THE PATH TO THE SUMMIT starts gradually, a gentle incline just a stone’s throw from the center of town. Wrapping around the side of the mountain, it ascends and levels off, offers a brief dip before jutting upwards, the rock-and-gravel path replaced by a slick set of steps carved out of slate. By the end — nearly an hour’s walk from where the path began — the steps have been superseded by the stones, boulders over which one must clamber, their narrow passageways cut deep into the rock. Even the most athletic find the final portion a challenge; climbing to the top of Arthur’s Seat is not for the faint of heart.
But the view when you arrive: the whole of the city spread out before you, the Pentland Hills to your left, their bumpy spine catching the light and the shadows from the clouds scudding overhead, the Firth of Forth and the North Sea to your right, sending wave after wave of weather into the city, as many as a dozen different systems a day, and directly across, the castle, perched atop its own volcanic rock, mirroring the one on which you stand. Everything else before you is the city: its dense, cobble-strewn streets, its centuries of history layered on top of one another like a millefeuille, its thousands of lights that, at dusk or at dawn — the two best times to climb to the top of the Seat — twinkle in a hazy, burnt-orange and yellowish glow that recalls the days of carbide and gas lighting, an era when much of the city was built. The path may be steep, lacking handrails and largely unmarked, but it is worth it.
Edinburgh, and Scotland more generally, has been much on view in recent years. Not just because of its summer arts festival, now a global event attracting over a million visitors annually, or the success of Scottish athletes on the world stage, Andy Murray and Chris Hoy taking top honors this past year at the Olympics. Not even because of its conflicts with other powers such as when it released Abelbaset al-Megrahi, the mastermind behind the Lockerbie bombing, to the former Libyan government on the grounds of state compassion towards a terminally ill patient. Events such as these have thrust this small nation of approximately five million people back into the limelight in a way that documents of popular culture such as Trainspotting and Braveheart once did. But less known to those outside the United Kingdom is that the Scots are seriously looking to pursue their independence from the UK, and that for the first time since the Act of Union was signed in 1707, they might just be in a position to do so.
As any self-respecting Scot will immediately counter, the situation is more complicated than that. “We are a disputatious nation,” Alan Taylor, the editor of the Scottish Review of Books wrote in its inaugural issue. “There is something in our psyche, something deeply rooted in our souls, something in the pugnacious northern air, that propels us to take issue, dispute, query, pull apart, debate, criticize…” Even a Scot who supports independence is apt to point out that it is by no means a project of the entire country; that opinion remains firmly divided; that the consequences have not been fully explored; that it is the wish of one political party more than any other (albeit the one in power); that all manner of issues and questions must be resolved before it becomes possible, much less probable; that the legality of such a move has only barely begun to be considered; that no one knows anything for...read more