Scotland Debates Independence From The U.K.

Mar 22, 2017
Originally published on March 22, 2017 12:10 pm
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And the Scottish Parliament will vote today on whether to request a second independence referendum. The vote, which is expected to pass, comes about two and a half years after an earlier independence referendum easily failed. And let's understand what all this means and turn to NPR's Frank Langfitt in London.

Frank, good morning.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So explain this new push for independence. As I understand it, it's tied to the Brexit vote.

LANGFITT: Absolutely. You know, if you remember back last summer, the Scots voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU, but they were easily outvoted by the English, who are far more populous. Now, Nicola Sturgeon - she's the leader of the Scottish National Party and the leader of the Scottish government - she said the U.K. just shouldn't be able to drag Scotland out of Europe and that Scotland should have another vote to see if they want to secede. And here's what Sturgeon said yesterday in the debate in Parliament.

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FIRST MINISTER NICOLA STURGEON: Scotland faces a fundamental question. It is a question not just of how we respond to Brexit but about what sort of country we want Scotland to be. The answer to that question is surely one that should lie in our own hands.

GREENE: OK. It sounds like the thing to understand here is the movement to stay in the U.K. won out last time. But now that the U.K. is leaving the European Union, this could be a totally different ballgame here.

LANGFITT: It could indeed. And - but it really is going to come down to the U.K. Parliament deciding whether they want to give this option to the Scottish people. And Prime Minister Theresa May - she hasn't quite phrased it this way. But I'd say, based on what I've heard, she hates the idea. She has this really difficult problem. She has to unwind one union with the EU over the next couple of years without having this 300-year-plus union with Scotland unravel at the same time.

And ultimately, the U.K. Parliament is going to have to decide. Theresa May, in terms of, like, when this would happen, she says not now. She wants to wait until Brexit is concluded because she can't really fight a two-front war. She did an interview recently with The Guardian newspaper, and here's how she put it.

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PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: I think just now we should be putting all our energies into ensuring that we get that right deal for the U.K. and the right deal for Scotland in our negotiations with the European Union. Right now, we should be working together not pulling apart.

GREENE: So the chances of pulling apart or not - I mean, the last Scottish referendum was 2014. Fifty-five percent of people in Scotland voted to stay in the U.K. Will things be different this time?

LANGFITT: Well, right now, not according to the polls. The majority are still against it, which makes this really a do-or-die move for Nicola Sturgeon. And actually, she doesn't want a quick referendum right now. I think she's playing for time. Her hope is that if the Brexit negotiations go kind of badly for the U.K., it looks like a sharp split with the EU, that's what Theresa May really wants. Scottish voters don't. And Sturgeon thinks that this could help her eventually - maybe a couple, two-and-a-half years from now - get the votes she needs for independence.

GREENE: You know, being in the middle of it day by day, sometimes you can forget how extraordinary these times are. You think about Brexit; you think about the uncertainty in the United Kingdom, what we're talking about today in Scotland. I mean, give us the broad take here.

LANGFITT: Well, it's really interesting. I think what you're seeing in parts of the Western world are people and governments wanting to take back political control. You know, last summer, you saw the U.K. saying, we want to take political and legal control back from Brussels, which is home of the European Union. Scotland now talking about wanting to take back control of its destiny from the United Kingdom and the government down here in London and a real emphasis on nationalism and sovereignty.

And it's not unlike some of the things that we heard during the Trump campaign and definitely the inauguration in January. You know, Trump talked about America first. Brexit, people were kind of talking about Britain first. And certainly Scotland and independence, that's definitely - the message there would be Scotland first.

GREENE: All right. That was NPR's Frank Langfitt speaking to us from London.

Frank, thanks, as always.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.