Disunity Desperation

Wary Britain Before Scotland Vote: All Hands on Deck

David Cameron at Scottish Widows offices, Edinburgh. Source: Reuters
Please don't go. British Prime Minister David Cameron pleads with Scottish voters in Edinburgh on Wednesday not to leave Britain.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    If Scotland leaves the United Kingdom, the global clout of Britain could wane and London could suffer as an international financial center.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Top politicians from all three key parties visited Scotland this week to urge voters not to end the 307-year-old Treaty of Independence.
    • Polls show a tight race, but the election may hinge on whether voters follow their hearts by voting yes for Scottish independence or their wallets by remaining part of the United Kingdom.
    • Conservatives are deeply unpopular in Scotland because of the party’s devotion to austerity, which separatist leader Alex Salmond is exploiting to turn out pro-independence voters.
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    Audio

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The strongest warhorses Westminster could muster galloped into the battle for Scotland this week, unified and energized by the fight against independence.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, a member of the Conservative Party, more commonly known as the Tories, was joined by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, a member of the Liberal Party, and Ed Miliband, leader of the Labor Party, in pleading for Scotland to remain within the United Kingdom.

Their arrival provoked the scorn of Alex Salmond, first minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party, who mocked the British politicians as being in a “state of absolute panic. They are the most despised politicians in Scotland. Team Scotland will beat Team Westminster.”

 

alex salmond ap
Alex Salmond, the Scotland first minister, is feeling confident ahead of next week’s vote on leaving Britain. Source: AP

 

Mr. Cameron took a different tone. During an emotional speech in Edinburgh, he acknowledged his party were unpopular in Scotland, but pleaded with them not to vote for independence just “to kick the effing Tories.”

In just under a week, the Scots will vote on ending the 307-year-old “Treaty of Union.” There is palpable fear among British leaders that voters will choose to leave the United Kingdom.

The  polls are incredibly close. At the weekend, the pro-independence side pulled ahead, but have now fallen back slightly again.

Scotland’s vote is being watched closely across Europe. A Forsa poll carried out by Handelsblatt Online this week shows that 71 percent of Germans oppose Scottish independence, and 58 percent believe all citizens in the United Kingdom should be able to vote on the matter.

The primary arguments against Scottish independence are the economic risks and the cost of independence spelled out in pennies and pounds.

Several banks, including the Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking group said this week that they will move their bases to England, if Scotland decides to separate from the rest of the country.

Yet it’s entirely possible Scots won’t decide on the basis of their pocketbooks, as election researchers insist.

“We are Scots,” said Asif Ali, owner of a curry restaurant in Glasgow, adding, “Sometimes the heart is more important than the head.”

The Scottish flag, the blue and white St. Andrew’s Cross, flies all over Scotland. It signals support for the “Yes Scotland” stance of the separatists. Opponents of independence have been slower to make an emotional plea of their own, all though this week, London politicians called on the English people to display the Scottish flag, the Saltire, to demonstrate their love for Scotland.

Mr. Cameron invoked the value of the Union, noting that in democracy and progress, the Scottish enlightenment, the industrial revolution, the abolition of slavery and the battle against fascism, the Scots and English, Welsh and Irish have always stood together. “Together, the United Kingdom embodies the values that the world looks on with awe and envy,” he said.

But in Scotland, the separatists have criticized the Tories’ austerity policies and social reforms, pointing to an ideological contrast between the perceived English Tory ideology of profiteering and class differences to what Mr. Salmond called “the Scottish values of fairness and equal opportunity.”

The anti-Tory sentiment requires opponents of independence to rely almost completely on Labor Party politicians in Scotland, since conservatives have little representation within the Scottish parliament, but even that support is weakening as a growing number of Labor supporters are defecting to the separatist side. A pro-independence vote would be as devastating for Labor as it would for Mr. Cameron. Without a strong Scottish base, Labor would have to completely reposition itself in the rest of the U.K.

 

scotland Gordon Brown Reuters
The pro-union forces brought out former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a Scot, to help their campaign. Source: Reuters

 

Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a member of the Labor Party who was born in Scotland and remains a popular figure, was called back into action this week to woo back former Labor voters. He stood in front of a socialist red wall painted with the words “I vote No” and promised his countrymen an array of new authoritative powers including almost complete control over the rates and uses of their income tax, autonomy in welfare policies and an airtight timeline for enacting those changes.

But according to a poll by the Times, these promises are coming too late. Only 23 percent of respondents believe voters can be won back, while 14 percent believe it might have the opposite effect.

Newspapers don’t want to rely on Mr. Brown – who is despised in England – to save the Union. They are calling on Queen Elizabeth to intervene, but once again, Mr. Salmond had a ready response. While the Queen was adamantly declaring through a spokesperson that she would not be drawn into a political fray, Mr. Salmond gleefully said that “Her Majesty the Queen will be proud to be Queen of Scots.”

This article was translated by David Andersen. Jeff Borden also contributed to this story. Mathias Thibaut is a Handelsblatt correspondent and based in London. To contact the author: thibaut@handelsblatt.com

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