THIS is a column at about a place you probably do not care about. Hey, you may never even have heard of Karakalpakstan. I don’t blame you if you have not: the Central Asian republic, after all, rarely makes the news.

Sure, once in a while there will be a story about the Aral Sea, the once great body of water that has been drying up, dramatically, over recent decades.

Karakalpakstan lies on the southern shores of this giant lake. Or did: environmental catastrophe means the republic’s coast is now hard to distinguish from its desert.

Officially this least well-known of the 'Stans is an autonomous republic of the better-kent Uzbekistan. Back in the early 1990s, along with a parade of autonomous regions and republics across the collapsing Soviet Union, Karakalpakstan declared itself to be “sovereign”.

That meant that its ultimate fate was in the hands of its people.

Karakalpaks, under their own constitution and that of Uzbekistan, had the right to a referendum on independence. In theory at least.

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Well, not any more. Last week a series of amendments were proposed for the founding laws of Uzbekistan. One of them is to strip Karakalpakstan of its sovereign status and prevent a plebiscite.

This may seem like overkill. It is not as if the current Uzbek regime is even remotely democratic or prepared to let people in the republic have a meaningful vote. Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, just the second man to lead Uzbekistan since the end of the USSR, looks like he is going for a belt and braces response to what he and his regime would refer to as “separatism”.

The constitutional amendments, according to local reports, are designed to strengthen the unity of the Uzbek and Karakalpak peoples and the idea of “one country – one fate”.

What do the locals want? No idea. We are not talking about a free and open society here. There have been pro-independence murmurings in the past.

Karakalpaks – their name means “black hats” in Turkic languages – were made part of Soviet Uzbekistan in the 1930s. They are a minority in their territory – where no single ethnic group forms a majority. Some exiles oppose a push for independence, saying it might spark a backlash of even more oppression.

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Meanwhile, the republic is routinely described as the most depressed part of Central Asia. It has more land than England but fewer people than Wales. The dust blowing off its growing deserts is toxic, say campaigners. So is what passes for its politics.

When a new constitution was agreed in 1993 a referendum was slated for 20 years later. It did not take place.

Within a year of that deadline passing there were online demands for a vote, mostly from an exile-led group called Alga – or Go – Karakalpakstan.

Were they representative? Again, pass.

But I want to draw your attention to the year: 2014.

That was when the UK and Scottish governments tried to settle our national question with a vote.

Which was a bigger deal around the world than we tend to think. Its ripples even lapped Karakalpakstan.

You have to set aside – if you can – Scottish partisan views to see why.

To some of those watching us from afar, our referendum was a magnificent moment of democracy. To others it was terrifying.

Whatever our views on our constitution, I think we have to acknowledge the global impact of a gold-standard democratic vote such as the one we had in 2014.

Britain has an international reputation as a robust and long-standing democracy which plays by rules. Yes, yes, I know the UK’s history of imperialism and its antiquated machinery of state makes this sound absurd to some ears, especially those on the sides of pro-independence heads.

But what “England” does still counts around the world.

Having a vote on independence mattered. So, I fear, will not having one.

Don’t worry, this is not one of those tedious comment pieces on the rights and wrongs of a second independence referendum.

The arguments about whether Nicola Sturgeon has a mandate for a plebiscite – or the power to hold one – are all well rehearsed and another column in The Herald will not add anything to them.

But we should at least be aware of the potential international impact of Westminster blocking an indyref2.

There will even be some politicians in mature democracies who will have some sympathy for the UK if it keeps saying no to the Scottish electorate. Some will understand the frustration of London at the prospect of what the Canadians called a neverendum after Quebec’s independence votes of 1980 and 1995. Will anyone question the UK’s democratic credentials if it puts its foot down? Maybe. But I’d point out Spain has hardly been ostracised for its violent crackdown on Catalonia’s attempted referendum in 2017. Diplomats can be like old school cops called to a row in a flat and seeing a wife with a black eye: “It’s just a domestic issue.”

But how will the world’s despots react? Well, I think Tories rejecting the SNP-Green mandate gives hardliners around the world some political, media and diplomatic cover. Expect more rhetoric of “territorial integrity” and “national unity”. Will a block on indyref2 feature in troll farm and state media talking points in the unfree world? Very possibly, if the need arises. And this risk grows the longer there is a stand-off – shall we call it the never-ever-endum? – between London and Edinburgh.

Take Karakalpakstan. We may not care or even know about it. But – whatever the domestic rights and wrongs – preventing indyref2 will at least ever so slightly embolden Uzbek strongmen. You doubt this? Them just imagine the raised eyebrows in Uzbekistan if Her Majesty’s Ambassador ever asks about Karakalpak self-determination.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.