The unromantic truth: oil money is vital to the Scottish nationalist cause | Ian Jack

Sorry, Nicola Sturgeon, but if the sums don’t add up, the push for independence is reduced to a romantic struggle

Was Scotland a country or was it a nation? Growing up there I heard it referred to more often as the first – a great wee country, a bonnie country, sometimes a ghastly country. “Nation” was what nationalists called it: Scottish nationalists, that is – the British nationalism of the rest of us was a norm that went largely unarticulated and unremarked.

In some ways, the difference was only semantic. If being a nation meant having separate educational and legal systems, distinctive banknotes, a definite boundary, and a church and sports teams it could call its own, then Scotland had all of those. Still, the word “national” when it prefixed emergencies, economic indicators and political scandals implied that the nation in question was the United Kingdom – the notion that the UK comprised four virile national identities held together by a ghostly underlay of Britishness was some way in the future. Sometimes, in house-price bulletins and poverty indices, Scotland wasn’t even a country but a “region”, like the East Midlands. Beyond cultural and social markers, such as poetry and football, Scotland’s status was ambiguous, and for quite a long time only a minority of its citizens cared.

The trouble is that to redistribute wealth, a state needs to have it in the first place

Related: Scotland’s North Sea oil revenues collapse, US crude stocks rise – as it happened

Related: Independent or not, Scotland’s financial future looks shaky | Alex Bell

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