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Scottish Referendum: The Pipes, The Pipes Are Calling… Yes And No

August 26, 2014

There’s an historic vote coming up: the Scottish Referendum on independence.

On September 18, 2014, Scottish voters will decide whether Scotland becomes an independent country (vote = YES), or remains part of the United Kingdom (vote = NO).

Polls have consistently shown voters leaning NO (against independence), though the gap has narrowed in recent weeks.


I recently did an illustration on the Referendum for London-based Diplomat Magazine. The concept: competing bagpipes.

The one on the left shows the Flag of Scotland, with the pipes spelling out YES for independence. The one on the right shows the Union Jack, with the pipes saying NO, preferring to remain in the British Union.

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Two bagpipes playing music, one bag as Scottish flag with pipes spelling out YES, one bag with Union Jack United Kingdom flag with pipes spelling out NO, reference to Scottish Referendum scheduled for September 18, 2014 to decide if Scotland should be independent country

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I submitted several other ideas that weren’t selected. One was based on the uniquely Scottish sporting event called the caber toss, in which competitors toss a long wooden beam.

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Two Scotsmen wearing kilts, competing in caber toss, one caber flying Scottish flag, other caber flying Union Jack United Kingdom flag, reference to Scottish Referendum scheduled for September 18, 2014 to decide if Scotland should be independent country

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How on earth did this sport originate? One interesting theory: from the need to toss logs across chasms, in order to walk over them.

I was surprised to learn that distance thrown is not important in the caber toss. Rather, it’s a matter of finesse: the objective is to flip the caber end over end, so that it lands on its head and falls away from the tosser.

I don’t know if the guy on the left below is a member of the Armstrong Clan, but he should be.

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Scotsmen wearing kilts carrying and tossing caber at Scottish games

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And of course I had to do something with good ol’ Nellie, the Loch Ness Monster, who seems to be keeping a low profile these days.

Hmm. She appears undecided at this point. She’ll certainly cause a sensation if she shows up at the polls on September 18th.

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Nessie the Loch Ness Monster in Scottish Highlands looking up at two airplanes flying across sky, one plane pulling banner with Scottish flag that says Vote Aye, other plane pulling banner with Union Jack United Kingdom flag that says Vote Nae, reference to Scottish Referendum scheduled for September 18, 2014 to decide if Scotland should be independent country

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Are you familiar with the referendum? Would you care to share your thoughts on this complex issue?

Are you a fan of bagpipe music? Any pipers in our reading audience?

Have you ever tossed a caber, and were there any fatalities??

Hope you’ll leave a comment.

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38 Comments leave one →
  1. August 26, 2014 10:21 AM

    I really don’t want Scotland to go. I’m used to being British and Scottish at the same time. It won’t be the same! 😦 I have a feeling the voting would be Nae! 🙂 Superb illustrations Mark, anyway, you’re a genius! 🙂
    Blessings. 🙂


    • August 27, 2014 8:54 AM

      Thank you, dear Seyi– it’s always so nice to see you. I’m sure both Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole would be delighted to claim you as their representative!

      It’s a highly emotional situation– and certainly a complex one, from both a political and economic standpoint. I’m sure there are many British subjects who don’t like the thought of “breaking up the team.” I do hope friendship and goodwill will prevail, regardless of the outcome. Thanks for your very kind words– deeply appreciated!! : )

      Liked by 1 person

  2. SingingTuna permalink
    August 26, 2014 5:18 PM

    What a braw post!

    Your drawings are wonderful! LOVE the pipes, and the caber toss one is fabulous. Awwww!! Nessie!!! Her tartan scarf is perfect! Come to think of it, what clan would she be?

    So: the guy on the left: your cousin, right?
    Have you seen this in person? Fun to watch, very dramatic and ground-shaking! I can’t imagine how tough it is to toss those things end-to-end.

    As to the vote, well — I have relatives who’re votin’ aye. And I’m not going to argue with a bunch of Camerons…LOL



    • August 27, 2014 9:38 AM

      Dear sweet Tuna!! You are so braw, and thanks for boosting my Scottish vocabulary!!

      Thanks for your lovely comment! Ye no kin beat a good set o’ pipes, as my plumber likes to tell me. Nessie’s clan… hmm! Of course, she’s Scottish, she must belong to a clan. Wasn’t there a book called the Clan Of Cave Bear? Nessie must belong to the Clan of Loch Monster… : )

      I doubt I’m related to that Caber Guy. The only way I could get my biceps to bulge like that, would be to put my arm against a wall and push the muscle as flat as possible… : (

      Regrettably, I’ve never seen a real caber toss, nor been to a Scottish Games. Sounds like you have? I can picture you tossing a very large paintbrush! The Camerons… right! They were the guys wearin’ all that blue makeup in Braveheart, right?? No, you don’t wanna argue with them!!

      Thanks again for all your braw support!! : )


  3. August 26, 2014 6:09 PM

    I grew up on pipe music. My family were all SNP from waay back. I’m sure they are throwing a céilidh up in heaven in hopes it’s a aye! Great sketches.


    • August 27, 2014 9:51 AM

      The Scottish National Party, eh? Yea, that definitely sounds like an Aye vote… : )

      I hadn’t heard the term céilidh before. Poems, songs, dancing– sounds good to me, even with my two left feet… : )

      Re pipe music: I live in a rural area. A few years ago, I was out chopping firewood in the fall. It was a very quiet, late-day afternoon. Suddenly I heard the unmistakable and very haunting sound of bagpipes. Turns out a piper was staying at a bed-and-breakfast down the road, and had stepped outside to play. Absolutely mesmerizing. I’ll never forget it. Many thanks for your kind comment!


  4. August 26, 2014 6:11 PM

    Nae…. even though they have always sought independence, I seriously doubt that they will cease the opportunity. Too much at stake.
    and to the really serious staff:
    As a true Mark fan I am having difficulty choosing [thank god they didn’t have me to help!]
    however, I’ve always had a fondness for monsters and dragons. That neck, those eyes, the grin… duh, your Nessie stole my heart! Aye, sir! 🙂
    PS what a sport!!!!!


    • August 28, 2014 9:53 AM

      Everyone’s favorite Painting Goddess is predicting a Nae vote? That’s sure to affect the odds they’re giving at the Mt. Olympus Betting Parlor… : )

      My dear Marina! Thank you for your prediction and very kind comment. A fondness for monsters and dragons, eh? That must be your Greek mythology heritage at work. And it may also explain why you’re such a monster fan of mine… : )

      Caber tossing is a little unusual. Naturally you Mt. O. athletes prefer something more mainstream: like lightning bolt tossing… : )

      Thank you for your spritely visit, my dear Olympian!! : )


      • August 28, 2014 6:04 PM

        I’m afraid lightning bolt tossing is only the privilege of Zeus but I suppose the rest of us find other stuff to throw!! 😉
        Dragons I’ve loved from fairy tales, I don’t think there are any in Greek mythology – at least not the ones I like [sleek scaly figure, gorgeous wings, a fiery breath and oh, that look!] 🙄


        • August 28, 2014 8:42 PM

          No scales, no wings, but I do have fiery breath after eating a pepperoni and sausage pizza. I also have “that look” as I reach for the antacid tablets… : (


        • August 29, 2014 5:45 PM

          😆 😆 !!!!!


  5. August 26, 2014 7:36 PM

    Mark … That is certainly a mixed ‘bag’ of options. It’d be a squeeze play for sure. I’m even undecided on which illustration I like best. But, I am leaning a bit toward Nessie. 😉


    • August 28, 2014 9:58 AM

      Bag of options?? Squeeze play?? Stop, stop, you’re kilt-ing me, my dear Judy!! : )

      You can’t decide? Sounds like me at the ice cream shop, especially if they have more than two flavors… : )

      Careful now!– don’t lean too close to Nessie, or she may give you a kiss. She likes sweets… : )

      Always a great pleasure, Judy– thanks for stopping by and piping up!!


  6. August 26, 2014 10:26 PM

    I think all of your designs are great but the winning one is my favourite. I think it is important that the words were emphatic because those simple words are the crux of the campaigning.

    I’m a Scot who emigrated to Pennsylvania last October, so becoming part of the diaspora of Scots around the world. As a non-resident, therefore, I don’t get to vote. I won’t declare which way I would vote (people died for the secret ballot after all) but what I do hope is that there is a really good turn out for the referendum no matter his people vote because a nation’s right to self-determination is a massive decision and democracy only really functions when people engage with the prices and use their voice. I will be watching the result with interest and no doubt homesickness.


    • August 28, 2014 9:25 PM

      Many thanks for your kind words and that very thoughtful comment. The art director agreed with you: she liked the simplicity of the dueling bagpipes, and the way it cut straight to the point.

      Nice to have you with us (here in the States), and I hope the move’s been a good experience for you. Your point’s well taken: it’s one of those very fundamental decisions, and it will be a lot harder for people to accept the result if there’s a poor turn-out. I don’t think that will be the case, however. I get the impression most Scots are engaged, and will cast a vote. We shall see. I do hope both sides can pull together after the election, regardless of the outcome.

      Nice to meet you, and thanks so much for sharing your very apt perspective on the issue!


      • August 28, 2014 9:31 PM

        I do hope I’m proven wrong about the turn-out too. We shall see.


  7. August 27, 2014 1:46 PM

    I have tossed a caber, but nothing as big as the dudes… erm, blokes… in those photos.


    • August 28, 2014 9:34 PM

      Ha! And were you wearing a kilt at the time?? No, no, don’t tell me, Jak, leave that part to my imagination… : )

      The caber toss Wikipedia entry says the typical caber is about 20 feet long (about 6 meters). The only way I could “toss” something like that would be with a chainsaw– and I’d be praying it didn’t fall on top of me! Good to see you, my friend, thanks for checking in! : )


      • August 28, 2014 11:29 PM

        Well, imagine away, Mark, but I can tell you that my lovely wife was wearing her arisaide, which is traditional wear for the women. We were at a Scottish games event.

        Yes, the caber I tossed was much smaller in diameter and definitely not 20 feet… I think it was closer to 10.


  8. August 29, 2014 6:55 AM

    I’m not familiar with the Scottish Referendum but I do like to hear bagpipes occasionally (perhaps not in my own home though!). You’ve created a very clever illustration Mark 🙂


    • August 29, 2014 3:16 PM

      Not in your own home… OK, not a problem, I’ll just stand in your backyard and serenade you. Don’t worry, my bagpipe concerts never last more than two hours. On average. There was that four-and-a-half-hour gig that one time. So many encores… blush!

      Always a pleasure, Jen– thanks for tossing me that nice compliment instead of a caber!! : )


  9. August 29, 2014 9:06 AM

    AYE: My favorite is the nessie sketch! NAE: Does the world need a new microstate?
    Can anybody really want that?
    I suspekt the referendum is a genious plot to silence the Scotisch seceders.
    But no matter the topic, you do always a great illustration! My the pipe be with you 😉


    • August 30, 2014 9:58 PM

      Ha! Everyone loves Nessie. She’s got charm, style, and an aura of mystery. She and I are a lot alike that way… : )

      Microstate… interesting. That word is new to me. It does seem to describe a familiar phenomenon in recent years: countries breaking up into smaller countries. There always seem to be legitimate grievances, coupled with an inability to find common ground. It is worrisome to see the world becoming more and more fragmented…

      The referendum as an ingenious plot to silence those calling for independence? Unionists betting on a Nae vote, hoping it will silence separatists once and for all?? My dear Tutti!!!– you’re either a cynic, or a very shrewd political analyst, or you’ve been reading too many conspiracy theories– maybe all three!!

      Thank you for your very kind words about the illustration (blush!). I can tell you’re also someone who appreciates great art… : )


      • September 2, 2014 6:32 AM

        Well, what I mean is people like talking like a good old husband likes dreaming about a young girlfriend. But the truth is, he never would like to leave his wife – that’s way toooo exhausing 😉


        • September 2, 2014 8:38 AM

          Ha! A very witty analogy, my dear Tutti! So true– there’s nothing more exhausting than making a serious change. Much easier to stick with what you’ve got, no matter how painful it might be! : )


  10. September 3, 2014 7:45 AM

    Well, I have a confession to make – I am South African, but I used to play the bagpipes in my school band. I think this may be allowed as I have two great-grandparents hailing from Scotland. I’m all in favour of Aye as I’m hoping they’ll give me an ancestral passport….


    • September 3, 2014 11:01 AM

      Ha!! We need more such confessions. I had no idea there were pipers in school bands. It’s a revelation, and it conjures up a wonderful image. It must certainly add a whole new dimension to a band’s sound!

      Well, I’d say that makes you an honorary Scot at the very least, and I hope you get that passport no matter how the vote turns out. Nice to meet you, and thanks again for a delightful comment! : )


      • September 4, 2014 2:15 AM

        well it was a pipe band, so one had to have bagpipes! Drums and bagpipes and kilts really. I was coerced by my sister and my mother was so proud! Oh dear! Well, i lived to tell the tale. I will say that I loved Scotland and lived and worked in Edinburgh for a while, but it’s too damned cold and the light is terrible. And besides, I need to surf….


        • September 5, 2014 9:13 PM

          Blush! Well, that’s embarrassing! I just assumed you and your pipes were marching alongside trumpets, tubas, trombones, and the like. Seemed a bit unorthodox, but kinda cool… blush! Drums and bagpipes makes a lot more sense. I think a lot of band members get coerced into it by parents and siblings. But you lived to tell the tale, and that’s probably the key factor for about 90% of life’s experiences!!

          I guess Edinburgh isn’t known for its surfing. And the less said about those plaid surfboards, the better… : )

          Thanks for the followup, cheers, and hang ten!

          Liked by 1 person

  11. Steven L Campbell permalink
    September 3, 2014 3:51 PM

    There is a town near me called Edinboro with a university where students wear kilts, play bagpipes and toss cabers during the Scottish Highland Games held here. I never saw any fatalities or serious injuries, but I have seen the pole come back and nearly hit the thrower. I’m not sure why anyone would want to flip telephone poles for a sport that doesn’t require the athletes to wear protective gear. I’m thinking full-body armor as strong as our current tanks. Call me chicken, but I wince every time someone throws a caber or a hammer or any other heavy object at these games. And I imagine a few athletes develop some full-blown hernias over time. Still, I’m of Scottish ancestry, so I cheer during all the craziness and have a great time.

    Gotta say I like your Nessie drawing. Did she pose for you, or did you have to sneak some candids?


    • September 5, 2014 6:18 PM

      Ha! So you’re near the Highland action, eh?? Must be something to see, aye, tha’ fer sure, laddie! Telephone poles… I guess there must be some sittin’ idle, thanks to cell phone towers. Perhaps someone was looking for a way to recycle ’em… : )

      That’s McCool that you’re of Scottish ancestry. I know 3 of my grandparents were Irish (Kelly’s and Feeney’s), but I like to think my Grandpa Armstrong had some Scottish blood. Can’t say for sure, the lineage is pretty murky…

      Nessie? The dear lass is very shy. I had to extrapolate from my imagination, but fortunately, I’m an old hand at that. Always great to see you, sir, many thanks for your very kind support! : )


  12. September 5, 2014 4:54 PM

    I think the vote is for all Scottish residents not Scottish born. I’m British, English born and studying in my second home Glasgow, it will be interesting to see the impact of all this whatever the result.


    • September 6, 2014 8:37 PM

      Thanks, Charlotte, you’re right: you can vote in the Referendum if you’re resident in Scotland, and registered to vote. According to this Yes Scotland Ltd Answers page, 16- and 17-year-olds can also register to vote in the Referendum, as can British citizens resident in Scotland– so you might be able to vote in the Referendum yourself.

      Nice to meet you, good luck with your studies, thanks for your comment and for stopping by! : )


  13. September 13, 2014 10:41 AM

    I love this dual patriotric illustration of something that is big and important. Wonder if that pole-tossing sport is a growing sport or just a growing spectator sport.

    Some Canadians do have a vague interest in the Scottish referendum because of course, some Quebecers have had long standing interest in becoming independent as their own country. Quebec did have a referendum.. it has been very much on linguistic, cultural preservation which I am not clear how Scots feel about that in the 21st century vs. the 16th century.

    Nowadays in a global community with much more interdependencies on national economies, communications, etc. becoming independent would be a challenge. A national currency is now even more deeply tied to the world economy / at least other national currencies.


    • September 16, 2014 9:34 AM

      Many thanks for your kind and insightful comment, Jean.

      Yes, it wasn’t that long ago that Quebec seemed poised to break away from the rest of Canada. Canadians must be experiencing a kind of déjà vu re the Scottish Referendum. The word “independence” has a very visceral, emotional appeal, but as you say, there are many thorny economic issues involved, especially given today’s global economy.

      My instincts tell me a No vote (staying in the British Union) would be the wiser choice, but I’d be hard pressed to justify that feeling with logical arguments. It’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out on the 18th. I feel great affection for Scotland, and I hope the vote puts the country on the right path.


  14. September 15, 2014 11:35 PM

    From Canada’s national newspaper to Scotland:


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