ON the eve of Nicola Sturgeon’s official visit to the United States, it’s interesting to take the temperature of how the Republic is feeling about Scotland. There’s a number of gauges, but there’s one that feeds into my inbox, every time we ping on their radar. The New York Times on “Scotland” is a curious mix – depressing and heartening in nearly equal measure. Let’s take it from the beginning of 2022.

Four golf references, four island references (one to St Kilda, one to somewhere called “Rum Isle”). The ‘Scottish play’ Macbeth on Broadway trailed and reviewed. A global consideration of peat pegged to “Scotland’s bogs”, alongside oil profits soaring (located in Scotland, would you believe it). There’s a few stray cultural professionals with misty Scots backgrounds, as well as a crit of the Shuggie Bain follow-up. And at least, there’s the new Scottish Doctor Who, Ncuti Gatwa.

We should be grateful. There are no toe-curling real-estate spreads on how to buy your own castle/distillery/tartan. Go back to COP26 in Glasgow last September, and the NYT is replete with many perspective pieces on contemporary Scotland. Yet that will be because Glasgow’s status – briefly sovereign, to safely harbour the world’s political elites – triggered the geopolitical sensors of the Old Grey Lady.

The closer Scotland gets to nation-state sovereignty, the more Americans – or at least that liberal cadre reading the NYT – notice we exist. Well, they better get ready. There’s a general rumble from the SNP leadership that they are about to present their essential case for indy. And it’s nowhere more noticeable than the impending Sturgeon visit to the US. Not only is she delivering speeches at the Brookings Institute on “security, energy and Europe”. There’s also the backing of a new diplomatic missive, Scotland’s Global Affairs Framework. There’s a UN-striped ribbon with a big bow wrapped right round this document, and a “get our seat ready” card tucked inside.

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It contains impeccable commitments to child and women’s rights, the recognition of Scotland’s role in slavery and colonialism, our responsibilities for climate crisis and climate justice. These are often caveated with lines like “this could be significantly enhanced with the powers of independence rather than devolution”.

They’re not being subtle. And that’s entirely welcome.

Is it a surprise that ScotGov is getting in about the Americans, during the (perhaps brief) window of Biden’s Celtic Presidency? Scots indy, as a snub to the British establishment, might well privately satisfy this President. When asked for an interview by the BBC in his victory moment, Biden replied spontaneously “But I’m Irish!”

This wouldn’t be a surprise from a historical perspective. From the beginning, Americans have not only known they were deeply influenced by Scottish Enlightenment thinking – but that a Scotsperson on the make was an implacable force in their land.

An early draft of the American Declaration of Independence contained the lines: “At this very time they are permitting their chief magistrate to send over not only soldiers of our common blood, but Scotch and foreign mercenaries to invade and deluge us in blood”. Senator John Witherspoon, only eight years gone from Scotland, persuaded Thomas Jefferson to drop the Scottish lines. Yet Highland regiments in their thousands were indeed being recruited to suppress the American rebellion.

Historiographically, there are multiple stories running about the Scots’ influence on early American society. One is certainly that of the philosopher-statesmen of the American revolution being profoundly influenced by the Scottish Enlightenment. Jefferson’s library held works by Thomas Reid, Henry Home, Lord Kames and Hugh Blair, including the Histories of David Hume.

But there is a gritty, even grifting element to Scots’ elemental role in American history. For one thing, according to the revisionist history of Tom Devine and others, we have to abandon some of our fondly-held myths.

Rather than Highlanders cleared from their land being the prime emigrants to the United States, it turns out that economic migrants from the Lowlands, enticed by prospects in North America, were by far the largest number leaving Scotland.

As the late literary academic Susan Manning puts it, there has been both a “Burns Supper” school of history about Scotland and America. And also, “the ‘Birth of a Nation’ school… linking Scottish influence to some of the most illiberal aspects of American culture: Walter Scott’s fiery cross and the Ku Klux Klan, lynch laws, robber barons and commercial rapacity.”

What’s interesting about ScotGov’s Global Affairs Framework is that it anticipates this “Birth of a Nation” critique. In the text, it asserts that we will recognise “Scotland’s colonial history” both in our educational and our cultural practice.

I think this is all very wise (rather than slaggable as PC or woke). We aren’t going to step into the world in the same way as Ireland, for example. The Irish were clearly a colony of the British Empire, drenched in blood and armed struggle in their process of liberation.

Even in relation to America, as modern Scottish history outlines, many Scottish-Americans stayed loyal to the Crown during the American revolution. Canada’s Scottish traditions are partly originated by Scottish loyalists emigrating northwards after the Civil War.

As an independent Scotland dialogues with the world, and specifically America, we should try to display our historical wisdom. We should jettison the risible boosterism that often mars our tourism and diplomatic websites – that contextless, depthless celebration of Carnegie, Bell, Muir, etc.

This wouldn’t just be better propaganda but part of the general display of Scottish capability, impacting on wider audiences than just the academic or journalistic.

To be blunt: can an independent Scotland be trusted? There are several vectors of trust one might refer to here. One is certainly indy, as it faces financial markets and bond traders. Whether sterlingisation or free-floating currency, the dominant story of the coming SNP case for indy rests on gaining support from global financial establishments. Can we show our capability and probity, to honour debts and manage deficits?

But however pragmatic such considerations are, they are short-term, current-system indicators. We should be actively interested in Scotland showing the world that it accepts its historic role in the forging of modernity. A modernity that has taken this planet to the brink of disaster – whether it’s the long-term damage of climate catastrophe, or the immediacy of nuclear exchange with Putin’s Russia.

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So to my mind, it’s good for Scotland to journey to America as the Trident-cancelling, modernity-owning, decolonially-literate voice of reason. We are placing ourselves, and our case for indy, at the heart of crucial arguments about the planet’s future.

The moment of Scottish independence, like the moment of American independence, should be a crystallisation of contemporary thinking. What kind of democratic sovereignty can establish itself, possessing the full knowledge of how self-terminating modern systems can be? How capacious, gentle and embracing should a nation-state be, if it held such an understanding?

As ever in this column, I urge the highest ambition for indy in all circumstances. And in any visit to America, we should be bold enough to think we can show off our sophisticated comprehension of the fate of modern nations. How do you assert your power as a Western/Northern nation – but also realise that this assertion needs to be subtle, aware of its costs and debts, much less than vainglorious?

When the Sauron-like eye of American media is upon us, I want to be ready with these kinds of arguments. Let’s see whether our coming Scottish diplo-circus can land them.