A few weeks prior to the Scottish independence referendum in September 2014, I travelled on a train from Glasgow to London, with a Sri Lankan colleague.          

Shortly into the journey, we overheard a lively argument coming from the table opposite, on whether Scotland should remain as part of the UK or not?       

My colleague looked at me and stated if such a debate had taken place on public transport in Colombo or Kandy “heads would have been cut off”.           

Six years ago, not a single shot was fired in anger when Scots decided against becoming an independent nation.  The turnout was a record 84.6%.  A generation of young people were politically engaged as 16 and 17-year-olds were also allowed to vote.  The Scottish independence referendum was a “festival of politics compared with the horror show of Brexit”.  

Although there was no civil unrest, it would be foolish to downplay the tension caused by giving the public the opportunity to answer - should Scotland be an independent country? This specific question had led to disagreements between friends, families, work colleagues, which to this day have not completely healed.            

Interested observers around the world would have looked on with either astonishment or admiration that the UK Government, through the Edinburgh Agreement gave the Scottish Government the necessary powers for a legally binding referendum to take place.

Imagine the Indian or Spanish Governments following a similar example and agreeing for ballots to take place in Kashmir or Catalonia.  Hell would have to freeze over before that happens.    

The Scottish National Party (SNP) has been in power since 2007 and Brexit has given the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, added justification to push for a second referendum.

Although the decision to leave the EU was a UK whole vote, Scotland backed Remain by 62%. However Prime Minister Boris Johnson is adamant that he will not give the necessary authority for one to take place?  Recent polls show that the majority of Scots favour independence.   

How will a second Scottish independence referendum fare? Will it be a carnival of political engagement again or will it be divisive and toxic as Brexit?   

Police Scotland has expressed great concern that any future independence debate could be hijacked by bigots. Moreover whilst immigration dominated the Brexit vote, such a subject was on the periphery during the Scottish referendum.  However, there are some signs that such a topic could become more prominent if and when Scotland decides its future again.         

The killing of George Floyd in the US placed the spotlight again on Sheku Bayoh who died in police custody in Scotland.  According to his family racism was a factor in his death.   

On two separate occasions in June this year riot police converged on to Glasgow’s George Square to separate Black Lives Matters activists and those welcoming refugees from members of the National Defence League – who claimed to be defending statues. Nicola Sturgeon strongly condemned “racist thugs” and described the scenes from the heart of the country’s largest city as “disgraceful”. 

Speaking at the Scottish Parliament the Justice Minister Humza Yousaf and Labour’s Anas Sarwar provoked a wider debate about the lack of ethnic minority representation in Scottish society.  Both were at the receiving end of vitriolic online abuse.  

The debate on immigration or race is not restricted to minority communities or EU nationals.  Last month Nicola Sturgeon stated that the Scottish Government could close the border between England and Scotland to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.  

Videos emerged online of a small group of pro-independence supporters, protesting close to the border, waving Scottish flags and displaying banners, reading keep “Scotland Covid Free” and “England out of Scotland”.  On another video a protestor was telling visitors to “stay the f**k away”.     

Opposition politicians described such scenes as “disgraceful” and ones that would damage the Scottish tourist industry. Others claimed that protestors were ‘inspired’ by comments made by SNP politicians. 

On social media Humza Yousaf wrote: “If you are a racist you are no friend of mine and no part of the [independence] movement I belong to. Horrible, reprehensible and vile. Luckily these morons don’t represent the Scotland I know and love.”       

More recently a former founding member of a grassroots independence group, All Under One Banner, claimed the movement had been damaged “by anti-English racists.” 

Whichever side wins, should a second vote take place, is likely to find the country more divided with the prospect of unifying its people a very difficult proposition.