Elections On The Future Of Brexit Bring Refreshed Talk Of Scottish Independence

Dec 6, 2019
Originally published on December 6, 2019 6:52 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The Brexit vote was a political bomb, and the aftershocks continue to shake the United Kingdom more than three years later. As voters head to the polls next week for a crucial general election, Brexit has re-energized the drive for Scotland to leave the United Kingdom. NPR's Frank Langfitt reports from Glasgow.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: As Nicola Sturgeon campaigns for Thursday's election, she has a simple message. Vote for her Scottish National Party so it can push for a second referendum on Scottish independence and vote against Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Tory party to stop Brexit.

NICOLA STURGEON: I think Boris Johnson poses a real threat to Scotland's future. A Boris Johnson government taking Scotland out of the European Union against our will, with all of the damage that will do, is a real and present danger to Scotland's future prosperity.

LANGFITT: The English, who make up the vast majority of the United Kingdom's population, swung the Brexit vote in 2016. Many Scots felt like they didn't have any control.

STURGEON: Well, Scotland didn't vote for Brexit. We voted overwhelmingly against Brexit and to remain in the European Union. And therefore, independence is about making sure that Scotland controls its own future, doesn't have it decided for us.

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LANGFITT: Sturgeon brought that message to a children's play center in Glasgow on a recent campaign stop, where she posed with kids in a tiny playhouse and sang songs.

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STURGEON: (Singing) If you're happy and you know it, roll around. If you're happy and you know it, roll around.

LANGFITT: Among the crowd was Lynn Cunnington, a stay-at-home mom. With Brexit looming, Cunnington thinks Scotland is better off inside Europe and outside of the United Kingdom.

LYNN CUNNINGTON: I think as an independent country within the European Union, it would be brilliant for Scotland. We need immigration here. We're a small country. We're different from England, and we don't have the same needs. We don't have the same economy. We have the same values sometimes.

LANGFITT: England voted for Brexit because many people there wanted to reduce immigration. But Scotland, which has a population less than one-tenth the size, needs and welcomes immigrants. Cunnington also says Scots have a culture and history that's very different from their English neighbors to the south.

CUNNINGTON: We always feel like we're more like our northern European counterparts than we are like England. I think England unfortunately still has a hangover from the rule Britannia, Great Britain days. I think very much what I hear from the older generation in England is very much about the war, very much about how, you know, they colonized the world and how - we don't feel like that up here.

LANGFITT: Others who live in Scotland feel differently.

ANN RUCKLEY: I am British. I have lived in Scotland since 1955, but I'm British.

LANGFITT: Ann Ruckley is a retired physician. She's sipping a cappuccino in a cafe in Edinburgh, 50 miles east of Glasgow.

RUCKLEY: I would vote to stay in the United Kingdom because I think we'd do better. I mean, look what the Brexit referendum has done - divided people. And then are we going to have a border between Scotland and England? It doesn't make any sense.

RONALD MACDONALD: Well, my view would be that it is far too costly to become independent.

LANGFITT: Ronald MacDonald teaches economics at Glasgow University. He says a newly independent Scotland would face a currency crisis. For instance, without the United Kingdom, MacDonald says Scotland won't have enough foreign reserves to support its own currency and would be forced to devalue, causing a lot of economic pain for ordinary citizens.

MACDONALD: You would see people potentially having to pay 30% more for mortgages, perhaps. They would see their pensions hit if they were denominated in Scots pounds - so very, very severe implications.

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LANGFITT: Hi, Professor Henderson.

AILSA HENDERSON: Hello.

LANGFITT: I'm Frank. Nice to meet you.

HENDERSON: Hello, Frank. Hi.

LANGFITT: Ailsa Henderson is a professor of political science at the University of Edinburgh. She says the ties that bind the U.K. are increasingly strained.

HENDERSON: You can see cracks in the union. You can see it in sustained high levels of dissatisfaction in Scotland.

LANGFITT: But Henderson says any push for independence has a ways to go. In the 2014 referendum, independence was defeated by 10 percentage points. An Ipsos Mori poll last month found voters evenly split on the issue. Henderson says the future of the United Kingdom will become clear once the nature of Brexit does.

HENDERSON: If it's a hard Brexit and it poses all kinds of economic difficulties, then it could be a series of dominoes in a way. But one thing I would say is that if the union can survive this, then it would seem almost to be indestructible.

LANGFITT: Britain's voted three years ago to break with the European Union. One of the big questions now is whether that decision will lead to the breakup of their own country.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Glasgow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.