North and South

If you draw a vertical line on the ground to represent north and south, you’ll be obliged to place an arrow at either end—although the two are designated as cardinal points, that occurs only at the poles. For practical purposes they are directions.

Because the earth is roughly spherical, the ground on which you draw your line will curve ever so slightly, which means that in 3D your line curves too. If you keep extending the line it’ll curve north to the North Pole, at which point it would become a south-facing line, er… curve, until you’re back where you started, and realized you never drew a line at all—you drew a circle.

The same happens if you head west—when you cross the dateline you’ll be heading east, without ever changing course. Those issues, and the lack of geographical knowledge in the XVth century, meant the two treaties Portugal and Spain signed in the days of The India Road were confusing at best.

The first treaty, named after the Portuguese town where it was signed, was the 1480 Treaty of Alcáçovas—it split the world along the twenty-eighth parallel of latitude, which crosses the Fortunate Islands, nowadays called The Canaries.

Although the intent of the treaty was to secure the continent of Africa for Portugal, it was later used by the Portuguese to dispute the first voyage of Columbus, which from La Gomera onward took place in what were technically Portuguese waters. That was possible because the line went around the earth.

The Perfect Prince, known to Isabella the Catholic as 'El Hombre'. This oil conveys the ruthessness of the Portuguese king.

The Perfect Prince, known to Isabella the Catholic as ‘El Hombre’. This oil conveys the ruthlessness of the Portuguese king.

The more far-reaching effects of the treaty were never felt, because in 1494 it was replaced by the Treaty of Tordesillas, which split the unknown world along a meridian, this time three hundred-seventy leagues west of the Azores. If we use the Arab sea mile, rather than the Italian one employed by Columbus, that works out to 1480 Arab miles, or 1579 nautical miles, so that the vertical line goes through South America near French Guiana.

Tordesillas remained in force as an international treaty, although several nations refused to accept it—Francis I of France famously asked where it was written in the testament of Adam that France would be excluded from the split. As recently as the last century, Argentina invoked it with respect to the Malvinas, and Chile attempted to use it to secure land in Antarctica.

Back in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Spain was commonly referred to as Castile, whereas Portugal was already perfectly consolidated as a nation. Where were the Basques, the Catalans, and the Galicians? These things have come back to haunt us, as evidenced by the forthcoming Scottish referendum.

An executive led by Salmond and Sturgeon may seem a little, well… fishy, and the coincidence of the referendum with the seven hundredth anniversary of the battle of Bannockburn is designed to fan the nationalist flame.

This prospect is more than a little unsettling for Madrid, which is wrestling with nationalist fever in Catalonia and the Basque Country. The Scottish National Party won’t win, but if it did, and the EU referendum in the UK scheduled for 2017 also ended in secession, then Cameron would go down in history as the man who screwed the pooch, losing both Scotland and Europe in consecutive terms in office.

Perhaps Salmond sees something mythical in alliteration: Scotland, Switzerland, and Singapore in the same hallowed breath, but the Swiss reality as an established European nation is entirely different from that of Scotland—in fact, as financial hubs both Singapore and Switzerland are far more similar to London or Luxembourg.

I know many Scots and have great respect for them—something that as a rule Englishmen do not. Apart from the strife that went on for centuries, the Scots, like the Irish, have always felt the contempt of the English. This is obvious in the currency itself, since the pound is different in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and England—worth the same, to be sure, but you try and pay a London cab with a Scottish banknote.

In those respects, the Scots have a strong case to say goodbye. But they’re a canny lot, and as a result have negotiated a far better financial deal with the English than the reverse—the university fee structure is a case in point.

Salmond is a consummate politician, which by definition includes a generous measure of charisma and demagoguery. Both have enabled him to win debates, hearts, and, more tenuously, minds. Westminster on the other hand, fights back with Cameron, Clegg, and Milliband, who have the collective charisma of a can of paint.

The great thing about Salmond is that although the referendum won’t pass, he’s already won. By driving the agenda toward the edge, he knows Westminster will have plenty of referendum promises to keep when it wins this round. And Scots will applaud their canny leader, who by taking things this far has once again secured them a better deal.

Let’s face it, bravehearts, if the kingdom was really united, it wouldn’t be called the United Kingdom.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones.

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