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Scottish Independence Vote Close, Even in Hometown of 'Yes' Campaign Leader

Scotland Alex Salmond
Scotland's leading pro-independence politician, Alex Salmond, holds up "Aye" branded cakes during a bakery visit. Many economists think independence from the United Kingdom could have serious consequences.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Voters in Scotland are pondering severing ties to Great Britain after 307 years. A split could have major ramifications for the Scottish and English economies.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Villagers are generally tight-lipped about their political views, but it’s clear there are strong opinions on both sides.
    • Older voters are more likely to favor keeping ties with Great Britain, while younger voters think independence is the best road forward.
    • The pro-independence movement took a first-ever lead in the polls by a small margin in the latest survey.
  • Audio

    Audio

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The owner of the drugstore in High Street leans conspiratorially across the counter. “I believe that opinions are also sharply divided in Strichen,” she says hesitantly. With an unmistakable Scottish accent, she draws the visitor into her confidence, adding,  “Probably 50-50.”

Welcome to Strichen, the home of Alex Salmond. The brawny leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party hopes to lead his country to independence, like a modern William Wallace in “Braveheart.” Rather than by the sword, he’s counting on a referendum on September 18 to end 307 years of union with England. But even in this tiny locality, where Mr. Salmond lives in a mill near a stream on the edge of town, not everyone is behind him.

The rift that has emerged in Scotland over this important issue also runs through this gray town on Scotland’s coast, a place that seems so very far away from the grand politics of London and Edinburgh.

Elderly residents, in particular, ask themselves what the step into independence is supposed to bring. “Many don’t see why they should leave Great Britain,” an older gentleman in the street says succinctly. He adds that numerous decisions are already made in Edinburgh and, in any case, many people in this swath of land are doing well economically.

At a first glance, it is hardly noticeable that the town is one of the gravitational fields in the coming vote over independence. There’s a poster in front of the drugstore declaring, “Change for the better.” The sign doesn’t refer to the referendum, but to the availability of a free health check-ups.

Mr. Salmond has a lot of work to do in the coming days to persuade those wavering voters to vote for independence - and not just in his hometown of Strichen.

The inhabitants are as cautious about making statements as they are with canvassing for votes.

The only butcher in the town eyes an unfamiliar intruder with suspicion when asked about his politics. “Wait and see,” he says about the upcoming vote. Asked about Mr. Salmond, the man with a slightly reddish complexion and a butcher’s apron around his waist refuses to make any comment at all. Everyone knows everybody else in Strichen, he says, and it is better to avoid reading quotes about residents in the newspaper.

Not everyone adheres to this restraint, however. Andrea Stephen, who works the cash register at the small cooperative supermarket on Bridge Street, speaks frankly. “My mother asked me to vote no, my husband asked me to vote yes, but I have only voted one time in my life, when I was 18-years-old,” she says.

Ms. Stephen is not alone in her point of view. About 8 percent of the Scots are still undecided about how they should cast their vote. In the most recent polling from the Sunday Times in Britain this weekend, the “yes” vote gained a majority for the first time, with 51 percent in favor of independence and 49 percent of Scots voting for remaining in the Union. But people like Ms. Stephen could still change everything.

Mr. Salmond has a lot of work to do in the coming days to persuade those wavering voters to vote for independence – and not just in his hometown of Strichen.

This article was translated by George Frederick Takis. Jeff Borden also contributed to this story. To contact the author: herz@handelsblatt.com

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