Many Scots have been campaigning for years now for Scotland to become independent of the United Kingdom.
The leaders of the Scottish National Party have said the Scots could become part of what they call the "arc of prosperity," a string of small prosperous countries across Northern Europe from Ireland to Iceland and Scandinavia.
The global financial crisis seemed to destroy that model, but less than a year later, Scottish independence is still very much on the agenda.
'Arc Of Insolvency'
Scotland's political landscape has been shifting dramatically in recent years. First, there was the establishment of the Scottish parliament 10 years ago, to make decisions on local issues such as health care and education. Then, two years ago, the Scottish National Party became the largest party in that parliament — though it doesn't have a majority — and started pushing harder for independence.
But then came the financial meltdown last fall.
The British government in London launched massive bailouts of the Bank of Scotland and the Royal Bank of Scotland. Many said it was the end of realistic hopes for Scottish independence.
Members of the Scottish Labor Party, like Sarah Boyack, support continuing the union with the rest of Britain.
"It really concentrated people's minds," Boyack says. "The U.K. bailout package was 20 billion pounds. Our budget is 33 billion in a year, so if we hadn't been part of the U.K., we would have been in the arc of insolvency with Ireland and Iceland. So I think a lot of people were actually quietly relieved that we were still part of the U.K."
'Independence By Stealth'
But now, nine months after the financial meltdown, support for independence is re-emerging.
Members of the Scottish National Party like Alasdair Allan, who represents the Western Isles, are suddenly bullish again about the possibility of independence, or at least a referendum on the subject.
"Pretty much everyone in Scotland now accepts that Scotland needs more control of our own affairs — even those who are not yet convinced of the case for complete independence accept that," he says. "At the moment, Scotland has less autonomy, if you like, than your average state in the United States of America ... And people want us to raise and spend our own taxes and take responsibility for own decisions."
Members of the SNP don't point to Iceland or Ireland anymore, for obvious reasons. They do point to Norway, though, which they say gets all the benefits of its own oil industry, while taxes from Scotland's substantial offshore oil reserves go to London.
With the current government unpopular throughout Britain, observers say the SNP has also turned its leadership of the Scottish parliament into a sort of protest movement, encouraging anyone who has any kind of gripe with Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the ruling Labor Party in London to line up with them, regardless of whether they support Scottish independence.
"There is independence by stealth, which to a large degree is the SNP's main strategy at the moment," says David Maddox of the Scotsman newspaper. Maddox, who has been casting his dispassionate English eye over Scottish politics for many years, says the SNP is playing a clever game.
But in the end, he says, economics is not the issue.
"I always think the issue is a sentimental one — one of the heart," he says. "The economic case has been made many times. It's never had much change on the general debate for independence. It's one of the heart."
The Big Question
That's clear on the streets of the traditionally working-class Edinburgh suburb of Leith, where Patsy Bathgate, Stacey Luke and Mark Welsh are enjoying a few pints at the Harp and Castle pub.
"We're Scottish and we want to be Scottish. We feel Scottish; we don't feel anything else," Bathgate says. "We don't feel British. ... We want to give it a shot."
"I think it could be a generation thing, in all honesty," Welsh adds. "I mean, people in our age group I reckon are probably quite up for independence. And I don't see why not, to be honest with you. Just watch the film Braveheart."
The big question for now, though, is whether enough Scots can be persuaded that the romance of Braveheart can be translated into a workable reality — in the cold light of the long Scottish day, in the early 21st century.