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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This week, voters throughout the United Kingdom elected local councils including members of the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament. But first time in centuries, some form of Scottish independence is considered a genuine possibility, even as the central government in London has moved to award councils greater autonomy.

And I speak with a Scotsman whose name and words are known throughout the world. We reached Alexander McCall Smith. Mr. Smith, of course, is the prolific novelist. He joins us from the studios of the CBC in Toronto. Mr. Smith, thanks for being with us.

Mr. ALEXANDER McCALL SMITH (Novelist): Delighted.

SIMON: I know you have strong feelings for Scotland. Do you have strong feelings on nationalism, independence, identity, any of that?

Mr. SMITH: Not particularly strong feelings, but certainly it's an issue in which everybody in Scotland will have some sort of opinion.

SIMON: Do we sometimes make too much of this from a distance? I guess the latest opinion polls show that about one in four people in Scotland favor independence for Scotland.

Mr. SMITH: That's right. I think one has to be careful not to read too much into electoral victories for the Scottish National Party, which is the party, which favors independence because obviously when people go into the polls, they are voting on a whole range of issues.

And I think that the substantial element of protest in the recent vote, many people feel angry with the labor government in the United Kingdom - the U.K. government. And they might, therefore, take it out on them when they get into the polling booth.

So, I think, one has to make a distinction between a vote for the Scottish National Party, as an alternative to the ruling Labor Party on the one hand, and a genuine desire to go the whole haul(ph) and have an independent Scotland.

SIMON: Mr. Smith, has the identity of what it means to be a Scot changed because of immigration patterns? I asked because just in the past year, it seems to me I've seen movies about African immigrants in Glasgow and Indian families who have been living for decades in Edinburgh.

Mr. SMITH: Yes, the United Kingdom, obviously, has experienced very considerable immigration in the last few decades. Oh, immigration patterns in Scotland are little bit different from immigration patterns in England and the rest of the United Kingdom. And that there haven't being perhaps quite as much immigration from countries such as India, Pakistan or the Caribbean and Scotland as there was into England. So there's a little bit of a difference there.

What we have seen there has been a fairly major flow of immigrants in Scotland from Eastern European countries particularly Poland. I think that Scotland has become a bit more pluralist as a result. What the impact of that will be electorally eventually in terms of Scottish political culture, I'm not too sure. I think it may add to Scottish confidence in assertions that Scotland can run its own affairs.

SIMON: Does the issue of North Sea oil complicate any of this?

Mr. SMITH: North Sea oil is a vital part of the whole debate because Scotland is sitting there with these dwindling obviously as its taking out. But these considerable supplies of oil, now, the Scottish National Party looks at that as a major asset that Scotland has. And it brings that into the financial equation. And if it takes an optimistic view of oil prices, then it says that the arithmetic points to Scotland being perfectly viable as an independent state, and indeed being quite well-off as an independent state.

And on the other side says, well, a couple of issues there, one of which is the price of oil fluctuates, and therefore, you have to take that into account when you're doing your arithmetic. And the other argument is that it's not at all sure that Scotland would be entitled to all the oil revenues. The division of the North Sea is a fairly complex business and it's not quite as simple as some people in Scotland would have it.

If it weren't for the oil, then I think the case of the Scottish National Party would be considerably weaker.

SIMON: Alexander McCall Smith, speaking with us from Toronto. His most recent book is "The Right Attitude to Rain." Don't delay. There will be another one coming along very soon. Thank you, Mr. Smith.

Mr. SMITH: Thank you very much indeed, Scott.

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