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Will Scotland Vote To Cut The Cord?

Sep 16, 2014
Originally published on September 16, 2014 1:03 pm

It's pouring in Edinburgh, and the fog is so thick you can barely see to the end of the block.

People walking through the city center duck out of the rain into a little stone alcove to talk about the subject on everyone's mind — Thursday's big vote on whether Scotland will become an independent country.

The latest polls show the race is extremely tight.

In the Edinburgh rain, a striking number of voters have recently changed their minds. Michael Constantine says he and his parents all switched sides.

"My dad, he was a 'no,' " says Constantine, 25. "In the past two months, he's become a 'yes.' And then my mum was a 'no' initially. She became a 'yes.' "

All three of them used to support keeping the U.K. intact. Now, they plan to vote for Scottish independence. Constantine says he wasn't so much drawn to the 'yes' campaign; it's more that unity drove him away.

"The 'no' campaign, the scaremongering and the fear they're putting into people, really upset me," Constantine says.

'You Can't Trust Anybody'

The campaign to keep the U.K. together has been built on dire warnings about economic calamities that would befall an independent Scotland.

British Prime Minister David Cameron was in the Scottish city of Aberdeen on Monday making one final plea for Scotland to stay with the United Kingdom.

He said Scotland would face a "painful divorce" if voters choose independence.

"To warn of the consequences is not to scaremonger," Cameron said. "It's like warning a friend about a decision they might take that would affect the rest of their lives and the lives of their children."

Reviews for the independence campaign are not much better.

In Edinburgh, John Keenan, 51, says he plans to vote "no" because he thinks the man running the "yes" campaign — Alex Salmond, head of the Scottish National Party and Scotland's first minister — is, frankly, scary.

"Salmond's a madman, he is! Simple as that," Keenan says. "It doesn't matter what either side says. You can't trust anybody, but I feel safer sticking with the U.K."

Alex Salmond has been working to convince voters that they need not fear change.

"It was always a nonsense, of course, for the 'no' campaign and these big businesses corralled in London by the prime minister, to say negative things about Scotland," said Salmond, campaigning with Scottish business owners Monday. "It was always a nonsense to argue that the land of Adam Smith was incapable of running our own finances."

Many big businesses have come out against independence — Scotland's two biggest banks have said they might relocate their headquarters. World leaders have said an independence vote could send dangerous ripples through the global economy.

'A Real Sense Of Destiny'

All of that anti-independence noise strangely coincided with independence surging in the polls. Tim Reid, political correspondent for the BBC, thinks he knows why.

"Scots don't like being told what they can't do," Reid says. "I think, during the course of this campaign, the fact that people like President Obama and the Australian prime minister came out and said they thought that Scotland should remain in the United Kingdom has not gone down particularly well amongst Scottish folk, who think that if America and Australia managed to get their independence from Britain, then why should Scotland not do likewise?"

This vote is not only defined by frustration and resentment. There is a palpable excitement in Scotland that people have the chance to rewrite their story two days from now, says Steve Reicher, a psychology professor at the University of St. Andrews.

"It's borne out in the surveys as well, which show something like 93 percent of people say they're almost definite to vote," Reicher says. "I think there's a real sense of engagement, a real sense of destiny and of history. And for everybody, there is a sense of we are discussing the future of a nation."

As both campaigns have said in this debate, it's an opportunity that only comes along once in many generations.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

British Prime Minister David Cameron was in the Scottish city of Aberdeen yesterday, making one final plea for Scotland to stay with the United Kingdom.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON: To get a brighter future, we don't need to tear our country apart.

CORNISH: In two days, voters in Scotland decide whether to become an independent country. The latest polls show the race is extremely tight. And as NPR's Ari Shapiro reports, the debate surrounding it has been pretty scrappy.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: It's pouring in Edinburgh, and the fog is so thick you can barely see to the end of the block. People walking downtown duck out of the rain into a little stone alcove to talk with us about the subject on everyone's mind - Thursday's big vote. A striking number of these voters have recently changed their minds. Twenty-five-year-old Michael Constantine and his parents all switched sides.

MICHAEL CONSTANTINE: My dad, he was a no. And in the past, like, two months, he's become - he's a yes. And my mom was a no initially. She became a yes.

SHAPIRO: All three of them used to support keeping the U.K. intact. Now they plan to vote for Scottish independence. Constantine says he wasn't so much drawn to the yes campaign; it's more that unity drove him away.

CONSTANTINE: Yeah, the no campaign, the sort of scaremongering and the fear they're putting in people really upset me.

SHAPIRO: The campaign to keep the U.K. together has been built on dire warnings about economic calamities that would befall an independent Scotland. Here was Prime Minister Cameron yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CAMERON: To warn of the consequences is not to scaremonger. It's like warning a friend about a decision that they might take that would affect the rest of their lives and the lives of their children.

SHAPIRO: Reviews for the independence campaign are not much better. In Edinburgh, 51-year-old John Keenan says he plans to vote yet no because he thinks the man running the yes campaign is, frankly, scary.

JOHN KEENAN: Salmond's a madman, he is - simple as that.

SHAPIRO: He's talking about Alex Salmond, head of the Scottish National Party and Scotland's first minister.

KEENAN: Is doesn't matter what either side says, you can't trust anybody. But I feel safer sticking with the U.K.

SHAPIRO: Alex Salmond has been working to convince voters that they need not fear change. Here he was campaigning with Scottish business owners yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALEX SALMOND: It was always nonsense, of course, for the no campaign and these big businesses corralled in London by the prime minister to say negative things about Scotland. It was always nonsense to argue that the land of Adam Smith was incapable of running our own finances.

SHAPIRO: Many big businesses have come out against independence. Scotland's two biggest banks have said they might relocate their headquarters. And world leaders have said an independence vote could send dangerous ripples through the global economy. All of that anti-independence noise strangely coincided with independence surging in the polls.

TIM REID: Scots don't like still being told what they can't do.

SHAPIRO: Tim Reid is a political correspondent for the BBC.

REID: I think during the course of this campaign, the fact that people like President Obama and the Australian prime minister came out and said that they thought that Scotland should remain in the United Kingdom has not gone down particularly well among Scottish folk who think that if America and Australia managed to get their independence from Britain, then why should Scotland not do likewise?

SHAPIRO: This vote is not only defined by frustration and resentment. There is a palpable excitement here in Scotland that people have the chance to rewrite their story two days from now. Steve Reicher is a psychology professor at the University of St. Andrews.

STEVE REICHER: And it's borne out in the surveys as well, which show that something like 93 percent of people say they're almost definitely going to vote. So I think there's a real sense of engagement, a real sense of destiny and of history. And for everybody, there is a sense of, we are discussing the future of a nation.

SHAPIRO: As both campaigns have said in this debate, that is an opportunity that only comes along once in many generations. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Edinburgh.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

OK, historic vote in Scotland in two days. Let's bring in another voice here. It's Jeremy Cliffe. He's a political correspondent for The Economist, and he's on the line from the Scottish capital Edinburgh. Good morning.

JEREMY CLIFFE: Good morning.

GREENE: You know, there's a sense here that this vote is going to be historic and bring change to Scotland no matter which way people actually vote, no matter the result. I mean, is that how you're seeing this?

CLIFFE: Absolutely. And I think it's often understated how seismic even a no vote or a rejection of independence would be. Just in the last few days, we've seen Unionist leaders promising Scotland major transfers of new powers if they vote no - effectively a bribe, if you want to call it that - to stay in the union, which is going to have massive constitutional implications because you'll suddenly get Scottish MPs voting in London in the British Parliament, whose constituents aren't really governed from there in many respects. It was going to have to be some big debate about how Britain governs itself in the future.

GREENE: So is Scotland effectively going to be independent even with a no vote, or will the fallout and the change be much more dramatic if we see them actually vote yes for independence?

CLIFFE: The fallout will be greater if they vote yes. Businesses are very concerned about the possible implications of a yes vote despite nationalist assurances that they would be able to continue using the pound sterling. That seems fairly unlikely. All of the Westminster parties have said no, they wouldn't stand for that. But a no vote would still trigger a great debate about the future of the U.K. because, as you say, Scotland would be, if not actually independent, a lot more autonomous than it is now.

GREENE: My colleague Ari Shapiro mentioned that there are people he's been meeting on the streets who are still changing their minds and thinking this over. You have written that it really is a sliver of voters who are going to actually decide this. Who are they?

CLIFFE: I think the voters who will decide it will be working-class, disaffected voters who in the past maybe would have voted for the left-wing Labor Party, but have been turned off, I think, because of years in which it was in power, in which they felt it wasn't really speaking to them. And these are people who in many cases have just stopped voting, especially in general elections. And what the nationalist campaign has done very successfully is its corralled those voters and their day-to-day concerns about public services, about wages into the pro-independence camp and said to them, if we vote for independence, we Scots are going to have a fairer, a more socially just country.

GREENE: People who are 16 and older can actually vote in this election, right? Could teenagers actually play a role in the outcome?

CLIFFE: The fact that they've been enfranchised for this has helped give the yes campaign a sense of energy and youth. These are people who have not yet been disillusioned by politics, who still have some degree of hope and the willingness to take a gamble on the future if you will. These are people who have been on social media; they've got time; they've got energy. They can march up and down streets. And so whether or not their votes will be crucial, I doubt, but I think that the overall effect they've had on the yes campaign may be very important.

GREENE: And what about turnout here? I mean, it sounds like since this vote is looking to be close - according to the polls, there are a lot of people who are going to be turning out - it feels like, you know, one way or the other, we're going to get a sense of where Scotland is and where people want to go.

CLIFFE: It is. And actually just before I address the point about turnout, it's worth pointing out that it has been a fantastic exercise in democracy, whatever your views on independence. It is truly energizing to be on the streets of large Scottish cities like here in Edinburgh, for example, and to just see the extent which people are engaging in a big debate about their political future. As for turnout, I think, as you say, it'll be pretty high, not least because the polls have tightened a lot in the last few weeks. There's a sense that this is going down to the line. And it will be crucial because the yes campaign, according to some polls, is ahead, although I think the average still suggests that no leads by a nose.

But the question is will those yes votes actually turn out on the day? The no vote, those who want to stay with the union, are normally the sort of people who are more likely to vote. They're older people; they're more middle-class. In that respect, they're more dependable at the ballots. And the yes voters on the other hand, are predominately working-class; they're often younger. These are people who often don't actually use their votes on the day. The weather might have an influence. If it's pouring with rain, perhaps that will just tilt the balance towards the no campaign. If it's good weather, perhaps more disenfranchised yes voters will turn out. So it's - turnout, I think, will be absolutely deciding.

GREENE: Amazing that Mother Nature is often the deciding factor in very important elections, isn't it?

CLIFFE: Indeed. We don't know which side she's on yet.

GREENE: That's right. All right, Jeremy Cliffe is political correspondent for The Economist magazine. Jeremy, thanks very much.

CLIFFE: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.