They were on opposite sides of Scotland’s big vote on independence nearly nine years ago.

But Stephen Gethins, once an SNP MP, and former Better Together chief Blair McDougall, have also worked extensively in the former Soviet Union.

So what do they make of talk of “decolonising" Russia? As The Herald reported this weekend there is a growing debate about what could - or even - should happen to the centralising and authoritarian Putin regime if it loses its war in Ukraine.

Could the Russian Federation loosen its grip, tackle an imperialist mentality to its minority nations with more devolution and a culture of respect? Or might it even face demands for independence - or referendums like our own in 2014? And could there even be lessons for Russia in the way tricky debates on national identity and self-determination were carried in Scotland, the UK and European Union.

Read the full De-colonising Russia series by David Leask:

'Identities are treacherous': The question of de-colonising Russia

Inside Russia's 'prison of nations': A guide to the nationalities

Mr Gethins, professor in practice in international relations at St Andrews, has hands-on experience working in the region, not least in the Caucasus, one of the most ethnically and linguistic complex corners of Europe.

He stressed the dangers of drawing direct comparisons between the UK’s history of colonialism and what is happening in Russia today. “I think that would sound hollow to somebody in Bakhmut now or in Grozny 20 years ago,” he said. “The British Army is not flattening Dublin.”

Equally Mr Gethins stressed that he had been able to campaign for independence without being thrown out of a window whereas it would be “dangerous” for people in Russia to do the same.

But he says there is still hope to be found in peaceful relationship in the EU and the British Isles..

The Herald:

Like former Better Together chief Blair McDougall, former SNP MP Stephen Gethins has also worked extensively in the former Soviet Union

“If you look at the much more mature relationship the England and Ireland have nowadays, even though they've had a pretty troubled history, I think that gives hope for countries around the world. 

“I also think that devolution can work. Within these islands, you start to see you start to see patterns emerge, and that could be learned elsewhere. And I have met with groups from around the world who have been involved in conflict. And they're interested in the journey that people have been on in Ireland, that we've been on in Scotland, whereby people like Mr McDougall and I can ferociously disagree around the constitutional future of our country through a democratic process.

“Our debate can sometimes be better but we sometimes fail to appreciate what an enormous achievement [the democratic independence referendum] was.”

Mr Gethins stressed the flexible and various constitutional arrangements of the British Isles - with its combination of devolution and partial and complete sovereignty, of power-sharing in Northern Ireland. But he also pointed out how Nordic countries managed their close relations, and different affinities. Take the Aland Islands, part of Finland, but with a special relationship with Sweden.

Russia, he said, is unusually diverse. “You are dealing with such complex set of circumstances that there is no one-size-fits-all solution."

Mr McDougall, like Mr Gethins, warns against making quick and easy comparisons between Russia and the UK. But he too reckons there are long-term lessons from Britain on how to govern a diverse state. 

“I doubt there are many lessons for Russia from the Scottish context,” he said. “As someone who is currently working with democrats and human rights defenders in almost every country in Putin's backyard the context just feels so totally different as to make immediate comparison feel meaningless. 

“In the long term, however, larger political states can only survive if both governance structures and identity is flexible enough not to snap. From Scotland, and the wider UK, there's obvious lessons there in terms of being comfortable with pluralistic identities but also in terms of devolution of decision making.”

The Herald:

An anti-war protester is arrested in Moscow, early in the Ukraine invasion

He added: “For the foreseeable future though it feels like Russia is in such a regressive state that such debates feel far off. They need to move on from imperialist attitudes to former colonies before we can think about internal discussions about autonomy and identities within the Russian Federation.”

The road to respecting citizens within the Russian Federation, runs through respecting the rights of people in Belarus, Kazakhstan, and, of course, Ukraine.

“That's why decolonising Russia feels like strategic trolling at the moment rather than a serious expectation that this will become a live debate any time soon.”

Russian pundits, especially those on pro-Putin media, regularly respond to calls for the decolonisation of their state with demands to break up western European states, especially the UK. This has put Scotland, Northern Ireland and even Wales in the sights of propaganda and disinformation machinery of the Russian regime.

“There are  those who think Scotland does not have a role to play here, I disagree.”

Some western sources worry Ukrainian victory could destabilise Russia and open up latent nationalist or “separatist” sentiment. So do some Russians.  

Mr McDougall added: “The international approach to Russia is always defined by worries about 'humiliating' Russia. So even in a post-Putin post-defeat in Ukraine world, I suspect any moves to open up debates about internal autonomy or even independence for groups within the Russian Federation will struggle to secure international support.”

Some Scottish nationalists have started talking about Russia as a “prison of nations” - a well-worn phrase often used by Vladimir Lenin, and are openly sympathetic to nascent independence movements.  Some people in the Caucasus have felt a resonance with Scotland too, as Mr Gethins knows well. 

The Herald:

Blair McDougall

“There are  those who think Scotland does not have a role to play here,” Mr Gethins said. “I disagree.”

He added: “We have an international profile, we have an international brand. People are interested. As a nation, regardless  of how we feel on the Constitution, we don’t think enough about how can we best use that internationally.”

Mr Gethins cited the example in two decades ago when Scottish figures brought the speakers of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan together for the first time, in Moray.

He summed up: “Our international brand can be used to deliver jobs and investment, but also to be a good responsible global citizen.”