Say "Independence for Scotland" to many people across the English-speaking* world and you can be quietly confident that the image forming their minds' eye looks something like this: -

There is a reason for this. Whether we like it or not; where facts fail, narratives succeed. And at no time are narratives more important as when nations are seeking to turn a hazy idea of sovereignty and self determination into a living, breathing state with institutions, laws and most importantly, a social contract between the rulers and the ruled.

Since the pro-independence Scottish National Party became the largest in Scotland's parliament following the 2011 election, the issue of independence for Scotland has emerged as a plausible eventuality.

Although the United Kingdom is an old and established democracy and state, competing regional indentities are still a very raw reality.

So, amongst all the discussion about political points and legalese, Londonstani was interested to read Anthony Barnett's article over at Open Democracy where, quoting Benedict Brogan of the Telegraph, he warns of the cost of defending the union of united kingdoms if the price was a "descent into mean squabbles and brutal negativity".

Brogan argues that the ruling Tory party's approach to campaigning against Scottish independence in a future referendum should not be an all-out onslaught that would run the risk of coming across as anti-Scottish. Part of his justification was the need to deal with the post-referendum reality, whatever it may be.

"His [Prime Minister David Cameron] reticence is required not because it will deprive Mr Salmond of something to complain about, but because he must reserve himself for the consequences of the vote. Whatever the outcome of the referendum, there will have to be a renegotiation of the terms between Scotland and the rest of the Union. Whether Scotland chooses independence or opts to remain, there must follow a detailed re-balancing of the political and financial relationship. Be it the “devo-max” Mr Salmond speaks of, or some other arrangement, Mr Cameron must be in a position to negotiate as a respected equal after Scotland has decided."

This sounds like the right way to go about the legally tricky and emotional charged process of decoupling communities with long, close (and often acrimonious) history.

A good example of when this can go wrong is painfully evident in the Indian subcontinent. Pakistan scholars such as Stephen Cohen have noted that the idea of Pakistan was born out of an existential fear amongst the Muslim population of British-ruled India. In fact, Nicholas Schmidle's book about Pakistan takes its title from a pamphlet written in 1933 by a Indian Muslim worrying about the future of his community in a free India: To Live or to Perish Forever.

One version of events suggests that the men who carved India and Pakistan out of British India originally planned for a united India. But when they couldn't agree on a formulation that Muslim leaders felt safeguarded their community, the narrative of a separate Muslim land for a separate Muslim nation was born. And to this day, the effects of that narrative makes its presence felt on a global level.

Londonstani can't think of a better historical illustration of the power of narratives to change realities than Bradlaugh Hall in Lahore, the cultural capital of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

This once magnificent building, built by the first avowed atheist member of the British parliament at the turn of the 20th century, played a central role in the founding and growth of the political party that rules India today.

Back in today's Britain, where Anthony Barnett seems to ask why the ethnicities that make up the UK couldn't have their own countries and yet live together happily, Londonstani wonders whether its time to consider a new narrative of belonging for the UK. One that doesn't focus on the outmoded concept of "blood and soil" but instead revolves around whether people share a mutual dependency within interdependent cultures.

* In Londonstani's experience, Braveheart was massively popular in the Arabic-speaking Middle East - Can't imagine why.

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AuthorLondonstani

If you want to get people to listen to your message, you need to make it interesting. Many campaigns struggle to bridge the gap between imploring and entertaining.

This is particularly a problem in Pakistan, where, with the exception of music and political skulduggery, Pakistani media is pretty dull. Which is why most Pakistanis watch Indian films or US entertainment (no link since hard numbers are near impossible to come by).

Pakistan's largest media organisation, Jang Group, has been running a campaign for a couple of years called Amn Ka Asha, which aims to promote peace and better relations with India.

Much of the campaign has been about the usual; visits, articles etc etc. But recently, Geo (Jang's flagship television station) has announced two new Pakistan-India themed shows. They aren't branded after the campaign, but it very much works on the Amn Ka Asha ethos. Both will show on Geo and a major Indian channel.

The Independent reports that Foodistan will be a Pakistan vs India cook off.

"Neatly bringing together two national pastimes of eating and regional rivalry, the reality cooking show Foodistan will pitch a team of professional Pakistani chefs against a team from India."

The other, Sur Ki Bazi, sounds like an X-Factor type format pitting Pakistani and Indian hopefuls against each other in a singing duel.

Here's the poster:

Music, food and regional rivalry. It's a sure bet! Foodistan has already been recorded, but the music show just started auditioning. And, Londonstani is hearing that they have been swamped.

This is a genius campaign idea. On one hand it shows that there's much scope for useful engagement in Pakistan through media. On the other, it shows that it pays to work with what people actually want.

If you are into communications, media and foreign policy (like Londonstani), this is worth keeping an eye on.

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AuthorLondonstani

Londonstani was mighty relieved to wake up today and find yesterday's speculation over the imminent fall of the Pakistani government had come to nothing - again.

Much more interesting than the gyrations of Pakistani politics (someone wake me up when there's an election or a coup), is Sagar Sharma's blog on life in India.

Sagar, a former top communications operative for Her Majesty's Government, and Londonstani have known each other for a very, very long time. They went to the same school, enraged the same teachers and flattered the same girls. (Yes, a pact of mutual silence is in place).

Modern Britain is no longer represented in the Subcontinent solely by Sanskrit-speaking public school boys. Nope, now they let blokes from Wembley comprehensives tarnish the national image abroad as well.

Over a border that makes Pakistan and India seem as close yet distant as parallel universes, Londonstani is pleased to see that Sagar is staying true to the Wembley tradition of unleashing motorised hell:

".., driving... I’m LOVIN’ it. It's like a 360 virtual video game but where you only get one life. The thrill and concentration required to stay alive makes driving a hugely stimulating experience. I never smiled when driving in London I can promise you. Over here, I’m hysterical."

If Londonstani manages to convince Sagar to cross the border, Lahore will need to brace itself for some serious Toyota Corolla drag racing.

Like the Harrow Road, but (even) more guns

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AuthorLondonstani