THE debate on Scottish independence these days is concentrated mainly on potential economic viability. In former years, greater emphasis was placed on the vision of the restoration of Scotland’s status from being a country to that of a nation, taking its rightful place in world affairs. Inspiration for this course of action was often taken from the country’s colourful history, derived both from fact and legend; Roman invasion fought off by fierce native warriors, heroic victory at Bannockburn and so on.

A recently published book with the apocalyptic title, The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator examines the geopolitical roll the insect has had in shaping the world as we know it. The author, Timothy C Winegard, gives two examples from close to home of this effect on the history of Scotland.

Firstly, according to the historian, Scotland might never have existed were it not for the poisonous activities of the tiny but surprisingly mighty creature. The Roman attempt to extend their empire by incorporating Scotland came to grief as an estimated 40,000 soldiers, out of a total 80,000, succumbed to a strain of malaria local to Scotland, sending the legions southwards to think again. (Mosquitoes 1 Romans 0.)

Secondly, the mosquito had a part to play in the failure of the Darien Scheme, a historic disaster that haunts Scotland still with its power to induce self-doubt and inhibit national ambition. The project does seem to have had a logical commercial vision: “to create a trading hub that would bridge the isthmus and unite the world’s great oceans”. However, it lasted barely six months as yellow fever and malaria took their deadly toll on the would-be world traders; and the agent of the spread of these plagues was the mosquito.

With so much of the nation’s capital invested in the project, estimated to be between one quarter and one half of the money in circulation, the nation faced ruin. The consequence was the union with England and the loss of independence. (Mosquitoes 1 Scotland 0.)

Scotland, therefore, seems to have the unique distinction in world history of being the only country whose independent existence is attributable entirely to the accidental but entirely natural behaviour of an insect; or to put it another way, “it came with a midge, and it passed with a midge”.

Ian Hutcheson, Glasgow G11.