Scotland has been part of the UK for over 300 years. With a new local government run by the secessionist Scottish National Party, though, independence is once again on the cards. Yet are the Scots ready to break free?
There is a strong sense of nationhood in Scotland
At this year's Scottish National Party annual conference in the town of Perth, the mood among the delegates was optimistic. This party has been in power for just over a year at the devolved Scottish Parliament, on a ticket promising independence from the rest of the United Kingdom. So far, they've remained popular with the voters.
Deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon is adamant that independence is the only way forward for Scotland.
"We're undoubtedly on the way to independence, and I think now it's just a matter of time," Sturgeon says.
According to Sturgeon, a key element of success for any small country is having the power to take decisions that are in the interest of the country.
Nicola Sturgeon considers Scottish independence a certainty
"And we won't get those powers without independence," she says.
After all, Scotland funded a large part of the UK through North Sea oil revenues, she says.
"Arguably, it is North Sea oil revenues that are keeping the UK economy afloat right now," Sturgeon says. "Other small European countries that don't have the resources that Scotland has manage to be independent -- and to be successfully independent. That's the future we want for Scotland, as well."
Plenty of national pride
Scotland, of course, has been independent before. But 300 years ago, this country joined England and Wales to form the Kingdom of Great Britain. The Scots got their own devolved parliament nine years ago, but London still calls the shots on taxation and foreign policy.
Scotland even prints its own currency
Scotland has all the trappings of nationhood -- the anthem, the flag, the currency and the kilt as national costume -- and plenty of national pride.
That pride is evident in Bar 67, one of Glasgow's die-hard Celtic football club supporter bars. This is perhaps the closest thing you get to a nationalist hangout.
Many of the bar's punters see Scotland as the home of great inventors, a place where people could achieve greater things were they not ruled from London.
"I don't have to list everything that we've invented," says one guest named Michael. "Television, telephone -- I think [independence] would take the reins off the people in Scotland. Don't get me wrong, I'm not anti-English or anything. But I think we would prosper as an independent country."
Violent nationalist activities
The kind of national pride you find in these bars rarely boils over into the more sinister type sometimes seen in other breakaway regions of Europe. But it has happened here in Scotland, too.
The SNLA sent a deadly warning to Myra Philp
Edinburgh journalist Myra Philp is one of those who have experienced the more violent side of Scottish nationalism. A few years ago, she received a letter containing a miniature vodka bottle filled with caustic soda -- a potentially deadly device.
Philp was one of several high-profile targets of a campaign by a group calling itself the Scottish National Liberation Army, or SNLA. When she received the bottle, she was already familiar with the group's tactics.
"The SNLA had been using my email as a means of issuing warnings for about three years before that," Philp says. "I was getting warnings about Prince William, when he was at university in Scotland. They even threatened to kill the Queen at one point."
Earlier this year, two SNLA members were jailed for the caustic soda letters and other crimes. But the group has never gained the support or the notoriety of similar organizations elsewhere in Europe.
Optimism despite lack of independence supporters
The fight for an independent Scotland looks set to continue to be fought with democratic means. The challenge for the Scottish National Party remains a tough one, though.
You won't find the Union Jack flying in Scotland
Opinion polls consistently show that only around a third of Scots would vote in favor of independence in a referendum.
Even so, the new Scottish local government remains optimistic. Angus Robertson, the Scottish National Party's shadow minister for foreign affairs, says he's very confident people will make what he calls an optimistic choice for independence.
"Unfortunately, the case that is put against independence is not that Britain is great, but by politicians who say that Scotland and Scots are too poor, stupid and peripheral," Robertson says. "And frankly that is a completely unacceptable argument and will be rejected by people here."
The Scottish National Party has promised a referendum on independence by the end of 2010. To win, they need to convince a considerable number of voters that they'd be better off going it alone. And if they do that, it's the end of the United Kingdom as we know it.