It the early 21st century, vilified groups often adopted for themselves disparaging names that had been applied to them. Thus the Conservative Party, now a rump of its former glory, renamed itself the Nasty Party. It worked, and it was not long before the Nasties had suborned the aged President and seized power. Their Leader, with his distinctive hairstyle and crowd-thrilling manner, immediately dissolved parliament and set upon realising his dream of a 2nd English Empire.
The 2nd Empire's creation was unique in that it was the only empire in history designed to get smaller immediately after its inception. One of the Leader's first decrees was to eject the northern province of Scotland. In this way, Scotland became suddenly and unexpectedly independent.
Caught unawares, the Governors of Scotland reeled. What was it like, they wondered, to be an independent country? It soon became plain that, unlike as had hitherto been believed, it was not enough simply to be Scottish and to write road signs in a language that hardly anybody knew. If Scotland really were the best little country in the world, it would have to do something to prove it. Thus began the Scottish space programme.
High above the launch pad, Freedom 1 exploded in a brilliant starburst of multi-coloured streamers. At the memorial service, the minister said that cosmonaut Pringle had touched the face of God. In reality, it was more likely he had touched the face of a chimney pot in Marchmont, for it was there, a few weeks later, a sweep found his false teeth. Over the weeks that followed, various components of Pringle were handed in to the city's police station, these later to be buried in the Eastern Cemetery under a simple and touching headstone: Here Lies Cosmonaut Pringle. Rest in Pieces.
The Russians were furious. The tragedy would not have happened if Space Scotland had done as its Russian advisors had instructed and ensured that the gunpowder used to fuel the rocket had not come from celebration fireworks. The event had made Russian technology appear backward. Alarmed, Space Scotland officials promised it would not happen again.
Care was taken to fuel Freedom 2 with proper gunpowder from bangers. As an additional safety measure, the cosmonaut, Edith Soutar, was strapped to the stick, instead of to the body of the rocket as Pringle had been. Space Scotland ignored the warnings of English rocket scientists that Souter might be injured in the rocket's slipstream. This she duly was, a tragedy compounded by the fact that having trained on white pudding suppers, she got stuck in the neck of the bottle as the rocket took off. It had always been her wish to be cremated when she died. It turned out not to be necessary.
The Russians blamed Space Scotland for the decision to attach Soutar to the stick. Space Scotland blamed the Russians and published memos containing the Russian instructions on the matter. The Russians said the memos were fake. Everyone fell out and the Russians pulled out.
Stricken by conscience, the head of Space Scotland threw herself from a window in her flat. Although the ground had been only 12 feet below, or seven feet if the five-foot privet hedge she fell into were counted, her injuries had been catastrophic. It was an unusual event, not least because it was normally only a person's ethics that went out of the window when their hands were in the Russian till.
Space Scotland decided to go it alone. Thanks to the Russians, they already had the technology of a rocket that could travel for 3,000 feet before exploding. All that was needed was a structure tall enough to reach the edge of outer space from where it could be launched. At first, the amount of material necessary to build such a structure could not be imagined. Then, quite accidentally, one of Space Scotland's scientists noticed that apart from the Great Wall of China, the only thing that could be seen from space was Scotland's litter. Advertisements were posted seeking workers to gather the trash and truck it to a launch pad where such a collection would be more in keeping with its surroundings. In less than 10 days, Eastern European migrants had constructed a vast litter mountain on the forecourt of the Scottish Parliament building.
The area was mobbed on launch day. A cheer filled the air as a taxi drew up. Astronaut Dirk Roberts climbed out and waved to the crowd. A famous actor from Dundee, flown in specially to do the honours, shook his hand. With upturned faces, the crowd watched Roberts climb to the top of the litter mountain where the rocket awaited. A mighty roar went up as he strapped himself in place on Freedom 3. The actor, splendid in his national dress, drew himself to his full height, made even more imposing by his stetson and cowboy boots. He raised an arm to silence the crowd.
Every Scot should be proud, he said. The crowd cringed uneasily, fearful of being treated to a dose of the actor's commitment to socialism. He held aloft a Festival Film Guide. With this litter, he announced, I hereby dispatch the first Scot into outer space. He tossed the guide onto the litter mountain. Simultaneously, Roberts reached down and lit the touch-paper with his cigarette. The rocket blasted off perfectly and thundered the short distance into space.
The crowd stilled, fearful of yet another disaster. But there was no explosion. The upturned faces gazed in awe until the glow of the rocket finally vanished from view.
Roberts was never heard from again. According to the Russians, a cosmonaut on board a Russian space station had been looking out of the window when he saw the Scottish rocket drift into a nearby orbit. He saw Roberts detach himself and glide towards the station. Roberts approached the station's front door and grabbed the knob. It came off in his hand, the sudden weightless jerk catapulting him off towards the stars.
An alternative truth emerged some months after the launch when a deep hole in the shape of a spread-eagled body was found in a field near Cupar Angus, its dimensions conforming those of Roberts. Rocket scientists from the local university said the evidence suggested that Roberts had made calculations for a 4,000 foot free fall before pulling the rip-cord of his parachute. Unfortunately, the ground had been only 1,000 feet below. Initially sceptical about how an astronaut could make such a simple arithmetical error, the doubters were finally convinced by the revelation that Roberts had been educated in a Scottish school. In any event, there was no need to dig a grave for Roberts. All that was necessary was to fill it in.