WHEN the next independence referendum comes round, there are bound to be searching questions about the mechanics of how Scotland will split from the rest of the UK.
After all, if the 62 per cent of Scots who voted Remain are now asking exactly how Brexit will happen – a deafening silence was the loud reply – then it is only fair to get some idea of what could happen to Scotland after a Yes vote.
There is a country in the European Union with a population size similar to Scotland’s, that went through a split from its larger partner in a process so amicable it became known as the Velvet Divorce.
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On January 1, 1993, the Czech Republic and Slovakia were formed from the previous Czechoslovakia. There was no referendum and many politicians and historians have said that if there had been, the vote would have been against the split.
Admittedly Czechoslovakia had only been a single nation since after the First World War and not in a Union created in 1707, but the process of breaking up was remarkably free of rancour despite predictions that the Czech economy would improve and Slovakia’s would suffer. Could Slovakia’s experience be a template for Scotland gaining independence?
Professor Martin Votruba is head of the Slovak Studies programme of at the University of Pittsburgh, the only course of its kind in the US.
A graduate of Comenius University in the Slovak capital of Bratislava, his diploma in English studies was gained at Edinburgh University, and he knows the two countries well.
Votruba is recognised as one of the world’s leading experts on the Velvet Divorce. He told The National: “There was less of an imbalance between Slovakia and the Czech Republic population-wise, about 1:2, than there is between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom, and the union had lasted for a much shorter time at the point of separation, just 1918-1939 and again from 1945-1992.
“It was remarkable that contrary to almost exclusive domestic and international predictions of only detrimental consequences, both Slovakia and the Czech Republic have quickly moved forward.
“Any economic difference between them is even smaller now than it was during the union, and they have remained the best of friends as separate countries from the start both politically with diplomatic and military co-operation, and socially. Opinion polls in the two countries have consistently placed the Slovaks as the Czechs’ favourite nation and the other way round.”
Like the UK, Czechoslovakia consisted of separate nations joined in a unitary state – politicians frequently spoke of “our two nations”.
Culturally speaking, said Votruba, “there was no Czechoslovak ‘national’ anything – one Slovak National Theatre in Bratislava, one Czech National Theatre in Prague. The separation made no difference whatsoever to the situation of Slovak and Czech national (ethnic and linguistic) cultures”.
With the ongoing fuss about the lack of a Scottish film studio, Votruba highlights how films in both countries boosted their distinct cultures after the Velvet Divorce thanks to cooperation between Czechs and Slovaks.
He said: “There was a Slovak film studio in Bratislava and a Czech film studio in Prague. Film production used to be 1:2, just like the ratio of the population, but that was due to government financing and ownership of the studios under communism.
“The Bratislava studio went down the drain, but that was economic, not a result of the separation. Slovaks and Czechs often co-sponsor films even if the story is pertinent only to one of the two countries, so statistics based on that can be misread. Slovakia now produces about one to three specifically Slovak feature films a year.”
If Slovakia can make a success of itself after the Velvet Divorce, surely Scotland can do so too.