09/18/2014 05:00 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 00:57 EDT

Scotland Referendum: Independence Forces Likely Victors, No Matter The Vote

Let the handwringing begin.

From London, to Madrid, to Ottawa and beyond, Scotland’s ballot battle commands the attention of countless wary glares.

In particular, for a political generation that occasionally cowers with dread at the rise of separatists, September 18 may well turn out to be a day to rue.

At the end of voting today, however, the architects of Scotland’s independence movement likely emerge victors no matter the outcome. A peaceful vote alone would set a new bar for how such questions should be resolved.

And, if the promises are to be believed, even a No vote still ends the exercise with a more powerful and more autonomous Scotland.

A Yes vote, however, is the victory the campaigners want. And, worry the wary, that Yes could herald change that is hopelessly infectious.

Stirring separatist sentiments

Not only would it lay the foundations for a new nation — and weaken an old one — but it could stir separatist sentiments in places in a long simmering secessionist mood.

A Yes vote would also give a formal address to the kind of disaffection lurking in the UK as well as other Western nations.

Aware of what they might have started far beyond their borders, many among Scotland’s Yes campaigners say: 'bring it on!'

And far from feeling responsible for geopolitical or economic fallout that naysayers try to assign them, Yes voters believe an independent Scotland could instead be a force for international good.

Yes giving voice to dissent

Ask 18-year-old student Joseph Reeds his reasons for voting Yes, and he first cites the rampant poverty in his part of Scotland. Then, it’s on to geopolitics.

"On the one hand, yes, it’s just Scotland, a little country possibly just taking its first steps," he said in an interview. "On the other hand... this vote completely changes the UK’s place in the world as well."

"This vote could be the first step to a completely different future and a completely new way of seeing small states on the world stage, and I think that’s why it’s so, so important."

The Yes side has given voice to clumps of anti-government dissenters who espouse causes long considered fruitless in the political mainstream here, causes like the fight against poverty, or against nuclear weapons, or in favour of change to foreign policy.

Scotland is home to the UK’s Trident nuclear system. The Yes campaign has proposed the submarines get removed within four years of its independence. Many of its followers want an independent Scotland to take up the anti-nuclear cause internationally.

Dundee resident Chris Law includes that among his dreams for an independent Scotland. He’s wrapping up a 5000-kilometre journey on what he calls the "Spirit of Independence," a 1950s military fire truck redecorated to pump life into the Yes campaign.

"We’re just asking for fairness, social justice, and equality," he says, "which may sound like ideals... but I tell you if that’s what our nationalism is about, then that’s a good thing."

The Scottish dream

Away from the arguments over health-care and the currency, it's such ideals that come up most often with Yes voters, old and young.

Rachel Heydecker moved to Scotland from Manchester three years ago. Although she is English, she has been canvassing door to door leading up to the vote, selling the Scottish dream.

"I think we need more power, especially things like foreign policies, over immigration and asylum," she says. "It’s very important that we can make the decisions that suit the people that live here."

Striking among yes voters is how often Westminster is described as a "foreign" government.

It is in moments like these when the handwringing intensifies. When, as in Scotland’s case, the differences with a central government are seen and publicly flogged as irreconcilable, to the chagrin of those central governments.

Scotland and Quebec

"The act of union between these countries is 300 years old, and I think it’s slightly past its sell-by date," says Luke Skipper, a Canadian who happens to work as a backroom adviser to the Scottish National Party, which is leading the Yes campaign.

"The people of Scotland are the best people to make decisions about Scotland and that, of course, should happen in Scotland." As Skipper himself points out, the simplest arguments are often the strongest.

So what would he say to Canadians nervous about the possibility that independence-minded Quebecers might be inspired anew by a Scottish Yes vote?

"I’d have to say it’s up the people of Quebec," he says, matter of factly, "just like it’s up to the people of Scotland."

- Read more by Nahlah Ayed on Scotland: