messing with borders.

There have always been a few fringe voices who have called for Orkney and Shetland – or the Blue Wall of Border Tory seats – to be annexed as No strongholds by the UK if Scots vote Yes.

Now these voices have a party, albeit a tiny one, on their side.

The main political vehicle for ultra-unionism, the list-only All4Unity slate, has proposed letting Scottish regions decide whether they wanted to stay in Britain after independence.

Reluctantly so, stressed the party’s frontman, George Galloway. “It’s not my view,” he told The Sun. “I wouldn’t wish it to happen”. But it might be “unstoppable,” he added.

HeraldScotland: George GallowayGeorge Galloway

The one-time socialist firebrand for years campaigned to end the painful, bloody partition of Ireland.

Now a presenter on RT, Vladimir Putin’s main international propaganda mouthpiece, Mr Galloway has publicly supported the widely-criticised referendum which rubber-stamped Russia’s 2014 military seizure of Crimea from Ukraine.

People are still dying because of Mr Putin’s attempt to partition Ukraine. There is ongoing fighting at the country’s eastern edge. It may be slow-burning, but Ukraine’s conflict with Kremlin proxies in the Donbass remains lethal. We have a post-succession border war in Europe. That should be focusing our minds, tempering our rhetoric.

All4Unity collapsed in elections last week, getting fewer than one in a hundred votes on the list. Alas, that does not seem to have put its leaders off talking about partition.

The party’s official leader, Jamie Blackett, in between sharing content from Mr Putin’s RT, earlier this week called for more warnings of carving the country up, not fewer.

“Scotland is toxic with 43-48% people not wanting to remain British. The mistake SNP makes is thinking that everything would be rosy post Scexit. It wouldn't, not with half the population against it,” he tweeted. “If they are serious about Indyref, we need more conversations about partition.”

Mr Blackett’s remarks were provoked by an article in The Telegraph by academic Vernon Bogdanor suggesting the only way Scotland could guarantee its unity, its territorial integrity, was to stay in the UK.

Stay put, goes the implied threat, or we’ll break you up.

This new breed of British nationalists increasingly rejects unionism’s traditional belief that Scotland of its own free will joins England, Wales and Northern Ireland to form a union state, a nation of nations, a country of countries.

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For such ultras, the UK is their primary nation. For them, Scottish independence feels like British “partition”. Is talk of carving up Scotland then just visceral trolling? A sort of, “You want to break up our country so we’ll break up yours’? Sure, maybe.

But the threat also serves two crude political purposes.

First, it raises the prospect of the turmoil and chaos which Mr Tir and others dismissed before the first indyref. It is scary.

Second, it equates the self-determination of Scotland with that of its regions. It seeks to strip the country of the very basis of both nationalism and Scottish union: the premise of Scottish nationhood. Scotland, goes the logic, is the same as Dumfriesshire.

Mr Blackett and his party have not publicly reflected on their conduct during the election, on their connections with Mr Putin’s disinformation machinery, on their British national chauvinism.

That does not mean the rest of us should not try to get our heads around the dysfunctional end of UK nationalism. It is tempting to write this movement off as a defeated fringe of no consequence. But whatever your views on independence, it is worth thinking about the consequences of the partition politics of All4Unity and its ilk. Because those consequences could be very grave indeed.

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