There are a lot of big, important things that would change if Scotland votes "yes" to independence from the Britain. Political, economic and military factors are at play if the "yes" vote wins. And there will be a lot of serious practical issues for the governments in Westminster and Edinburgh to work out.
It's worth considering, however, some of the less practical things called into question by the independence vote. Why? Because for all the talk of oil revenue and nuclear deployment, symbolism lies at the core of both the "yes" and "no" campaigns. Scotland leaving the United Kingdom wouldn't just change what it means to be Scottish – it would fundamentally change what it means to be British.
As London Mayor Boris Johnson put it in a recent op-ed for the Daily Telegraph, "Scotland isn’t a colony, for heaven’s sake. It’s a part of our being, of what makes us ‘us.’"
So how might the symbolism of the United Kingdom change if Scotland leaves? You can start with the very basics.
The naming of the country is already complicated. Generally, when we talk about the state run from Westminster, we refer to it one of two ways: Either Great Britain, which takes its name from geography, or the United Kingdom, which takes its name from the 1707 Act of Union which merged the Kingdom of Scotland with the Kingdom of England.
If Scotland becomes independent, both these factors change. If all of Britain is no longer part of the country, then how can it be Great Britain? And while an independent Scotland plans to keep the Royal family, how can it be a "United Kingdom" if the country is not actually united? Wales and Northern Ireland have no "kingdoms" of their own to be united with.
Would the name have to change? Perhaps. But suggested names have proven problematic: "Little Britain" is already used, and "South Britain" ignores Northern Ireland. Last year, Charles Moore of the Spectator pondered whether it could be called "Former United Kingdom" (the abbreviation of which is problematic, however). Simply calling the nation "England, Wales and Northern Ireland" seems obtuse. Its an identity crisis. If Scotland leaves the United Kingdom and London actually goes with a name change, can someone from London describe themselves as "British"?
The identity crisis goes further. The flag for Britain is the Union Jack, which incorporates, among other things, the English flag (the red cross of Saint George) with the Scottish flag (the white saltire of Saint Andrew). If Scotland leaves, logic would dictate that the Scottish portion of the flag should be removed, and many seem to support that idea: Earlier this year, the U.K.'s Flag Institute conducted a survey that found 72 percent in favor of changing the flag if Scotland leaves.
This has sparked an even broader debate. The Union Jack is already a bit of a weird flag: It doesn't include any references to the Welsh, and it still includes the red saltire of Saint Patrick, which used to represent Ireland. The Flag Institute's members have already come up with some pretty spectacular designs that would attempt to sum up a post-Scotland's British identity.
Names and flags may seem like silly symbols, but there is a practical element here too. Imagine the cost of changing the name and flag wherever they officially appear? The logistics are terrifying.
Scotland already has a distinct culture that clearly separates it from England, Wales and Northern Ireland. But if independence is formalized, that split could have a practical impact. Take, for instance, sports. While Britain's favorite sports, such as soccer, tend to be played separately by Scotland and the other nations that make up the union, there are some notable exceptions.
For example, as part of Team Great Britain, Scottish athletes made up about 10 percent of the British Olympic team at the London 2012 Olympics. However, according to the BBC's calculations, Scottish athletes actually won around 20 percent of Britain's medals.
For British fans of some sports, it may be particularly rough. Andy Murray is currently regarded as the first Briton to win the men's Wimbledon tennis tournament in 77 years. If Scotland leaves the United Kingdom, that accolade may go with him, and that would be tough to swallow.
Murray, born in Glasgow, is well-known for saying he'd support "anyone but England" during the 2006 World Cup, but he has since shown a more ambivalent attitude to Britain, and has refused to get involved in the Scottish independence debate. "I started competing for Great Britain when I was 11, a lot of people forget that," he explained earlier this summer.
Sports are an obvious example, as athletes are so tied to their nationality, but that cultural impact would be everywhere. Even James Bond, a symbol of 20th century British power, is portrayed as having Scottish roots.
Perhaps the biggest symbolic change would be politics. For one thing, a "Yes" vote in Scotland may well force Prime Minister David Cameron out of office, but Scotland also plays an important role in shaping the politics of the entire U.K.
While Scottish nationalists argue that the structure of Westminster Parliament results in a "democratic deficit" for Scots, its undeniable that Scottish faces are a familiar sight at the top of British politics. Some of these faces, most notably former prime minister Gordon Brown, have been vocal in campaigning for the "No" vote.
Brown probably has a genuine belief in Scotland being part of the United Kingdom, but there's a more personal motive for him too: Without Scottish voters, the British left wing party he represented, Labor, loses a substantial chunk of its support. For example, there are currently 40 MPs in Westminster representing Scotland from the Labor Party, and just one from the dominant Conservative Party. Earlier this year, the Financial Times reasoned that Labor would need another 250,000 votes from the rest of the U.K. to compensate if Scotland left. “We can’t even contemplate what might happen to the party if Scotland went," one Labor source told the newspaper. "This is nightmare territory for us.”
Political identity is one of the key themes of the Scottish independence vote. Many Scots don't want the center-right politics that have dominated the U.K. under Conservative and, to an extent, Labor governments in recent years. The Scottish Nationalist Party and other pro-independence parties push a more center-left ideology, emphasizing their welfare state and free education – that the SNP have suggested integration with the Nordic countries is telling of where they see Scotland's future lying.
For the rest of Britain, however, the political shift could well be the other way. The Britons left would be neutered, and the country would likely drift further and further away from the European-style social democracy it was for much of the 20th century. Instead, Britain may well become more like the United States.