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Unity Leads The Polls In Scotland Independence Vote


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. Should Scotland be an independent country? That's the question that will face Scottish voters next month when they decide whether or not to split from the United Kingdom. NPR's Ari Shapiro just returned from a reporting trip to Scotland, and he joins us now from London. Ari, hi.


WERTHEIMER: What did you hear from the Scots? Were most people you met in favor of independence?

SHAPIRO: It is all anyone is talking about. Whichever way this goes, it is such a historic vote. In the 300 years that Scotland has been part of the United Kingdom, there has never been a national referendum on whether people want to be part of this union or go independent. So it's a huge deal. Every poll so far has shown unity polling ahead of independence. The independence voters we talked to say there's going to be a last minute surge. We're going to have better voter turnout. But even the head of the independence movement, Alex Salmond, who leads the Scottish National Party says we are the underdogs, and we've got some room to go. So that's kind of the lay of the land right now.

WERTHEIMER: Do you have a sense of what would happen if they were to win?

SHAPIRO: In some ways, this campaign has actually raised more questions than it has answered. So some of the major questions are will Scotland keep the pound? Will Scotland stay in the European Union? Will they keep using the BBC? And the independence camp and the unity camp disagree on all of those things. So a lot of that will have to be worked out after the independence vote if, in fact, Scots do choose to breakaway.

WERTHEIMER: What do you hear from people who support unity, the ones who oppose leaving the UK?

SHAPIRO: There's been this sense in Scotland that the yes voters, the independence voters have national pride, and the no voters are a little more ashamed of that, even though they're polling in the lead. And so it's funny, the signs and bumper stickers we saw from the no camp said no thanks, trying to sort of ease the blow of the no vote. Or there was one that that proud to be Scottish, delighted to be united, trying to kind of undermine the allegation that no voters may be a little less patriotic than the yes voters.

WERTHEIMER: Well, what about the Brits? Do the British people get a say? Does anybody expect them to send the red coats?

SHAPIRO: Government in London has said they will respect to Scottish vote. So while they have obviously urged Scots to keep this union intact, if Scotland does vote for independence, Scotland will become independent.

WERTHEIMER: You visited the community of Helensburgh where the prospect of independence raises another complicated question.

SHAPIRO: That's right because the town of Helensburgh in Western Scotland is right by the biggest military facility in Scotland, which is where the United Kingdom's nuclear weapons are housed. The Scottish national party says an independent Scotland would be nuclear free. England does not one want its nuclear weapons to be in what would amount to a foreign country. And so nuclear weapons have been a big part of the debate, generally, but in the town of Helensburgh, it's really personal. The base houses more than 6,000 workers. And there's a real question of if Scotland goes independent, what will happen to the base? What will happen to the nukes? And what will happen to these more than 6,000 people who work there?

WERTHEIMER: Did you get a sense from the Scots that you talked to that they feel that this is historic, that this is important?

SHAPIRO: There's a weird divide because the people speak of it as a once-in-a-lifetime, once in many generations vote. But when you look at the terms of the debate itself, the people on both sides are saying you should vote for us because your tax bill will be smaller or it will bring down the cost of groceries. The debate is not being waged on these massive, historic, epic terms, even though the people voting really do appreciate the magnitude of the vote they're about to cast. And people have expressed real disappointment in that.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Ari Shapiro. Thank you very much.

SHAPIRO: You're welcome. Good to talk with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.