Brits in pieces without Andy Murray

POLES APART? A Scottish flag and a Union flag of the United Kingdom fly in Edinburgh. The Scots vote on independence in September.
POLES APART? A Scottish flag and a Union flag of the United Kingdom fly in Edinburgh. The Scots vote on independence in September.

There's a debate going on in the United Kingdom that's been overshadowed in New Zealand by more pressing international news.

But while the world holds its breath while waiting to see if Russian President Vladimir Putin is intent on starting a new Crimean War in the wake of the fracturing of Ukraine, a more prosaic battle is going on in the United Kingdom.

Scotland is in the throes of an energetic debate about whether to vote for independence from the rest of Britain when a referendum is held on September 18.

A recent public opinion poll has confirmed that support for independence is swelling - 35 per cent now favouring cutting political ties with their neighbours - although more than half of those polled still favour the status quo.

I have some Scottish ancestry on my maternal side so I have more than a passing interest in the outcome of this debate.

Even before I was aware of my Scottish forebears, as a child I always held an affection for Scotland, a fondness that was severely tested, I might add, when I first visited the country on a week's camping holiday with the Scouts when I was about 12 and it rained every day.

My then-unfounded loyalty for the country was strained to the limit the day we climbed Ben Lomond in what the locals loyally described as "mist" but which was in fact the most drenching vapour I have ever encountered.

But my ardour for Scotland, while dampened, remained unquenched. On subsequent visits north of the border I discovered I had a taste for haggis and I had always enjoyed the skirl of bagpipes - two predilections that were at odds with those of my fellow-English friends.

By the way, does anything but bagpipes "skirl"? I've only ever heard of the word in connection with the Scottish instrument. According to my dictionary "skirl" means "to emit a shrill sound, especially of bagpipes", so in effect I suppose it would be possible to speak of the skirl of violins but I doubt the idea will catch on.

However, I digress. To return to the topic, in view of the possibility that the Scots might decide to sever their ties with the rest of the UK I got to musing what Scotland has given the rest of Britain over the centuries in which the two nations have been entwined.

Well for a start, the Brits' first Wimbledon champion in a zillion years. If the Scots do cut the apron strings the English will no longer be able to bask in the reflected glory of Andy Murray's tennis exploits and as the rest of the UK has no ready-made replacement that's going to be quite a loss.

Interestingly the English-based press describe Murray as British when he wins and Scottish when he loses.

And while on the sporting front, Brits will also have let go of the memory of one of football's best-ever World Cup goals, scored by Archie Gemmell against Holland in 1978.

The Scots went out in the first round as usual but memories of that super strike still linger.

Roads in Britain would be altogether different if it were not for the Scots.

John McAdam created a type of road construction that would later be refined and become known as tarmac. And it's a little-known fact that driving on the left originated not in England but in Scotland.

The Scots enacted a law making it compulsory to drive on the left 60 years before England and Wales. Unfortunately the rest of Europe and North America didn't see the sense of it.

Bicycles! They are coming very much back into vogue and the inventor was a Dumfriesshire blacksmith named Kirkpatrick Macmillan (and names don't come any more Scottish than that) who created a pedal-driven machine based on the hobby horse.

And journeys for cyclists were made much more comfortable thanks to John Boyd Dunlop who invented the pneumatic tyre, initially for his son's tricycle. Fortunately for all motorists Dunlop's invention was subsequently adapted for bicycles and then cars.

Dunlop didn't make a fortune out of his invention. His patent was declared invalid because another Scot, Robert William Thomson, had patented the idea in France two years earlier. So it's open to conjecture who should get the credit for the invention but one thing is certain, it was a Scot.

The list of Scottish inventions and contributions to humankind is formidable, from adhesive postage stamps to anaesthetics, penicillin to Peter Pan, marmalade to microwave ovens. The Scots seem to have had a hand in most of the things we take for granted. Perhaps we should forgive them for creating the deep- fried Mars bar whether or not they vote for independence.

But as a sub-editor my pride of place for Scottish-linked inventions must go to one of the best headlines ever written.

A few years ago Inverness Caledonian Thistle had created one of Scottish football's greatest upsets when they went to Glasgow and beat SPL giants Celtic in the Scottish Cup.

Inspired by Mary Poppins, an ingenious sub on The Sun was prompted to headline the match report: Super Calley go ballistic, Celtic are atrocious.

I really do hope the Scots don't vote for independence.

The Timaru Herald