Scotland's referendum: the view from around the world

As residents of Scotland vote today on the future of their country, we take a look at how countries around the world are talking about the referendum.

Mariam Ali Daniel Kennedy
18 September 2014

The latest polls indicate that today's referendum on Scottish indepedence could go either way. As the United Kingdom faces the biggest constitutional change in living memory, the rest of the world has been watching the process with great interest. Here's a look at some of the ways Scotland's choice is being discussed around the world.


Russia has a chequered history with its own separatists, and a recent law making the airing of separatist views punishable with up to four years in prison. Nevertheless, Russia's recognition of Crimea's own separatist referendum and sympathetic coverage of separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine have invigorated the country's latent passion for local self-determination. Russian nationalists, in a brilliant act of trolling, have taken up the cause of the 'Scottish People's Republic,' adding 'YES' twibbons to their twitter profiles, with prominent pro-Kremlin internet personality Konstantin Rykov changing his name to Konstantin McRykov.

Support has spread to the higher echelons of Russia's government. While back in January, Russian president Vladimir Putin was reminding Scottish voters of the benefits of being in a 'strong single state,' now, Russians politicians are using Westminster's respect for the wishes of Scotland as an example Ukraine's government should be following. Valentina Maviyenko, head of Russia's federation council stated yesterday that 

'When Information appeared that in Scotland the majority of citizens were planning to vote to leave the United Kingdom, what did Prime Minister Cameron do, he didn't send in tanks and planes, but instead announced that British authorities were prepared to grant Scotland extra wide-reaching powers in order to protect the state's integrity.'

On Sunday, the heads of Britain's security services announced that the anti-terrorist operation against Celtic separatists would continue.

The comparison has been taken to its logical conclusion by popular nationalist online-portal, Sputnik and Pogrom, a fervent supporter of Crimea's and eastern Ukraine's separatist movements which ran a satirical dispatch which deliberately aped the lexicon of pro-Ukrainian newspaper articles.

'Downing Street, London. At a press conference on Sunday, the heads of Britain's security services announced that the anti-terrorist operation against Celtic separatists would continue. Last Thursday's OSCE plan for a deescalation of the conflict has failed. United Kingdom forces continue to shell Scottish cities and have almost encircled Glasgow. The conflict between Great Britain and the unrecognised people's republic in the north of country arose folowing September's referendum on Scottish independence.' 



Unsurprisingly, Ukrainians have been more keen to point out the differences between Scotland's referendum and the ones that have seen them lose de facto control over their territory. Ukrainian journalist Vitaly Portnikov pointed out, unlike Crimea's hastily organised (and technically illegal) referendum that

'Scotland's referendum will take place in exact accordance with the laws of the United Kingdom. The date of the referendum was agreed a year and a half before it will take place and the formulation of the questions hasn't been changed… and there's no military on the streets.'

Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia

The restive South Caucaus, a small area of the former soviet union home to three active territorial disputes and as many unrecognised states as recognised ones, has also been watching the proceedings. Armenia, which supports the de facto state of Nagorno-Karabakh (claimed by Azerbaijan), sees the referendum as an example to be followed in that disputed region, over which the two post-Soviet nations fought a brutal war in the early 1990s. As Aram Abrahamyan writes

'London does not obstruct the referendum, it will accept the results as they are, it does not and will not fight for “Great Britain’s territorial integrity”'

'The Scots never physically attacked English people living in Scotland, they never committed war crimes.'

Unsurprisingly, Azerbaijanis tend to disagree. As Vugar Seidov, a political analyst argued, implicitly accusing the Armenians of war crimes.

'The Scots never physically attacked English people living in Scotland, they never committed war crimes, which approached very close to the notion of genocide, they never conducted ethnic cleansing, and they never expelled non-Scottish residents from Scotland.' 

Meanwhile, in Abkhazia, claimed by Georgia but recognised and supported by Russia, the authorities have been following the referendum with interest. As an official from Abkhazia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs notes 'Scots are a freedom-loving, mountain people, like us.'

Wikimedia commons/Andrei Nacu at en.wikipedia.

Wikimedia commons/Andrei Nacu at en.wikipedia.


The Bundesrepublik's own separatist movements have been eagerly awaiting the results of the referendum. The Bavarian Party, which argues for an independent Bavarian state, wrote on their website.

'It would be a real boost for us in Bavaria as our media would not be able to so easily ignore or ridicule the issue.'

The United States

Undeterred by the fact that separatism led to the bloodiest conflict in their nation's history, American separatists are also getting their hopes up that Scotland's referendum could make separatism a respectable issue again. Rob Williams, who wants his home state of Vermont to secede and become an independent republic (a status it held until 1791) was overjoyed

'We’re not talking about secession in Yemen or Sudan, or some place Americans consider less relatable. We’re talking about Scotland! Making secession sexy in the West is fantastic.'

Texans who say “It would be nice but it won’t happen,” will now have to rethink that statement. 

America's other active secessionist movements (which primarily centre on independence for Texas or the pacific northwest) are similarly excited. On their website, the Texas Nationalist Movement pointed out that 'seccession is contagious' and that,

'A YES vote will create a paradigm shift. Texans who say “It would be nice but it won’t happen,” will now have to rethink that statement. It can and should happen.'

Meanwhile, American mainstream media was primarily more bemused than excited. Amanda Holpuch and Tom McCarthy of the Guardian printed a grim picture of the calibre of coverage.

'An NBC Nightly News on-the-ground report from Edinburgh began by describing Scotland as the "land of bagpipes and Braveheart," and went on to show a failed attempt to raise the Scottish flag over 10 Downing Street.'

The Arab world

Braveheart also gets a dutiful mention in a few Arab editorials – with some even calling today’s poll 'the Braveheart referendum'. While heads of state in the Arab world have steered clear of commenting directly on the referendum, the news and social media have followed with great interest.

Given the general predictability of elections in most of the Arab world, there is a focus on the ‘mystery’ surrounding the outcome, but a quick survey reveals a preponderance of negative adjectives in the headlines. The referendum is seen as posing worries, fears, threats, and even, in the case of the London-based Al-Arab, a ‘nightmare’ for the UK.

Alkhaleej’s editorial, which follows a pattern of listing potential economic losses for the UK (and attendant multinationals) rather than gains for Scotland, uses another common descriptor: ‘contagion’. With the calls for freedom and democracy of the Arab Spring seen as having quickly unravelled into, ultimately, ISIS, the desire for independence is feared to be a fast-spreading infection. The implication is that swift containment is necessary.

The Al-quds editorial is entitled ‘Scotland’s referendum and the Arab Frankenstein,’ with Mary Shelley’s monster presumably referring to Islamic State, although this is not explicitly stated. Though the article makes a direct comparison to the Arab Spring, it finds the juxtaposition of Scotland’s democratic voting with ‘the brutal tyranny of the masses prevailing in the Arab world’ to be a ‘cruel joke’. In its emotional outpouring there is a fervent mixing of metaphors; the ‘referenda’ of the Arab world are earthquakes, rivers, branches, and in freefall.

‘There is a great referendum happening in the Arab region, but the regimes have gathered all their forces to say “no” in their own way. Even as they succumb to the effects of the absolute evil they have launched, they turn again to their greatest hero, America, for help in ridding them of the deformed offspring that has turned into a Frankenstein devouring everyone.’

Amr Abdel Samee’s editorial in Al Ahram briefly segues into Braveheart via Richard the Lionheart, followed by a lengthy account of his interview with Alex Salmond in 1997. Based on this meeting, the writer apparently predicted at the time that independence for Scotland is a done deal – if not then, then now and if not now, then later. The implication is that this is only fair.

'The queen of England will remain at the head of an independent Scotland, but the position of David Cameron is at stake. Independence will be wrought, if not this time then in the times to come, by a people long humiliated by the English.'

One related piece of news that has been making the rounds of Egyptian social media is Mohamed Al Fayed’s announcement that he would like to commission a ‘statue of liberty’ for Scotland. The news has been accompanied by quotes from a 2012 interview with Al Fayed, in which he said he would apply for Scottish citizenship in case of a yes vote.

‘The tycoon…insists the Scots are descended from an Egyptian princess and has commissioned his official sculptor to create an image of the legendary Princess Scota…Al Fayed also claimed his forebears brought the kilt to Scotland. He said: “At school in Egypt our teacher told us about Princess Scota and how she sailed to Europe with her soldiers and chose Scotland as the new frontier for her people to settle in; they named the land after her. Being Egyptian, Scota’s soldiers wore the kilt, a piece of traditional clothing.”’


Iranian news has been less ambiguous and clearly favours Scottish independence, more as a result of the negative impact it is expected to have on Britain than on benefits for Scotland. With a strong whiff of schadenfreude, Presstv describes it as a ‘death blow to UK prestige.’

One opinion piece on Iranian.com makes an impassioned case for why Iranians in Scotland should support independence. Most of the points covered are about revenge against the UK for meddling in Iranian affairs, and for the snobbery of Londoners in general and toward Iranians/Scots in particular. At the same time, the yes vote is also seen as an act of defiance against mullahs Rafsanjani and Rouhani, who ‘remain London stooges.’

‘Iranians (now living in Scotland) should never forget that the main reason they are in Scotland (and not Iran) is because the Government in London, schemed the downfall of the Shah’s regime…The Government in London is singularly responsible for Iran’s territorial demise.’

The writer argues that Britain changed its name to the United Kingdom so it could sit next to the US in the United Nations, and manipulate US foreign policy to the detriment of all.

‘Hopefully, the independence of Scotland, will push [the UK] out of the UN Security Council, and away from Americans in international forums…so for once, Americans can think in peace and independently…and finally relieve the rest of the world (including Scotland) from having to subsidize the living standards of the snobs in London.’


Israel has been cautious about the possibility of an independent Scotland. The focus of Israeli interest in the Scottish referendum has been on a potentially fraught relationship with an independent Scotland, and its effect on Scottish Jews. 

Daphne Anson’s blog (best pro-Israel blog 2013) pulls no punches with an op-ed entitled ‘Beware The Anti-Israel MacRatbags,’ but the Jewish Telegraph sees a combination of left-wing politics and Celtic culture as likely cause for Scottish anti-Israeli sentiment.

‘Scotland, like its Celtic neighbour the Republic of Ireland, is a historically left-wing nation never likely to favour Israel in its battle over what the Celts see as an oppressed people, like themselves. Ireland is a prescient example of what a yes vote may bring and is home to one of the most vocal anti-Israel atmospheres in Europe…And boycotts are spreading.’

The Times of Israel’s Lazar Berman expresses concern over Salmond’s ‘absurd and vile’ comparison between Israel and Islamic state, while an op-ed in Ha’aretz finds the comparison appropriate - but between ISIS and Hamas. It concurs that Scotland's strong leftist streak, and consequent anti-Zionism, is at the root cause of Scottish anti-Semitism.


An opinion piece by Ünal Çeviköz, former Turkish ambassador to the UK makes a case for ‘why a seemingly trivial issue, such as the Scottish referendum for independence, matters for Turkey.’ While Kurdish separatism might seem an obvious point of comparison, the piece makes no mention of it, instead focusing on a comparison between a future Scotland’s and Turkey’s accession to the EU.

The Kalkan Turkish local news published a short parody piece, reassuring Scotland’s voters that even in the case of a ‘yes’ vote, they would still be able to blame their woes on the English.

‘Some experts feared that Scotland's booming economy and spreading bonhomie might change the national character forever. The feel good factor, surging national confidence and removal of all the chains that held them back could, ironically, have a detrimental effect on the nation, the experts warned.’


Kurdistan has good reason to be following the referendum closely, with hopes of moving from increasing autonomy to a full-fledged Kurdish state. Arian Mufid in the Kurdistan Tribune is very strongly pro-independence.

His article jumps from an introductory paragraph about Zimbabwe and British disdain for Mugabe, who ‘may have turned into a tyrant but at that time he delivered the aspirations of his people,’ to a brief history of the Kurdish situation. It concludes that British imperialism as the foremost hindrance to Scottish as well as Kurdish self-determination.

‘The British should stop scaremongering and accept whatever Scotland wants. The British must accept the wishes of the Scottish people, if they choose to exercise their right to self-determination and have their own homeland, and lose the colonial tongue.’

Tongue in cheek

To contextualise the complicated matter of the referendum in an accessible manner, Karl reMarks, a Lebanese political satirist, gives the referendum the 'Middle East expert treatment.'

'Scottish voters...must answer either "Yes" or a "No", in accordance with one of the central tenets of Western culture known as ‘binary oppositions...Scotland is a tribal society divided into clans, such as the Mackenzei clan, the Maclean clan, and the McDonalds who invented hamburgers. Most Scots consider their clans to be an important part of their lives, and clan chiefs wield significant influence amongst the population.'


Finally, the Onion satirised Cameron's emotional plea for the union by portraying him as the manipulative (and implicitly abusive) boyfriend who threatens suicide if Scotland leaves.

'A visibly disheveled Cameron spoke with a shaking voice and appeared at several points during the speech as if he was on the verge of breaking down in tears. “How can I go on living if you’re gone? If you vote yes to independence, that’s it—you can say goodbye to me right now, because I’ll be dead the next time you see me. Just look at what you’re doing to me!” At press time, Cameron was seen sobbing softly and climbing up the stairs to the top of Parliament’s Elizabeth Tower.' 

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