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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting if not fully engaging
I like the journalistic style of this book. It means that a subject that could otherwise be quite heavy is dealt with in an approachable yet informative way.

I have to admit that I did not have a deep knowledge of Scottish history beforehand not being from these Isles originally, but I think he makes a good argument in the brief historical/cultural overview...
Published 19 months ago by Maria

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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Faster than the Flying Scotsman...
Iain MacWhirter is a journalist and commentator who has spent the last decade or so covering the affairs of the Scottish Parliament. In the run up to the referendum on Scottish Independence, due to be held in September 2014, he has presented a short TV series and produced this companion book ostensibly to shed some light on why we have reached this point at this time. The...
Published 23 months ago by FictionFan


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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting if not fully engaging, 19 Nov. 2013
By 
Maria "maria2222" (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Road to Referendum (Hardcover)
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I like the journalistic style of this book. It means that a subject that could otherwise be quite heavy is dealt with in an approachable yet informative way.

I have to admit that I did not have a deep knowledge of Scottish history beforehand not being from these Isles originally, but I think he makes a good argument in the brief historical/cultural overview that sets off the book where he points out that there wasn't a real independence movement that had any traction with the general population till the British Empire was at its last throes, the Second World War had brought better conditions to the workers (a support Scotland had not received from England before they were needed in war) and the fall of the "Kirk" which had held tightly onto the people to stay in their place.

He looks at the rise of the Scottish National Party, the future with(in) the EU and many other relevant issues that are well worth a walk-through and it is a good way to put it into context but also a good way to look at the arguments for and against independence. I think it is very evenly balanced.

I found the book informative and interesting - maybe a bit long in the middle for a general reader like me (and possibly skipping a few too many details for an interested party), but I think he did enough for it to warrant a read - especially as the vote is coming up in less than a year's time and it will of course have a massive impact here if Scotland should decide to go it alone.

This book is accompanied by a TV series which I have yet to watch, but if it is anything like the book, it should be an interesting watch.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Road to Referendum" - An Independent Scotland?, 24 July 2013
By 
Red on Black - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Road To Referendum: The Essential Guide to the Scottish Referendum (Kindle Edition)
Iain MacWhirter is a Scottish political commentator, who perhaps lacks the amiable wit of Brian Taylor but who makes up for it for a cool first person analysis of the most fascinating development in modern British politics the potential independence of Scotland. In 1977 the New Left political commentator Tom Nairn wrote a book called the "Break up of Britain" . It was an often flawed book full of rather sweeping judgement, but at its central core was an argument that postulated that "Britain was a pre-modern state, closer to the multi-national Austro-Hungarian Empire than a `proper' nation. Its component parts were held together not by a written constitution but by a fading loyalty to the archaic and undemocratic institution of the Crown in Parliament. With the arrival of the European Union there was no reason why Scotland in particular shouldn't split off and join the ranks of small European nation states" . It appears that moment may have arrived. In this book Ian MacWhiter charts how we are now only 15 months away from the potential dissolution of what has been seen as one of the most stable political unions in modern history. Indeed Scotland has played a huge part in the success of the British state not least since they helped create it after 1707 along with the currency union based on sterling. The Bank of England was even founded by a Scot, William Paterson. The enthusiastic participation of Scots in the British establishment not least in Westminister has seen the Labour party dominated in recent years by politicians from north of the Border names like John Smith,Gordon Brown and one of the greatest labour post war politicians Robin Cook. Whilst many in the North East of England have been calling for the end of the Barnett formula which sees Scotland receiving a larger share of public expenditure than its English counterparts, Scots in turn happily point to the fact that much of British prosperity over the past 40 years has been built on their reserves of oil and it is only fair that what has been one of the poorer UK geographies gets a fair share of funding particularly as wealth has become more concentrated in the South East.

MacWhirter clearly charts these debates, but recognises in the last analysis that it is politics not economics that drives the independence debate. How this has happened in recent years is remarkable especially when we bear in mind the sheer unpopularity of the Scottish Executive at its inception in 1999. He points out the starting point could not have been worse with "feeble debates and unimaginative legislation". Covering the new Sottish politics for the Herald newspaper was for MacWhiter a massive bore. As he states in terms of journalistic copy it "was like delivering the last rights three times a week and then having to write an obituary every weekend". Matters were made worse with the massive debacle of the new Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood and its elastic budget which saw costs boom from a stingy £40m estimate to a gargantuan £400m overspend. Yet the political seismic plates were shifting especially the death of the Tory party over the border accelerated by the Thatcher poll tax experiment. The hegemony of Labour was also broken as they did their level best to self implode at first around the Wendy Alexander affair and the later characterless Iain Gray's "Meatball Marinara Incident". Finally of course there was the rise of the SNP and its charismatic leader Alex Salmond. The latter's Lazarus like return to the leadership of the SNP in 2004 (after standing down in 2000 following internal criticism after a series of high profile fall-outs with party members) is one of the most remarkable political comebacks of modern times. Whatever your views of Salmond as a master political strategist or "the most dangerous man in Britain" he is a hard working politician who has dedicated his life to the cause of Scottish independence. He is also ably supported by the astute SNP deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon who often gets him out of trouble such as when she had to "unsay" his assertion that he had legal advice from the European Union that an Independent Scotland could remain in membership. "Wily" and "slippery" are oft used adjectives used in the British press to describe Salmond, but in the Scottish context he is a remarkably dominant figure which MacWhirter puts down to the Scots seeing him as the "most capable person around to do the job" and also his desire to talk up all things Scottish as a "dedicated worshipper in the church of the positive". Not even he however could have imagined the 2011 SNP landslide where in a PR system designed to produce coalitions the SNP seized power with a majority and laid the basis for the date with destiny in 2014.

A short review precludes an examination of David Cameron in all this, Osborne's views on the use of Sterling as a currency and equally the key question whether Scottish Independence would be economically sustainable. Equally there is no space for the offensive "Too wee. too poor, too stupid" thesis that Scotland will be financially crippled by independence nearer the mark. All eyes will be on the 2014 independence referendum and at stake are not only political reputations, a nations destiny but the future direction of the British state and what now appears to be an increasingly fragile 300 year old deal.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Informative portrait of politics in Scotland - but may not help undecided voters!, 13 Aug. 2014
By 
J. Dawson (Edinburgh, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Road to Referendum (Hardcover)
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The nearer the referendum draws, the more desperation there is behind the pleas from both sides, and yet it seems there is still very little substance to back up any of the visions of the future which voters are being offered. I hoped reading this book would help me to make a choice between a much-reviled status quo and putting Scotland, at least temporarily, in the hands of a man who showed no regard for his own constituents when Donald Trump brought his billionaire bully-boy tactics to Scotland. Sadly, this book does not paint either option in a terribly flattering light so in terms of my own desire for clarification, it offered little.

It is, however, a well-written and relatively accessible account of Scottish political history that debunks much of the romantic mythologising of Scotland's folk heroes and goes some way towards making up for the failures of the broader UK educational system in teaching Scottish history. As someone who moved to Scotland from abroad 20+ years ago, this taught me much about my adopted homeland and how it is perceived both in Scotland and the rest of the UK. It also brought home to me, in a way few other sources have, the devastation of the Thatcherite years and the fallout which many communities are still suffering.

Iain Macwhirter's book is an ambitious one, and not a light read, but he has done the job remarkably well. It might not make our decision easier next month, but if everyone who was voting took the time to read this first then at least we could feel confident in making an informed choice when we cast our ballots.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent and Educational Book on why Scotland is voting on independence., 17 July 2013
By 
Tommy Dooley (London, England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Road to Referendum (Hardcover)
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On 18th September 2014 Scotland votes on its future, whether to remain a part of the Union or to break away and become an independent state. Needless to say the UK Government has shown a lot of interest and has many a mandarin working away on the case for the Union or indeed the `no vote'. I should know as I am one of them, which is why this book intrigued me. I had thought it might be a bit dry as many books dealing with constitutional issues are, but Iain Macwhirter has done the very difficult task of making it not only interesting but also entertaining and compelling.

He takes the reader and leads them gently back through the mists of Scottish history to the highs and lows everything from The Battle of Stirling Bridge to Culloden. Fans of the Mel Gibson `Braveheart' film might like to know it was called the Battle of Stirling Bridge as it was fought partially on it and not a muddy field in Ireland as depicted in that rather ill informed film. Macwhirter covers that too as well as other parts of Scottish heritage. He takes us back to the Darien expedition for the colonisation of the Isthmus of Panama which more or less bankrupted Scotland and led in part to the negotiations for political union.

He also compares other countries and looks at the whole issue of EU membership North Sea Oil, renewable energy and the remarkable rise and rise of the Scottish National Party, under Alex Salmond that is. He also relives the days of the Red Clydesiders and the dark, dark days of the Thatcher government where Scotland was effectively used as a Guinea pig for the poll tax and other unpalatable ideas. But he does much more too he takes a passionately balanced view of both sides which is highly refreshing and does it with wry humour that is very much welcomed.

It is clear he loves Scotland very much as indeed do I and this is a companion to the STV series of the same name. After reading this I am very much looking forward to seeing the full series as there are some quotes here from some of the participants and so it looks like being an excellent and informative piece of TV as indeed this journalistic book is too. I enjoyed every bit of it and learnt a lot too which is always nice especially when I thought I was up on most of the issues. So it is well researched, entertainingly and informatively written and educational to boot. I can't wait for Mr Macwhirter's next project as this was superb.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Detailed, Urbane, Opiniated but not Partisan, 19 Nov. 2013
By 
Francis Mitchell "EvilNoddy" (Ware, Hertfordshire (UK)) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Road to Referendum (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Written in a pacey, knowing and comprehensive manner this book fleshes out the television programme (singular for viewers in England but multiple for Scotland) and sets the scene for the vote. As an Englishman who is neither here nor there and could vote but probably will not because I do not really feel entitled to I read this with an almost detached interest (until I got to the report of a 'scare' story about losing pensions) and really enjoyed the story and the manner of the telling. I was a little surprised that no mention was made of nationality theorists such as Alastair MacIntyre or David Miller but the issues were brought out well enough anyway. Towards the end of the book I was starting to wonder if MacWhirter was going to suddenly declare for the Yes camp but that receded, the only point I could really disagree with was the stab at London on page 290 "...an introverted and myopic city state, largely run by a financial kleptocracy who had not only captured the political elite, but had also been allowed almost unlimited access to public funds...". I am no lover of the Great Wen but that seems too harsh. I could also have done with a glossary and an index but these small issues aside this is a very good account of the political climate in the run up to the vote.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From Kinghorn to Linlithgow, 1 Jan. 2015
By 
Charles Vasey (London, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Road to Referendum (Hardcover)
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The politically exciting events of the recent referendum with the Unionists being wrong footed by Wee Eck and then scrambling to hold the try line will have effects for many years to come. This book usefully takes us from Alexander III's death at Kinghorn through to the run up to that referendum with another Alexander. Scotland passes through the Stuarts, into the Kirk and Covenant, and then the Act of Union, and the loss of Empire and out to face the Blessed Maggie. The twists and turns are well documented by Iain Macwhirter (even if one does not always agree with his views). The shocking death of the Kirk and the Scottish Unionist Party, the wipeout of the Conservatives, the SNP bringing down the Temple under Callaghan, the creation of the Scottish Parliament, the error of the Scottish Liberals in not going into coalition with the SNP and finally the travails of the Scottish Labour Party are all there. Amidst this mayhem strides Alex Salmond a canny boxer who moves faster than his build would suggest landing a series of punches before hitting the canvas. But he's a good boy, lovely hands, he'll be seeking a re-match.

Macwhirter writes entertainingly with an eye to the absurd and a pawky wit. One for the political enthusiast perhaps more than the general reader.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An informative read, 4 Aug. 2014
By 
S. J. Williams "stevejw2" (Leeds, West Yorkshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Road to Referendum (Hardcover)
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I've felt pretty exercised about the issue of Scottish independence for some time now: I'm not a Scot, don't live in Scotland though I have many friends who do, but feel a bit like a party in a divorce case who has absolutely no say in a decision which will affect the whole of the UK and can access little in the south of the border media to rehearse and elucidate the arguments. My gut instinct is that nationalism as a political force is pretty destructive. And I also feel that if Scotland leaves the UK the metropolitan elite and London-centric tenor of much of political life will leave me wanting to go with them!

This book is a really good read providing essential background to Scottish history and the development of the independence movement. It seems to me a pretty even-handed exploration of the arguments (in other words, I didn't agree with all of it!) and is admirably clear: I wish I had read it months ago so I could have been better informed when having discussions with friends north of the border. Strongly recommended, especially to non-Scots, many of whom seem to have little interest in what seems to me to be a hugely significant vote.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incisive, witty, and always critical, 1 April 2014
By 
Martin Turner "Martin Turner" (Marlcliff, Warwickshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Road to Referendum (Hardcover)
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Road to Referendum is an incisive, witty and always critical historical account of the rise of the Scottish independence movement which skilfully analyses the shift patterns of the nationalists as they pursue their single goal of a separate Scotland.

This is a very detailed book which keeps itself to the marshalling of a historical — principally 20th and 21st century — narrative, rather than appealing to slogans or trying to make its own case for or against. In doing so, it neatly skewers some of the most important unresolved issues with the referendum, and demonstrates how things such as monetary union were kicked into the long grass. The books was prescient, since these things only began to be public issues after it was published.

For those seeking to understand rather than to judge, this is a book which explains a great deal, and does it always in a witty and apposite manner.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Balanced, informative book- which, unusually, I read after the referendum, 13 Feb. 2015
By 
Mister G (Bristol) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Road to Referendum (Hardcover)
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I have approached this book from an unusual angle - I obtained it after the referendum. I positively wanted to read it regardless of the ship proverbially having already sailed because I followed the referendum very closely and I still want to understand the issues better.

Incidentally, I could not believe it when Scots said that, in England, if you asked people what they thought about the (then) forthcoming referendum they would think you meant the in/out one on Europe. To me, the issue of Scottish independence was of massive importance to the whole of the UK, and grasped me the moment in 2012 that the date was set.

I found the book a pleasure to read - it is not heavy.

The book takes a balanced view, which is welcome - you don't want to read a polemic.

This is a good, informative read which helped me to understand the issues better.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, don't miss reading this book., 30 May 2015
By 
trishthedish (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Road to Referendum (Hardcover)
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I sent for this book as moved to the highlands of scotland this spring, where my husband has relatives. As a incomer, I was slightly worried that there might be some hostility, as there was in Wales in the 80s. However, this concern has proved unfounded and Macwhirter has gone some way to explain why. The road to referendum sets out clearly how the highlights of Scottish history have influenced attitudes of the Scots, particularly the SNP nationalists, to other nations in Europe, including the English and how they see their particular form of Britishness evolving and or changing. In fact I found this whole book fascinating reading and would have found it so, had I been moving to Scotland or not. Of course it was written in 2013 prior to the referendum, so we do know some of the answers he anticipates, and the result, but of course the ultimate direction is still as yet undecided. This book explains things so well, for instance, I wondered why the Scots are no longer so religious (as the older Scots were when I first visited in the late 70s). The biggest and best bit for me were the description of Scotland as a modern and foreward looking nation, post kirk, post British colonialism and now post Labour. This is ultimately why we decided to move here once and for all - to get away from little Englandism, from the Tory deep south to a land which still has integrity and feeling for others - and yes it has proved so! I would recommend for anyone living in Scotland, for anyone visiting and anyone considering crossing the border to new hope. The SNP considers anyone living in contemporary Scotland to be Scots and a part of a new nation - it will be so interesting to see how this develops over time.
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